What Sunday is complete without a visit to a garden centre to linger awhile betwixt lavender and hollyhocks? These are our very favourite ones in the UK.

Britain is a nation of garden lovers. A passion for horticulture is in our very roots, an indelible part of our national identity. Few other nationalities regard gardening as the leisure activity that Brits do; indeed, it is hard to imagine The National Garden Scheme (the charitable initiative, begun in 1927, whereby you can pay to poke around private gardens) having quite the take-up that it does in the UK.

And so it follows that the garden centre is, collectively, one of our very favourite places to pass the time, gathering ideas and cultivating inspiration from amidst the raised beds. When lockdown hit, garden centres remained one of the few places we could still go; accordingly, our passion for them only intensified, with people patiently waiting in long queues to get in, grateful simply to be out amidst their beloved plants; after all, a visit to the garden centre meant an improved garden – something that was never more appreciated than in the pandemic years, and of which we are still reaping the benefits now. These are some of our very favourites to visit of an easy Sunday afternoon.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond




In 1997, the Boglione family decamped from central London to the resplendent Queen Anne Petersham House in Richmond, which just so happened to back on to a neglected plant nursery. Much hard work and seven years later, they reopened its doors to reveal that quite the transformation had taken place: instead of the tired unloved nursery of old, there stood an ode to the bucolic – and the beginnings of perhaps the most eulogised nursery in the world. As Gael Boglione told House & Garden, ‘Rather than having a fixed plan, we let the nursery evolve, feeling our way as to how best to balance the plants with the beautiful pieces we wanted to sell. The day we opened we made a very simple table arrangement of daffodils growing through moss, and it still stands out in my memory as one of the most beautiful things we’ve done. Not long after, we realised that almost every garden centre in the country has a teahouse and I felt a light switch on in my mind. Where could be more magical to eat than here? I could see it all, tables set amongst the plants and dressed with garden-picked flowers; plates of dainty cucumber sandwiches, and plump, fluffy homemade scones with organic jam and cream.’ People tend to fall into two camps when it comes to Petersham: those who baulk at its (admittedly high) prices; and those who fall in love and never want to leave. We remain firmly in the second camp – after all, there is as much joy to be derived from a little wander and a cup of tea as there is in buying up the contents of the shop or settling in for a lavish meal. There is now a second ‘Petersham’ in Covent Garden, but to us, the original on the banks of the Thames can never be bettered. Visit the website here.


Clifton Nurseries, Maida Vale




Over in Maida Vale, Clifton Nurseries has been bringing joy to the good folk of west London ever since it opened its doors in 1851. Its historic glasshouse is the place to go if you’re looking for exotic conservatory plants. A true oasis in the city, dip in to buy plants, or simply for a spot of peace and quiet amongst the shrubs. Its legendary landscaping service is excellent, too, should you be in the market. Visit the website here.


East Ruston Old Vicarge Gardens, North Norfolk




East Ruston is a garden like no other. When Alan Gray and Graham Roberson bought the old vicarage in 1973, there was really no garden at all. Over the years, they have transformed it utterly; it now encompasses a ‘Dutch’ garden, an ‘exotic’ garden, a ‘King’s Walk’, a ‘Mediterranean’ garden and a ‘fruit cage’ – and much more besides. Come here to buy wonderful plants, but mostly just to glory in the transcendent beauty. Visit the website here.


RHS Wisley, Woking




You can trust the Royal Horticultural Society to run one of the very best garden centres in the land. Wisley does not disappoint, and keen gardeners could pore over the extraordinary collection of plants for days on end. There are thousands of house plants to choose from, as well as unusual varieties and shrubs available, plus the full complement of tools to kit out the most well-equipped of potting sheds. Always well stocked, Wisley’s hardy plants are guaranteed for five years. Visit the website here.


The Chelsea Gardener, Chelsea




At the King’s Road end of Sydney Street sits The Chelsea Gardener, a pocket of sublime peace in this ultra-smart part of town. Well-stocked both with plants and garden accoutrements big and small, locals’ gardens have been well-tended ever since it was founded in 1984, when it took over what was once part of The Brompton Hospital. Visit the website here.


RHS Garden Rosemoor, Devon




No day at an RHS garden will ever be a day wasted. Devon’s glorious Rosemoor also has an exemplary garden centre too, in case the garden itself inspires a flurry of planting. Nothing quite like a good browse around how the pros do it before loading up the car with shrubs to try and ape their skills back at home. Visit the website here.


Burford Garden Centre, Oxfordshire




The drive to Burford Garden Centre through the heart of the Cotswolds is enough to get the cogs of horticultural inspiration whirring. When you get there, expect those cogs to go into overdrive. Founded in 1975, it is a vast, magical emporium, stocking everything you might ever want in your garden, from hammocks to hollyhocks. They say, ‘At Burford, we love things that are a little different. That is our style. Maybe not cutting edge, but well designed, well made, always beautiful, or else useful, a little quirky, original and individual. It has to be different, be it old or new.’ Perfection. Visit the website here.


Neal’s Nurseries, Wandsworth




Right on the northern tip of Wandsworth Common, Neal’s Nurseries, which was established in 1850, is the largest in central London. That it is so immaculately presented and easily navigable makes it a sheer joy for serious horticulturists on a mission. Visit the website here.


Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens, Colchester




Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or not, no visitor could fail to be enchanted by Beth Chatto’s famous garden, which has a National Heritage Grade II listing. Chatto was an award-winning plantswoman, author and lecturer, and she transformed her gardens – which she began cultivating in 1960 – from a mess of brambles to the historically significant informal landscape that visitors see today. Learn from her expertise and then try to mimic it back at home courtesy of the garden centre. Visit the website here.

By Nancy Alsop
May 2022

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