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.


  1. Our nearest garden centre was once a cosy place to visit Ronnie, with a cheap and cheerful corner, which was great for us as we had to start the the garden off completely from scratch. Now some years on it has morphed into supermarket size and the plants/garden stuff are no longer the stars of the show – it should be relabeled a ‘lifestyle centre.’Luckily we have an excellent local nursery and also a Country Market (formerly WI Market) which is a good source of reasonably priced plants. As you say visiting the the independent nurseries is more enjoyable and the plants are grown with love.


  2. Agreed Ronnie and a great post! It’s such a shame that we have to encounter all the tat en route to what we came for. I’ve stopped going to the really big nursery centres now and concentrate on the smaller ones that only sell plants.


  3. Hi Ronnie,

    I know what you mean; it seems to be very difficult these days to find anywhere that actually sells it own plants and not one you can find in any other garden centre. I’d love to find a nice local nursery, especially one that sells natives rather than buying from other parts of the country and adding to the carbon footprint.

    Dobbies here is a small retail park type set up with other shops too such as moshulu and also a local farmer’s shop. But also the plants are really expensive and of course, not grown there. I tend to buy only the plants on offers such as 4 for £10 or 6 for £10, of course these plants are smaller but at £8 for one perennial it’s ridiculous!


  4. I get so grumpy at being forced to walk through areas of, frankly, tat in order to get to the plants. My local, Paradise Park in Newhaven, inflicts this on me too and I really resent it. At least the plants are pretty good. Interesting re the market gardening near Worthing. My sister lives in Rustington and I alwasy wondered why there were so many garden centres on the drive through from Worthing. Now I know. Dave


    • Morning Dave
      You learn something new every day! In Victorian times it was all market gardens from Worthing along the coast to Chichester. As it is also so flat, I wonder if hundreds of years ago it was all under the sea and that is why the soil it good. Although its not good in my garden, too much heavy clay, must have missed out my part of Worthing. 🙂


  5. We have these large stores that we call box home/garden stores…I am trying to stay away form them and visit local nurseries…I am also going to learn where more of these nurseries are this year….I love those restored greenhouses…what I wouldn’t do to have one..that is what a greenhouse should be…I see you have a couple of foxglove in your purchase…love them!


    • They certainly are! I have NEVER been able to grow foxgloves in this garden but thought I would give them one moore chance and put loads and loads of grit around them to prevent the slugs and snails from eating them. The other plants were a Centaurea and a Monadia.


  6. Yes, I agree, garden centres are just too big now and sort of out of town shopping centres. We have a Haskins here in Dorset but like you I prefer a small nursery or even better a garden gate plant stall with an honesty box.


  7. I agree that ‘garden centres’ really are no longer there for the gardener, they are there for the consumer, mostly selling overpriced giftware and assorted ephemera. The plants they do sell are generally ok, but they are all bog standard, safe selling vartieites that have little place for the adventurous. Being a man I like to look at the garden tools section and often it turns out to be a miserable display of equipment not up to the job. The chemical section forms a large part of most garden centres’ which holds no interest for organic gardeners like myself. Trying to be positive they do however make a nice cup of coffee with teacakes.

    Stick to the independent nurseries and plant growers who have a passion for what they sell, many of whom are on eBay and if one visits them they actually know what they are talking about. Then one is supporting the little guy against the big guys.


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