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April 2012

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Take a bow garden centres!

Shirley Lanigan had her notebook at the ready

A few years ago I wrote a whinging piece about how annoying garden centres had become during the boom. It ran along the lines of not being able to find much in the way of decent plants in among the flower-covered wheelie bins, barbeque sets and scented candles as well as being told that thyme was ‘out of season' in early summer by a teenage assistant. I griped on about how the lifestyle department had swamped the gardening area of so many garden centres. Until then garden centres and nurseries had always been wonderful places, impossible to visit without hauling home some shrub or perennial, container or tool. They were occasions of temptation but the boom arrived and the love died.

That was then. Over the past few months I have been making forays into garden centres all over the country, whenever I happen to come across them, with a list of the flower and vegetable seeds to be sown this year in hand. I have fallen back in love with our garden centres. And the magic fairy dust that has rekindled that love is choice.

When it comes to the seeds section, the garden centres, these days are playing a blinder. To illustrate this with an example, I took notes of just a few of the vegetable seeds found in one garden centre recently. The reason for only noting some of the varieties was a fear of looking like a shop spy and being arrested for industrial espionage by the manager. In the few minutes I had before being caught looking suspicious, this was what I found: eight different varieties of broad beans and seven different sprouting seeds. I found sixteen different lettuces, not including packets that included three varieties in one.

There were two different cresses, four pea varieties, three mustards and six of radish. There was no time to properly count the tomatoes but there were plenty of them. There were organic and Irish seeds as well as imported brands and the number and range of herb seeds was itself a challenge. I picked up two packets, one of an old Irish pea called ‘Irish Green,' found in a Russian seed bank by the Irish Seed Savers and an Irish swede that simply had to be bought, named ‘Best of All.'

This particular garden centre was nothing out of the general run and I write about it because it fairly represented what is currently happening in so many garden centres. Of course, it also had a clothing department and a kitchen utensils department and the obligatory scented candles on sale and I hope they sell lots of all of those things because plants and seeds are once again an important part of the mix. The bug is back!

 

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