A few short years ago visiting a garden centre would have been way down our list of fun places to hang out. For a start, we lived in a second floor flat back then. But lack of green space aside, our view, in the not-so-distant past, was that garden centres were places for folk who are (ahem) much older than us! The main exception to the rule being the annual festive foray to buy a Christmas tree.
Fast forward to life with a curious toddler and suddenly we’re seeing our local garden centres in a whole new light. Plus, I do think many of them have started to branch out (excuse the pun) and become far more family-friendly than I ever remember them being when I was a kid.
Suddenly, visiting a garden centre has become a fairly fool-proof, cheap and cheerful way to spend a few hours keeping Little Miss entertained. There’s loads for her to look at, favourites being ornamental animals of all shapes and sizes that she can pat and proudly say the names of. And, if she’s lucky, maybe some real ones to see in the pets and aquarium sections.
Even better, some of the best garden centres near us now have great soft play areas we can visit in return for a small donation to charity. In wet weather this can be a lifesaver! And to keep us parents happy, there’s the lure of a nice cup of tea or coffee and a slice of cake.
It does also seem that garden centres are no longer just about selling plants. Most now have various areas of gifts, toys, books, clothes and often a farm-style shop of tasty treats to tempt us. And now Christmas is coming they are getting even more interesting, with some lovely winter wonderland themed displays and activities. The one we went to this week had so many fairy lights twinkling it was like a free baby sensory experience! It also had an ‘alternative’ nativity scene set up, with moving life-size animals (see picture, which doesn’t quite do it justice!). I say ‘alternative’ because as well as your standard Christmas story stable creatures it also featured penguins and a lion, which I’m pretty sure were not part of the traditional line-up. But either way, Little Miss loved it.
Our favourite local garden centres include Old Barn Nursery & Garden Centre at Dial Post on the A24, Sussex, home to the scene above, and Hillier Garden Centre on the A281 Brighton Road just outside of Horsham, home to the ornamental rabbits and guinea pigs in the first picture . Both are part of bigger chains with outlets in other parts of the UK too.
So, it seems we are officially garden centre converts. Strange how parenthood changes your perspective on so many things!
(NB: These views are my own, I’ve not been paid/bribed/asked by the garden centres mentioned to post this)