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The sad demise of the house plant section in UK garden centres.

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My interest in plants in general started when I was a kid. It was sparked by visits to a local independent garden centre, to which I could walk, in the town for which I lived. It used to have an eclectic mix of plants. I've never really been into outdoor plants, preferring those that grow year round indoors. This garden centre was therefore a wonderful place for me, as they had a large house plant section and not just your typical spider plants and Ficus. They used to have much more interesting stuff than these, for instance sensitive plants (Mimosa pudica). This would have probably been the first time I'd seen a plant that could move. Yes, venus flytraps were available and indeed the garden centre used to stock them now and again, but they certainly weren't as prevalent as they are now. Imagine how exciting for a young boy it must have been to see this strange plant that moved when touched – even though it has a pink fluffy flower! I remember collecting my pocket money over many weeks so that I could purchase a Mimosa pudica. In fact, collecting my pocket money in order to purchase plants became a regular thing. There was a magnificent grape vine growing through the rafters of the greenhouse in which the house plants grew. Sadly though, this garden centre is now gone, replaced with houses. Even as a grown man I used to like visiting there and was saddened to see it close.

I have moved town since and where I live now there are a few independent garden centres, two of which had quite a good selection of house plants and stocked some of the more unusual plants too. They have both subsequently been re-arranged though and this has led to the demise of the house plant section, making way for the now typical garden centre 'ornaments', which I can only assume makes them more money and certainly doesn’t require the same care as plants. One of them dedicates the vast majority of its indoor space for the three or so months run up to Christmas to selling Christmas ‘tat’, much of it in a large greenhouse section that would otherwise be ideal for house plants. Yes, there are still garden centres in the UK as well as many DIY stores that sell house plants, but many of them are the same mass grown plants, with shelves overrun with Phalenopsis - a plant that sadly many people bin after it stops flowering. It makes me wonder whether some of these fascinating house plants that I used to see when I was a kid will be resigned to history, with only specialist growers knowing about them. The UK public seem to be losing the fascination for the plants that the Victorians loved with a passion.

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I couldn’t agree with you more. We have had some excellent garden centres in my neck of the woods that are slowly turning into café’s, Christmas fayre’s and exotic pet shops. We still have one or two that sell unusual plants but they are few and far between.

Alex.

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Trouble with house plants are peoples homes rarely provide the right environment. Also people get them home and put them where they look nice rather than where the plant would be happiest. A few months later and it has turned yellow and straggly or is dead through lack of water or feeding. (The average person dont know that a plant needs more than water when in a confined space such as a pot). They then bin them and conclude that keeping plants is too difficult.

Better growing instructions would help. But saying that this does seem to be improving.

I think the biggest problem is our modern housed with central heating etc, and curtains often drawn to see the TV better or not even opened in the morning as its still dark when they leave for work.

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I think commercialism has as much to do with the demise as the ability, or lack of, to keep house plants alive when taken home. I suspect that garden centres can make more money on Christmas tat, Cafes and ornaments than they can on house plants, so they use the space for best profit. I've seen huge greenhouses that were previously stuffed with plants now used solely for non-plant products. With some of them that I have visited it is questionable as to whether they should even be called garden centres.

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Slightly off garden centre topic but sought of similar, when i was a kid i used love trips out to calderstones park in Liverpool, they had a fantastic greenhouse full of plants, including nepenthes, pygmy sundews, sarras, orchids, a sub-tropical fernery and all knds of interesting stuff no doubt a lot of which was collected and brought to liverpool in the height of its sea-port past. Then sometime in late 70's or 80's i forget which now, the 'loony left', being the bunch of incompetent morons they were allways going to be, virtually bankrupted the city and one of the casualties was the greenhouse which is now just a memory. I think part of the collection is still growing elsewhere but no longer on public view. Lets just say my impression of self serving politicians (most of them!) has never recovered.

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There used to be a fantastic garden centre somewhere near Milton Keynes, which I use to visit when I lived down in England. They had a large section dedicated to house plants, which was a little like a jungle. I used to do a 100+ mile round trip primarily to visit there, then one day I went and it had all changed. I think that we in the UK have lost the passion for house plants - either that or the garden centres have decided for us.

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I suppose it all comes down to the lowest common denominator, mass produced and therefore relatively cheap plants sell faster than less common, perhaps not so mass produced and hence more expensive plants, pile em high and sell em cheap.

The number of orchids available in our local garden centre is actually quite high and at reasonable prices compared to years ago, but i sometimes wonder if the mass produced cheap tc'd stuff put some more specialised nurseries out of business.

