Mystery Shopper - Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, London

Rating 8/10
Good for Food
Bad for Access

Mary Portas recently lauded the Richmond garden centre/cafe Petersham Nurseries at the HTA Garden Futures event. She saw the high-end establishment in south-west London as an exemplar of what garden centres should be providing, describing it as selling "merchandise, like jewellery you'll want to buy".

The outside: Down a muddy lane next to the church close to Richmond Park, it's not easy to park. In "Arcadia", the meadows next to the River Thames, the centre exudes class. Petersham won the Garden Retail award for best catering in 2007 and is featured in many publications, not least because chef Skye Gyngell is on her third book and writes for the Independent on Sunday.

Shopability: Very informal. You wouldn't know where the counter was on a first visit. Good to wander.

Service: There is one of those staff-only areas you want to nose into and plenty of waitresses.

Online: A very neat offering. But not many garden centres highlight Murano glass, antiques and "self-indulgence" as categories.

Not a bad thing, though.

Verdict: The Teahouse is at the heart of Petersham Nurseries. Go there to people-watch lovely families eat expensive soup. There are plants, and some unusual garden products, but this retailer is very far removed from what the average garden centre does, and indeed what most centres are trying to do. Serious gardening does take place here, with head gardener at Petersham house, Lucy Boyd. Garden centres can learn a lot from Petersham. The nursery does food better than any other garden centre. Petersham's customers love the ambience. It is like a hidden gem. Perhaps Portas' jewellery comment is right after all.

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