I’m speaking at the Futurelines Event this week at Sandown Park, Esher, Surrey. It’s a new event organised by Garden Centre Retail. I’m the “inspirational speaker” – first session in the afternoon after serious, real garden centre stuff in the morning: catering and store layouts. Have to admit I don’t really know how to pitch this one. Sure, I was in garden retail for 40 years (including part time when at Uni) but that does make me sound like a dinosaur. I am in danger of delivering something that sounds rather like a talk to the local W.I. As soon as I started putting ideas together I found the theme “it isn’t like it used to be” developing. I want to avoid phrases like “15 years ago” – simply because things have changed so much in that time.
I’m calling it “The changing face of gardening” I think. But I’m not entirely sure it is gardening that’s changing its face – just the retail outlets. The gardeners I knew and their equivalents are still out there. They have more money, more time and easier access to a wider range of plants than ever before. They buy through web sites, ebay, shows, plant fairs, specialist nurseries, farmers’ markets, catalogues, shopping channels. My parents bought through Woolworths, a run-down local nursery and a stall in Stratford market. I wonder if today’s gardeners would buy more gardening in Garden Centres if the product was there? In some cases it is – but it is so diluted by the volume of everything else it fades into oblivion. Easier to buy a panini and a Magimix or a new kettle.
I think my greatest fear in speaking at an event of this kind is just sounding critical and negative. So yesterday I dropped in at a garden centre near Slough for inspiration. I didn’t find it …………and they didn’t even sell coffee. Maybe it wasn’t a garden centre after all.