It might be better to stick to independent garden centres if you want good customer service, expert advice and quality plants. Our Garden Centre Survey found that big chains have a long way to grow – do you agree?
In Which? Gardening’s most recent garden centre survey of over 7,000 Which? members, big chains performed poorly. Bottom of the pile were DIY giants Focus and Homebase, with Tesco and B&Q not far behind. And The Garden Centre Group and Country Gardens didn’t fair much better.
Independent centres came out on top, with Coolings in Kent achieving first place with an impressive customer service score of 90%. So what are they getting right?
Independent centres in another league
I too often find that the plants often look a bit sorry for themselves in big garden centre chains. There’s no variety to choose from and there’s generally no one around to help either. I always leave feeling a bit dispirited.
Take me to an independent garden centre, though, and I’m in heaven. One of my favourites, Woottens of Wenhaston in Suffolk, has a plant catalogue that’s worthy of a listing on Amazon – it describes every plant in detail.
The wide range of plants are arranged in several areas according to the different conditions they like (a sunny or shady spot, for example). Plus, the staff are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.
Big chains still good for a bargain
That’s not to say, though, that big garden centres should be avoided. Many of the big chains scored well on price in our survey; especially for furniture, garden tools, composts and chemicals. So if you already know what you want, or don’t need a large selection to choose from, a DIY store or supermarket could offer a bargain or two.
It’s worth keeping an open mind about where you buy your plants, too. I share an allotment with a friend, and he can often be found lurking in the discount area of our local Homebase.
He regularly comes back with an impressive haul: daffodil bulbs, raspberry canes and seed potatoes, all being sold off at the end of the season. And if you’re looking for a big, trendy statement plant – like a tree fern, olive tree or topiary box – you could find a bargain in a garden centre chain – especially on one of their discount days.
Are you disappointed by the quality of service and plants in your local garden centre? Do you prefer independent centres, or enjoy grabbing a bargain in big chains?