Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Truth About Garden Centres

Garden Centres.

What are they all about?

I mean there was a time when the Garden Centre sold things for, erm, YOUR GARDEN! You know like plants, shrubs, compost and maybe (if they were bold) a shed or two.

Now the greenery seems to be swamped by things you would be ill advised to place in your garden - things like crystal figurines of mating swans, lavender-filled panty scenters and £7 jacket potatoes.

The £7 jacket potato was the stuff of legend where I used to live. A certain Garden Centre (which shall remain nameless in case you all rock up to gasp at the array of £7 jacket potatoes and the mugs eating them) used to charge SEVEN WHOLE POUNDS for ONE jacket potato.

You can buy 25kg of spuds for under a fiver if you know where to look.

That is one hell of a mark up.

Oh and that is without fillings. They're a pound extra. Each.

I discovered the £7 jacket potato when I was pregnant and had an awful 'I'm going to be sick if I don't eat NOW' moment. I raced to the cafe, chose a jacket spud with not one but TWO fillings and almost collapsed when I got to the till and the lady said '£9 please'. Unbelievably, such was the my need for instant food, I paid it! Even more unbelievably the cafe is always full - and many of the patrons are tucking into jacket potatoes..... 3 years on I'm still smarting at the cost of that spud but I digress, why am I talking about Garden Centres?

Well today, on the way home from school, I drove past one and thought 'oh how lovely, I can take the kids in to look at the lights and Grotto (they have one with live donkeys! ) and it's free!'.

Only it never is is it?

I'm sure they do it on purpose.

Lure you and your small children into their 'Garden' Centre and then place you and your highly charged children amidst acre upon acre of highly over-priced, highly breakable giftware surrounded by Britain's most judgemental people.....

The stress mounted, warnings were given, a fall was taken, a set of fingers almost broken (the toddlers - surprise surprise) and then there was a 'scene' involving a box of Japanese Organic Seaweed Crackers (WHAT was I just saying about non-garden items of an overpriced nature?) and huge amounts of crying followed by my eldest son bellowing 'MUMMY A POO IS COMING OUT NOW!' and me picking up the pair of them (no mean feat) and sprinting through the chintz and china and into the toilets.

The toilets.


Clearly they were expecting a stampede of women wanting Poinsettia's or something because those in charge of the Garden Centre have taken a very small toilet area and crammed in no fewer than TWELVE toilets.

This means each cubicle is very slightly wider than a slimish woman.

Try getting in there with 2 children plus bags plus coats and THEN try squatting on the floor holding your son so he doesn't fall down the toilet while he sobs 'please shut the door' and THEN try staying in that position while the toddler (locked in the 12" space with you both) starts throwing a tantrum and you can't even let him out because it's straight out the door and back into the (highly breakable) giftware (which is where he wants to go, thus the tantrum).


I'm not sure what happened next.

I know I got very very hot and very very claustrophobic and I know both children were crying and the eldest one wasn't actually doing what he should be doing on the toilet and the younger one made a launch for the 'Sanitary Disposal Bin' (which was about 3 inches from my face at this point - yippeee) and at that point I lost it.

I know I roared very very loudly.

I know there was a kerfuffle.

I know the toddler banged his face on the sanitary towel bin.... (gulp).

I know everyone started to cry harder.

I know that there were 'nice old ladies' in some of the other cubicles.

I know that I then had to stay in my claustrophobic crying filled cubicle for quite some time to make absolutely sure that all the other people in the other cubicles had finished their business, washed their hands and left before I dared show my face. This was not the mother I planned to be. Hiding in the toilets with her crying children after an altercation with a Panty Pad bin.

I know that by the time we got out we were all rather in need of a sit down, a slice of cake and something to drink.

So off to the cafe we went.......where we had to sit, in total silence, amongst a scattering of elderly people dressed in muted tones of peach and beige and eat our £3 slices of cake in silence.

And that, my dears, is why they lure you in with 'free' grottos and the like. The Truth About Garden Centres is that they are actually just portals which suck you, vortex-like, through the gates of giftware-hell and into the world's most expensive cafes.

Sod the cafe, I think they need to open a cocktail bar.


  1. Gosh. I'm sorry but I've just got to ask because sometimes I get the feeling you lurch from toilet cubicle crisis to toilet cubicle crisis. Where's your husband? Can't you dump one of the kids and the packages on him for once?

  2. Hope today is better. I too remember the days when garden centres were just that - not an ornament in sight!
    Sue xx

  3. Maenad - yup I spend way too much time in toilets. The consequence of 2 small semi-incontinent children I fear! My husband is at work......200 miles away......However when he is around I do like to leave one of them behind and it makes for very peaceful, serene trips out!

    Susie - yup today has been MUCH better. Lovely in fact!

  4. I thought you were describing Van Hages and then I realised you must have been in a garden centre hundreds of miles away...obviously all the same.
    Nat xx

  5. I went to the £7 jacket potato garden centre the other day to see father christmas for 'free'. He was great, unfortunately lunch cost me £17. When the woman told me it was £1.65 for a cup of tea I nearly dropped my tray, decided that it was against my morals to pay that much for a cuppa and pinched some of the kids apple juice when they weren't looking. Glad it's not just restricted to this area of the country.

  6. I'll tell you something else about the '£7 jacket potato garden centre' too - they actually have an officially policy (or indeed policys) to try and 'keep away the sort of people who have piercings and tattoos' (this is, apparently, because they might scare their core clientele who flock to buy £19 bits of tinsel and spend £7 on a jacket potato in a tattoo free environment). I know this because the man who cleaned our carpets after 'The Birth of Spuddy' (lest said the better) was a lovely bloke who was covered from head to toe in tats and who happened to be dating one of their senior employees. She had to keep him secret in case it caused ructions at the Head Office. WHAT!? Plus they killed all the pets in pets corner the minute foot and mouth broke out....... Ruthless that £7 jacket potato brigade you know. Good on you for sticking to the apple juice - next time I suggest you take your own tea bag and a Thermos. Oh and a heavily tattoed man with multiple piercings.