Is it a case of buyer beware or should we be getting a better service from our garden centres?

Many garden centres are increasingly becoming major retail outlets. Amongst Christmas decorations, gifts, food, pets and clothing it is just possible to find some plants, but it is almost impossible to get reliable, honest information about them.

Should we have to take responsibility for reading plant labels? When we’ve crouched down to ground level and got soil down our fingernails and mud on our arms in search of the elusive piece of plastic, does it give us the information that we need? When it’s missing, is it up to us to go in search of reference books to try and find information on a specific species or cultivar? And could someone please tell me why some companies have started stapling the label to the inside of the pot? Are they worried that we are going to run off with it? I would also like know if most people can actually understand the symbols on shrubs shipped in from Holland, Belgium and Italy? I think that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO.

So many times I’ve heard people say ‘I bought it because it had lovely flowers but it’s done nothing since’, or ‘I didn’t realise it would grow so big’ or ‘I’ve no idea how to look after it’. I think that even if some of the information is on the label, it’s rather like instructions on how to work our TV or video – we rarely actually read them. What is needed are large information notices in every plant bay at the garden centre. Some places do this, some even replace them when they are faded and weather worn but generally we are lucky if the plants are even in alphabetical order. We need to know the truth about the plant before we buy it, so let’s campaign for honest, realistic labelling. We should be told if the plant is going to end up being a monster or if it is a weak under-performer. We want to know if it needs wrapping in fleece at the first sign of a chill or if it’s going to curl up and die if we’ve not had rain for few days. Perhaps if we’d known that the plant sitting next to our purchase at the garden centre actually flowered for weeks longer and had fantastic winter form, we might have made a different choice. So come on garden centres, not everyone has a degree in horticulture, give us information that is easy to find, useful and honest. Yes you may end up with some plants being left on your shelves, but you know what? If that is the case, it’s probably because they deserve to be there.

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