10 of Britain’s best garden centers to visit in 2022

When I was younger, the garden center was a place where one might be treated to an extra dollop of cream on a scone and some English Breakfast tea, provided one was patient and well-behaved enough to mill about with Gran and Gramps on an endless Saturday quest for begonias. It was infinitely less than the park – and certainly not somewhere that I or any of my friends would have foreseen spending time in as an adult.

My times have changed. Research in 2021 from Draper Tools has demonstrated that gardening is “cool”, according to 83 per cent of the 2,000 people in the 18-34 age group surveyed. Furthermore, 53 per cent of those surveyed said they would rather spend time in a garden center than go to a nightclub. The soothing mist of the plant-hydrating sprinklers has, it seems, more appeal than a sweaty dancefloor.

There’s not only been a shift in the core market, but a sea change in what’s on offer. A new breed of garden center and plant shop with “hip” at its heart is now out there. Tea and cake is still on offer – but so is a wholesome and seasonal café menu, based on locally sourced ingredients.

Staff tend to be just the right side of gorgeous to make them earthy and approachable. Shelves of plants – housed in pots of polished concrete and bold, glazed ceramic – shuck off their botanical names in favor of more friendly nicknames, and care guides are written in the third person – “He loves bright, indirect sunlight” – rather than with instructional, hard-to-decipher graphics.

“We try to avoid Latin – the lingua franca of the traditional gardening market,” says Charlotte Craven, of Patch Plants (patchplants.com), an online plant delivery service feeding the green cravings of those not within reach of these new plant shops – to the tune of a 500 per cent increase in sales since the pandemic.

“The nicknames we give our plants are not only more memorable and familiar, but they also reflect the tendency of plant owners to name their own plants – for example, Sansevieria, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, is nicknamed Susie after our CEO’s mother-in-law.”

Location is also a factor. In the past few years, garden centers – often drawing inspiration from the original trendy plant emporium, Petersham Nurseries – have extended their reach from suburban and rural areas into urban spaces, greening railway arches, derelict shops and disused slivers of concrete.

The contrast between exposed brick or raw concrete, on the one hand, and tumbling swathes of pothos, fenestrations of monstera and flamboyant calatheas, on the other, is irresistible to modern gardeners. It’s also, needless to say, highly Instagrammable – another element that’s sexed up the garden and houseplant sector for the younger consumer – witness more than eight million “houseplant” tags on the photo-sharing platform.

Television also plays a role, according to James Young, director of the not-for-profit Forest of Memories, created during the pandemic to honor those who’d lost their lives to Covid-19 by planting trees in their memory.

“The young look for inspiration from the media,” he says, “and recent years have seen traditional and old-school activities, from baking to pottery, become the focus of television programmes, paving the way for millennials to embrace hobbies formerly seen as the exclusive domain of the WI and retirees.”

When it comes to gardening and plants, of course, there is also, he notes, the increasing awareness of “the healing impact that trees, plants and nature have on our wellbeing” – something that’s been more necessary than ever over in recent times.

The best garden centers to visit in Britain

Moss & Moor, Yorkshire

Not an urban offering but one that any happening townie will gladly make a day trip for, this relative newcomer (it opened in April 2021) holds a gorgeously curated range of everything from fire pits and hanging chairs to lanterns and textiles – all displayed alongside a positively Edenic profusion of garden plants, thoughtfully arranged by color in the store’s Potting Shed. Ponder going back for that ficus while tucking into an “ingredient-driven” dish at the 200-seat restaurant (mossandmoor.co.uk).

The Nunhead Gardener, London

What was once an overgrown patch of land opposite south-east London’s Nunhead Station is now a riot of shrubs, ferns and trees, complete with a dizzying selection of pots and planters. Under the railway arches, you’ll find an Aladdin’s cave of houseplants, with approachable staff on hand to guide you through each one’s requirements, as well as homewares and gifts that resolutely swerve the tat to come down firmly on the side of covetable. There are additional branches in Camberwell and Elephant & Castle (thenunheadgardener.com).

Burford Garden Company, Oxfordshire


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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