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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2001

Garden Centres and The Precautionary Tale of Impulse Buying
By Kim Lenaghan

There was a time when I could most easily be seduced into spending vast amounts of money on numerous products I didn’t need and would never use by the scents and smells of department store cosmetics counters. Now my secret shopping vice is garden centres. The second I drive into the carpark my hands sweat, my heart pounds and my plastic cards are practically sprinting out of my wallet toward the till. It’s like the cry of a manic City trader "buy, buy, buy" as I load up my trolley with hellebores, potentillas, bougainvillea and clematis with exotic sounding names like ‘Perle d’Azur’ or ‘Etoille Violette’. ‘Chanel No. 5’ and ‘Elizabeth Arden’ just can’t compare

A Garden CentreMost garden centres are now so attractively and thoughtfully laid out that it’s a joy to walk around them. All those healthy, beautifully tended plants, that riot of colour, it just sends me and, judging by the queues at the checkouts, everybody else into a complete buying frenzy. The problem is that you don’t always stop to think what exactly you’re bringing home. I’ve bought trees that will grow and spread like Jack’s Beanstalk for a tiny urban garden, I’ve bought plants that love the sun for tubs on a shady patio, I’ve bought acid loving shrubs to plant in a garden that has an alkaline soil - all because I got carried away by the wonder of it all and threw caution, advice and common sense to the wind.

So try and overcome that urge to buy everything before you by deciding in advance what kind of garden you currently have and what sort of look or plan you want to achieve. If you want a cottage garden then stick to buying plants like climbing roses, delphiniums, poppies, foxgloves, honeysuckles, whatever. No matter how attractive the clipped box and the succulent yuccas look in the garden centre they definitely don’t say cottage garden.

Determine what kind of soil you have, where the shade and sunshine are and don’t buy plants that are inappropriate for the conditions just because you like the look of them. They may well survive but they’ll never thrive. When the label says ‘full sunshine’ it really does mean full sunshine. As for containers, some things just have to be planted in the ground, however much you wish it otherwise. So don’t take some poor, unsuspecting plant and try to adapt it to the wrong conditions, just find a better alternative for your particular situation.

Think of gardening as being like fashion - if you’ve legs are like tree trunks you wouldn’t wear a mini skirt so why would you be daft enough to plant a Fremontodendron ‘California Glory’ on an exposed north facing wall that never gets any significant sunshine. Well, I wouldn’t wear the mini but I did kill the Fremontodendron and that’s why I’m sharing this cautionary tale and hopefully learning from my mistakes.

I’m not saying that I should or could stop going to garden centres - I’d need to go into rehab for that - I’m merely reminding myself, and anyone else who might suffer from a similar tendency, that impulse buying is as expensive and fruitless in a garden centre as it is at the make up counter in Boots.


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