Crocus aims for "slow burn" for first bricks and mortar garden centre

Online garden centre and plant supplier Crocus has bought its first bricks and mortar garden centre, at Dorney near Windsor in Berkshire.

The Walled Garden Centre at Dorney was formerly a Blooms of Bressingham Centre before having other owners in recent years, with Ryan Wasmuth and Kevin Gaskell most recently running it. Alexander Mackie Associates handled the sale on behaf of Ryan Wasmuth.

Crocus plans a Garden School at the centre as well as developing the site as a plant centre, but has yet to start work since buying the centre in February.

Crocus co-founder Peter Clay said any changes would not begin in earnest until 2018 during a "slow burn" of development: "We want to make it in our own image. We’re keeping it going this year and will relaunch next year in slightly different clothes.

"It is part of our ambition to see if we can change the way garden centres are done to more reflect what we do at Crocus. It’s been something we’ve been thinking about for a while to see whether or not we can make going to a plant centre a bit more inspiring then perhaps what’s currently available and do something better and different to what’s out there."

Dobbies (with Ocado) and Wyevale Garden Centres have developed online offers recently, while Crocus's fellow Chelsea plant supplier Hortus Loci has opened a retail plant centre.

Crocus is building the M&G James Basson-designed garden at Chelsea Flower Show, which begins on 23 May, as well as two Radio Two gardens, designed by Sarah Raven for Anneka Rice and James Alexander Sinclair for Zoe Ball. Crocus is also supplying plants to the gardens, all or in part. Basson’s garden is favourite to win best show garden in the show, with Crocus having won nine best in shows before.

Clay said every year was challenging getting plants ready for Chelsea, with hot, then cold and dry weather in the run up to this year’s show: "Experience gives you the resourcefulness to manage the weather. Some things don’t work and others surprise you. Chelsea is snakes and ladders, up one minute and down the next. It was dry but we work in an artificial situation. Plants are not grown in the ground, they’re grown in pots with irrigation. It helps that the garden we’re doing is about extremely dry conditions. There’s an ongoing debate about managing resources and plundering nature."

However, the Met Office forecasts pollen from Chelsea's plane trees will be at high levels this year.

He said the fall in number of show gardens at Chelsea this year to eight from 17 last year is "down to Brexit – I don’t think it’s down to anything else", dismissing stories in the non-specialist press about the Bribery Act of 2010 making it more difficult for corporate sponsors to bring clients to the show.

Clay said it is significant that after the Lehman Brothers bank crisis and credit crunch of 2009's show, there were still more gardens than this year, because Brexit happened on June 23 just as sponsors were committing to the show. He says he hopes they will return in 2018.

Work on Basson’s garden began in September 2015, collecting seed and drawing designs, initially for the Daily Telegraph as sponsors, then for M&G when The Telegraph pulled out.

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