Do you mind that half the merchandise in garden centres is made up of gifts, decorations, books and sweets? If you’re after gardening advice you could be in for a nasty shock – and lots of unsuitable plants.
November is the time of year to plant tulips, so this weekend I popped into my local Homebase to buy some. But there weren’t any. Instead, the aisles were chock-full of Christmas decorations.
Now, I know it’s ‘normal’ to see Christmas stuff in shops months before the big day, but recent figures show that around 50% of products on sale at garden centres are non-gardening related. Surely we should be able to buy bulbs when it’s the right time to buy them!
Garden centres need a makeover
It seems that retail guru Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas agrees. At a recent conference organised by the Horticultural Trades Association, she didn’t hold back in criticising garden centres. She said that despite being a keen gardener herself, she has never come away from a garden centre feeling like she’d learnt anything.
Contrary to what the garden retail sector seems to think, Mary believes garden centres should know their specialism and capitalise on it. She queried why resin birds, cuddly toys and sweets were on sale at all.
While I can see that garden centres need to bring the money in, I think they’re missing a trick when it comes to educating (and therefore keeping) their customers. Take my sister, for example. She’s new to gardening and is keen to learn – and like many novice gardeners, pretty impatient – she wants her garden to look good, now!
‘Perennial’, ‘annual’, ‘hardy’ and ‘tender’ are all alien terms to her – and she’s none the wiser having gone to the garden centre. She phones me excitedly as she heads to the till with a trolley load of unsuitable plants – and I tell her to put them all back.
Garden centres should educate us about plants
According to Mary, ‘service is the new selling’ and I agree – if my sister bought the wrong plants at the garden centre, they wouldn’t do well and she’d be in danger of giving up on gardening altogether.
Mary suggested loads of ways in which garden centres could educate their customers, including ‘sets’ that take inspiration from the Chelsea Flower Show, ‘gardeners in residence’ (along the lines of the ‘genius bars’ in Apple stores) to give advice, and garden design services.
What do you expect from a garden centre? For me, the best ones group plants by the conditions that they like to grow in (such as sunny or shady spots). They have display beds to show what the plants actually look like when they’re growing and what they look good with. And they actually sell tulip bulbs when it’s time to plant them!