Am I alone in sensing a greener atmosphere on garden centres and at garden retailers with a plant nursery on the premises? Good examples of those in mind are Coolings, Ayletts, Woodlands and Cowells.
Generally speaking, where there are growers on site there is a greater awareness of plant care needs and as a result nursery stock on display for sale has a fresher and more appealing look. At a Garden Re-leaf workshop for schoolchildren at Alton Garden Centre last month I was interested to hear a class of 29 kids were excited by a visit to the recently built twin-bay polytunnel.
The floor area is filled with potted strawberry runners, dahlias (that should please Derek Bunker, who grew them as a teenager before his successful garden centre career) and herbaceous. Dahlias are the foundation business for Ayletts’ huge garden centre operation and on a recent call I was privileged to make a tour of the back-room production greenhouses with Hazel Aylett.
Hazel, with nursery manager Colin, keeps a hands-on approach to propagating cuttings from their 60-plus cultivar collection. Alongside these greenhouses Ayletts has planted up a two-acre garden of island beds demonstrating how dahlias can be grown with herbaceous and roses.
Getting pleasure myself and hearing children similarly enjoy tours of production areas prompts the thought, is it not time those retailers with such areas should open them up to public view in the same way as it is fashionable to have the kitchen and chefs on view at restaurants.
Burnt into my memory are huge crowds at Thomas Rochford Houseplant Nursery in Broxbourne to view the Christmas plant production houses. They were spectacular and many thousands of pounds worth of plants were sold over a weekend.
Who will be the first plant retailer to have a modern production unit with overhead viewing gantry, akin to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, where customers can see plants growing and buy on the way out?
Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster