Is it a garden centre or a shopping mall?

Market gardening and agriculture has a long history in Sussex due to the quality of the soil.  During the Victorian period a large number of glasshouses, or hot-houses, developed growing fruit and vegetables.    Market gardening became an important industry in the Worthing area serving the local seaside resorts and the railway became a vital link in getting fresh produce to London.

Sadly it is no longer a prime industry, but when you take the train from Worthing to Chichester you can’t help but notice the expanse of industrial sized greenhouses along the route.  Market gardening still continues, in one way or another, in Sussex.

Restored Victorian greenhouses at West Dean, Nr Chichester

It may be coincidental, but probably because of the history of market gardening and the quality of the soil, we have an abundance of nurseries and garden centres in the area.   On one local road, until recently, there were three large garden centres within a stone’s throw of each other and dotted in between numerous small independent nurseries.

One of the three larger garden centres, Country Fayre, the Poundland of garden centres, has been flattened now to make way for ASDA, but that is another story.  The other two have been swallowed up by gardening groups.   One became a Wyevale and is now part of The Gardening Centre Group and the other, taken over by Haskins in 2000, has just undergone a £12m redevelopment.  It is now, Haskins claim, one of the 4 largest “destination” garden centres in the country.   However, if you have ever been to the Cadbury Garden and Leisure Centre, near Bristol, you may doubt that claim.

On entering Haskins, to the left is a large, service station styled restaurant, complete with a Costa coffee shop.  There are large signs hanging from the ceiling advertising the various shopping areas.  “House and Home” sells kitchenware, crockery, with matching oven gloves, a large range of gifts including photo frames and scented candles, bags, shoes, clothes and jewellery.  There is a “Pets Area” and “Kid’s Area” selling children’s toys – I won’t go on as I suspect you get the picture.

Where are the plants?

As I headed towards the “Plants” area, after all it is the reason I was there, the route cleverly fed me through Indoor Living, Outdoor Living, weed and pest control, garden fertilisers, tools, plant protection and willow holders for grow bags.  I finally reached a large covered outside area piled high with compost of all descriptions, pots, plant supports and then, surprise, surprise – bedding plants!  There was also a good selection of hardy perennials and small pots of well advanced vegetable plants.  I hope that the people buying these had a greenhouse to put them in.  Finally, at the very far end were the shrubs and trees, I had lost interest by then.

Yes, I was tempted and I left the garden centre experience with a present for my Mum’s birthday, a refill bottle for a reed diffuser and, I almost forgot – four perennial plants at £12.

I paid my visit to the new Haskins, made an informed decision and in future  I will go to the little independent nursery where the plants, although possibly a little more expensive, are not mass produced  and it may be a more enjoyable experience.