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Where do you go for gardening advice?

A man shopping in a garden centre

If you’re having a gardening problem, where do you go for advice? We’ve been undercover to test the knowledge of staff at garden centres and DIY stores. Who came up smelling of roses?

Shopping for plants and garden supplies can be an expensive business. You need knowledgeable advice to help you buy the plants and some top tips on how to care for them. We sent mystery shoppers into UK DIY chains and garden centres to see if their gardening advice would be blooming brilliant or a bit weedy.

I’m an avid buyer of plants. Unfortunately I have a tendency to buy what looks good, rather than what will thrive and grow. And sometimes I’ve not been helped by the advice, or lack of it, I get in my local garden centres.

Most recently I was set on buying some aubrietia, but couldn’t find it. When I found an assistant I was told ‘it’s not the time for aubrietia’. I wasn’t given any advice on what else I could choose and was just directed to the rockery section. Not offering suitable alternatives is just one tiny example of the sort of problem we found in our under cover snapshot research into the advice given at garden centres and DIY stores.

Undercover to uncover spotty advice

Our trained mystery shoppers visited large chain garden centres – Blue Diamond, Dobbies, the Garden Centre Group, Hilliers, Klondyke, Notcutts and Squires –  and two major DIY stores (B&Q and Homebase).

In our scenario, our mystery shoppers sought advice on a rose that had developed dark spots on the leaves that had turned yellow and dropped off, despite spraying. They said that they were worried that the plant had died and they wanted to buy another rose to plant in that spot to replace it.

Like any other shopper, they spoke to the first member of staff they found or went an information desk to seek help.

Garden centres vs DIY stores

Overall, garden centre chains gave better advice than the DIY stores. The very best advice was given by the Garden Centre Group where members of staff listened to the problem carefully and gave very thorough assistance. They explained clearly what to do, but also the reasons for doing it. Their passion for plants shone through and our shopper was encouraged to treat their existing rose rather than rushing into the purchase of another plant.

The advice offered in DIY stores was not as comprehensive. In a quarter of the visits, our secret shoppers were told it was fine to directly replant another rose where a rose had been (even though this meant it could die). We did find some green shoots of hope, however – most did recommend a suitable treatment for the diseased rose.

Often the problem in DIY stores was finding a suitable member of staff. In one branch of Homebase our secret shopper was helped by a member of staff from the paint section, as they were the only person available.

I think your garden centre – whether it’s a small independent or part of a big chain – is a place you should be able to get great service and full advice. Have you received bad advice, or are you receiving the good advice we saw in some garden centres?


Some of my roses suffered from blackspot regularly, so I asked a friend who is a gardening enthusiast for help. The replacement roses were planted in the same places and they are all healthy. A couple of others still suffer to some extent from black spot, as they have done from years, so they will be the next to go.

I think we should be looking for disease-resistant plants rather than resorting to garden chemicals, wherever possible.

LayZ Boy says:
18 January 2014

This is really helpful. I followed the result and have received excellent service from a proper garden centre.