02 June 2009

The garden center

I imagine many Americans have some preconceived notions about the British and their attachment to gardening. There's a good bit of truth in it-- the British are avid gardeners. Our first rented house here came with the gardener, a weathered old man named John who had a well-neigh impenetrable Buckinghamshire accent. John was in his eighties and had been working on our property in one capacity or another since he was 12. But despite his age, he never thought twice about stripping off to the waist and tackling whatever garden chores needed doing around the house.

The culture serves John and all gardeners well in the form of the garden center. While they don't quite have the statistical density of hot dog stands, it seems you are never far away from a garden center.

Now, the British garden center is not like nurseries we're accustomed to in the US. Here, garden centers are sprawling, elaborate affairs, and it's not unusual to find them equipped with things like a cafe, bookshop, ornamental pond, or play areas for children, not to mention the extensive choices of plant life, gear, accessories, furniture, and more. One near our last house (and we had two within two miles of us) had a miniature woodland railroad for the kids, and around the holidays you can visit Father Christmas (Santa) in his grotto in the woods (Santa lurks in a grotto here), and an old double-decker London bus is opened up and fill with “holiday refreshments” for the grownups (if you catch my drift). They become frequent rest stops for cycling clubs, hangouts for seniors, and in general have a considerable gravitational pull on the community.

And the tools! I'm sure it's the male equivalent to a woman finding herself in a room full of shoes, all in her size. From what I recall in the US, usually you'd be presented with two lines of tools, three at most, covering a few price ranges. Not so at the garden center: it's not unusual to be confronted with six or more complete lines of tools, representing the purely functional (the basic stuff), the high-tech (composite handles, shock-absorbing grips), the highly engineered (what else would you expect from a German tools line), the keenly edged (Wilkinson, the razor blade people, make garden tools here, so mind those hedge clippers), and the absolutely beautiful (and very pricey).

The aesthetics of this final category are wonderful. Refined metal finishes on blades and edges, quality handle woods, bent into graceful ergonomic arcs-- you don't want to get them dirty. And it's not like there's only one brand of these gorgeous tools; there are several, and clearly there's an active market for them. It's as if there's a strata of gardener that wants to maximize the pleasure of every aspect of the gardening activity.

Or maybe it's just garden bling. But for guys, it certainly is tool porn.


  1. So you are a tool enthusiast?

  2. I do like me some tools. I'm more partial to power tools and lovely hand tools for woodworking, but I appreciate beautiful tools even if they're for doing the weeding.

  3. I have a weakness for garden centres. My daughter heaves a great sigh if I say 'off to the garden centre today!' because she knows it will be a long slow meander with a trolley full of things Not on the List. I have recently discovered all the attachments one can have for the end of a garden hose. What a selection!

  4. Maybe I should start a tool porn site.

  5. I think my browser might block a tool porn site.