A Latte with that Potting Soil Please

Posted on June 5, 2012

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Having recently returned from a brief trip over to the U.K. to visit family, I was impressed at the retail and social aspects of the garden centres in the Midlands. True, they are situated some distance apart in the countryside away from the town centres where acreages are easier to come by, but we could certainly learn a thing or two on this side of The Pond about making our garden centres more people friendly and a destination for shopping.

Wellington Boot Planters

Wellington Boot Planters

The English love their gardens as much as their Sunday tea and Wellie boots, and they have latched onto the specialty coffee phenomenon of America in a big, big way in the last few years. Heck, there’s barely any ol’ pubs now that don’t have an espresso machine nestled behind the bar. I even came across a marvelous old Gothic church that included a cafe/visitor centre, offering a selection of baked goodies with your Americano. You could then take a leisurely stroll past historic stone statuary and markers with your java and converse with one of the locals. Charming!

But even with a depressed economy in England, the market for large garden centres seems to be very keen. Going well beyond the basics of plants, pots, soil and landscaping, I found areas devoted to all manner of outdoor patio living, modern and retro furniture, funky jewellery, gifts for everyone on your list, books and clothing. It was the best of the big stores but presented in a relaxed atmosphere, more intimate and unique.

And then, after the retail therapy session was done, I came to the area set aside for a pleasant time with a relative or friend over a specialty coffee, a hot lunch meal or a decadent slice of lemon drizzle cake. (Oh, the choices were so difficult and my palate is salivating all over again.)  Seniors happily mingled with young moms and toddlers in push-chairs. Businessmen in their pressed striped shirts and polished shoes stopped in for a quick break from the motorway traffic. This nicely designed area was nothing like some of the cafeteria-like eateries of the large North American outlets; there was a comfortable feeling about things, unrushed, focused on tasty food and socializing. (Perhaps just a variation on the traditional social meeting place of the local British pub?)

Even the briefest of vacations offer us new perspectives. So although I was disappointed that I was unable to bring back home some truly amazing garden decor items (cast iron and stone being a tad too heavy and bulky for my luggage), I did get plenty of inspiration for our own yard space. If the garden centres here in Canada did, in fact, offer coffee bars within their retail area, there’s a pretty good chance I’d be there most days. Then when would I ever actually get my other work done, hmm? (That’s why God makes rainy days, right?)

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