Posted by: marymarthatours | May 8, 2014

The Allure of English Garden Centres

Having worked in the Landscaping/Nursery/Garden Center industry for more than 25 years, I’ve seen my share of beautiful and not so beautiful garden centers.  In fact, the company for which I worked the longest, Sargent’s Landscape Nursery in Rochester, Minnesota, started as a tiny pole building and dilapidated plastic hoophouse in a department store parking lot.  I worked for a fabulous boss, the third generation of his family in the landscaping business, who had the imagination and drive to see his business grown in every sense of the word.  By the time I retired from Sargent’s, almost 20 years later, the company included a state of the art landscape office, garden center, greenhouses, and a growing range on 40 acres north of town and a totally re-imagined in-town retail establishment.

Sargents

I knew what a great Minnesota garden center looked like, because I worked at one of the best in the state.  So when I started traveling in England, I also started visiting English garden centers – or “centres” as it’s spelled in the UK.  It was then that I found that not only is England a country of spectacular gardens, it is also replete with spectacular garden centres.  Many of the best are not just shopping experiences for gardeners, but destination visits for people wanting a gorgeous day out.

Now whenever Martha and I design and lead a garden-focused tour in the UK, we make sure to include a stop or two at some of these exceptional garden centres.  We want our folks to see the plants, of course, since many are varieties that we can’t grow in Minnesota (although Martha’s Washington state travelers will recognize many plants).  It’s not just the plant material that I want folks to see, however, but the creative ways in which plants are displayed and merchandized.  Then too, there are the indoor spaces, which are veritable treasure troves of supplies and gifts for every lover of gardens.

Glasshouse interior

Duchy of Cornwall Nursery greenhouse interior

But the element of English garden centres that I have yet to see embraced in the States is the food.  In many English garden centres you can find local foods for sale, both fresh and packaged.  And for those who would like a cup of tea, a snack, or lunch, there are often fabulous tea shops, cafes, or full restaurants right within the garden centre itself.  Sometimes you can even enjoy a glass of wine on the terrace which considering your plant purchases.

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Treats from the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Café

We’ll be visiting several garden centres on the 2014 Spring Gardens of Cornwall & Devon Tour.  In the brochure we mention our stops at Hardy Exotics Nursery near St. Ives, and Longstock Park Nursery and Farm Shop at Longstock.  But the first of the garden centres that we visit will be one of our M&M “surprises” on the long drive from Salisbury to Cornwall.  For our afternoon coffee break, we’ll be stopping at the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery at Lostwithiel.  Watch the attached video, and you’ll see why I wanted to include this gorgeous nursery/garden centre on our itinerary.

(by Mary)

photo credits:  all Duchy of Cornwall Nursery photos used by permission of the Nursery manager

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