Edit:

A few weeks ago i had to make a trip to sardinia, finding myself with a few hours to spare i popped into the biggest local garden centre nr cagliari, basically a waste of time because it looked like a carbon copy of a uk garden centre, even with exactly the same tray of orchids cp's etc... So i guess most of the plants around europe all come from a small number of large wholesalers?

Edited by manders

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I'm curious to know if there are any good exceptions? (Particularly around London, planning on going there sometime during the next six months or so.)

More on topic, it's much the same here. Lots of greenhouse space, little of it used for house plants (or in some garden centres, only a very small selection of house plants).

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Mimosa pudica was a favorite of mine, growing up on Long Island. I used to save the seedpods and germinate the seeds along the perimeter of the house. Been a long time....

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The garden centres give the buying public what they want. Its not the garden centres that dictate whats sold its the customers. Its would be a foolish business that ignores the wants of the customer. Thats why the greenhouses are full of tat and trinkets because it does not die like an house plant so its become more popular. So of course the customer is going to buy that glitter covered plastic bell on a stick as its will go on looking good along time after the plant has gone to the big glass house in the sky.

Edited by mantrid

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I understand economics and that shops fill the space with the items that make them the most profit - but this is typically with items that fit into the general product type for that store, e.g. I've never seen an electrical retailer allocating selling space to bread or a tile warehouse selling televisions. Many garden centres must have initially believed that selling house plants would have been profitable, as they have built large greenhouses to house them. Presumably, either people no longer want house plants or the garden centres have caught onto the fact that they can fill the space with items that make more profit, or more likely a combination of the two. It's not only garden centres either, some of the larger DIY stores that have very nice custom built greenhouse areas now fill them with pots and planters where house plants used to be.

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I think it depends where you live. Near Whalley there are two garden centres that have each doubled or tripled in size over the last 5 years.

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I understand economics and that shops fill the space with the items that make them the most profit - but this is typically with items that fit into the general product type for that store, e.g. I've never seen an electrical retailer allocating selling space to bread or a tile warehouse selling televisions. Many garden centres must have initially believed that selling house plants would have been profitable, as they have built large greenhouses to house them. Presumably, either people no longer want house plants or the garden centres have caught onto the fact that they can fill the space with items that make more profit, or more likely a combination of the two. It's not only garden centres either, some of the larger DIY stores that have very nice custom built greenhouse areas now fill them with pots and planters where house plants used to be.

Also you have to employ people to look after the plants while they are on the shelf, while the glitter covered plastic bell on a stick needs little care once on the shelf

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I think it depends where you live. Near Whalley there are two garden centres that have each doubled or tripled in size over the last 5 years.

There's one here too that has moved premises to a much larger store. They actually had a good selection of house plants in their old store and have dedicated a good sized area for them in the new store too. They seem to be an exception to the rule though, as many of the other garden centres around here have either totally removed or seriously downsized their house plant range.

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Phew, after finding my magnifying glass to read some of these comments :lol:....

If any of you live within driving distance of St. Albans, Herts, you just Have to go to Aylett Nurseries. Their house plant area rival Kew Gardens for incredibleness, and to top it, their customer service is outstanding.

Nearby is Burston Garden Centre, which has been quite good lately for house plants.

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Couldn't agree more. One of my favourite nurseries closed last year (massive range of unusual tomatoes, peppers, herbs, etc every year but few tropicals). Redeveloped and now reopened as a modern garden centre! Big shop, big cafe, lots of tat, but few houseplant (expensive, £30 for a small nep) and limited range of outside stuff - trained trees for £300!! I went once to look - will never go again. The others have gone 'Whyvale' with just two independents left, both doing very limited houseplants as they have to compete with the chains on the tat :-(

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I would think the main problem is that house plants are not fashionable and many people are not willing or able to put in the effort to look after all but the most indestructible. There are 2 excellent garden centres near me in N London who offer really good ranges of outdoor plants but with very poor ranges of indoor stuff; maybe a third small cacti (unnamed), a third showy orchids and a third 'large green' plants. There is sometimes a tray of mixed small carnivores. all looking very sad. This is pretty much the same range as local DIY shops sell for half the price. Cacti and those types of orchids are almost 'decorations' and can be used for a few months in an unsuitable room and them replaced; maybe that is where houseplants are going. On the other hand there is a local company doing small succulents as decor pieces, with nice, hand made pots and charging an arm and a leg for them, but again these are plants that can survive for some time without being treated as plants but instead are exclusive decor items. 

My local Homebase gets an even worse set of houseplants, but does often have a range of rather unexciting carnivores, so I keep a look out for the 'half price half dead' section and have snapped up some half decent Sarracenia there (In the Summer I got a very large S. leucophylla hybrid of some type reduced from £35 to £2.99 and have managed to rescue the largest  of the 4 grow points and it now looks very nice.

 

 

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