I had the enormous misfortune on Saturday to visit a garden centre. You might think that an avid gardener like myself would feel as home in a garden centre as I do in a record shop.

However, modern warehouse-like garden centres have as little to do with gardening as Virgin megastores have to do with music.

They are crammed with the most pointless unnecessary clutter, very little of it of any use to anyone who actually wants to garden, to grow anything useful. They are temples to a lost generation so removed from the land and from seeing gardens as something essential and as something productive that it beggars belief.

poisonsAs I walked around aisle after aisle of chemical doused ornamentals, an arsenal of chemicals which could, mixed properly, probably exterminate a small Wiltshire town, a whole wall of tools, none of which looked like they would last more than about 6 months, and none of which any skilled grower would touch with a bargepole, and loads of pointless ornamental decorational tat, I was struck by how little you actually need in order to start a garden.

gc2The pinnacle of pointless rubbish I encountered is this charming object on the right. Brace yourself. It is a rabbit armchair. I’m not joking. Apparently what pet rabbits need these days is their own armchair (I don’t think it comes with a remote for the widescreen or somewhere to stash the Pringles).

Made in China. All that oil, pumped out of the ground, carted to China, carbon emissions here there and everywhere, to be turned into a rabbit armchair for a brief period before it heads to landfill (it would emerge from 10 years in my compost heap pretty unscathed). It is enough to make one despair for humanity. What did rabbits do before we made them armchairs? Can anyone still remember?

As I chased my children up and down the endless ailes, it struck me how far we have come. To equip people with what they actually need in order to grow food, we need only about 0.5% of what such garden centres contain. In order to do my garden, I need the following;

  • a shovel (a good Irish one with a point)
  • a straight spade
  • a long handled fork
  • a wheelbarrow
  • a trowel
  • a lawnmower (a bit, but this could be shared between a few people)
  • some seed trays
  • a hoe (I don’t have one yet, but I plan to get a really good one…)
  • a rake (very occasionally)
  • a hosepipe, watering can and rainwater butt.

That’s it. That’s really pretty much all most people will find they need. What I need in a garden centre is somewhere which stocks a small amount of tools and equipment, selected by people who actually understand about tools and are experienced gardeners.

By the time I discovered gardening, most of the garden centres run by people who were gifted nurserymen and gardeners had gone. One of the best I ever went to was Fruit Hill Farm in Ireland, which just stocks things they use themselves and which they feel to be the best, and they always have time to answer your questions. Garden shops like this used to be part of everyday life up and down the country until 20 or 30 years ago. Now mostly they are gone, unable to compete with the huge warehouse garden centres which also feature cafes, bookshops and all sorts. I look forward to the return of the local garden centre, dedicated to the equipping, skilling and enabling of local food culture.

Having been so rude though, I did buy something. Some kale seed.