Yorkshire garden centre: pic for allotment blog

A coffee at the beginning and lunch at the end

Since we got the allotment in June, Dad and I have been regularly visiting our local garden centre, an 8-acre concern on the outskirts of town. We aren’t about to stop now because of a bit of snow.

It may be too chilly for real gardening but imaginary gardening goes on regardless.

That said, we rarely buy any actual gardening items. Dad won’t pay. As for me, hearing ‘what kind of idiot pays these prices?’ at regular intervals takes the bloom off the shopping experience.

We can still spend three hours at the garden centre though, wandering around looking at things, going into the cafe for coffee and a mince pie at the beginning, then tea and a turkey ‘n’ cranberry sarnie at the end.

We aren’t the only ones.  The place is heaving with people, mostly over 75. Why not? It’s warm, has toilets and you can walk miles with no snow underfoot, looking at the nice plants and supporting yourself on a trolley. There’s no stigma attached (unlike a day care centre) and it’s free (unlike a National Trust property).

Gardening - or shopping - at Yorkshire garden centre

Hexagonal jars of honey

At this time of year, the emphasis is less on gardening, more on giant pot pourri, ‘Meditainment’ CDs and hexagonal jars of honey. One room is entirely dedicated to Christmas lights. Bulbs, icicles and candles of every colour shimmer, twinkle and flick on and off in complex sequences while a huge illuminated Father Christmas in a sleigh goes back and forth, waving. You’d hope he might be reduced by now, but no.

‘Would anyone actually pay for a monstrosity like that?’ asks Dad.

A nearby family look sheepish, so I steer Dad towards the garden tools section, where we find respite amidst tones of wood and gunmetal. Dad examines a fork. ‘£55? What kind of idiot pays these prices?’ He answers his own question. ‘The kind who wears gloves to garden in, that’s who.’

An idiot glove wearer myself, I wince. But it’s true: everything here is overpriced. I don’t think real gardeners shop here, paying over the odds for concrete horses’ heads and Big Drippa Mini Automatic Watering Systems (for watering tomatoes in gro-bags, in case you’re wondering). Who needs a Chiminea Rain Cover? And if you do need one, what’s wrong with a black bin liner?

The garden centre is really a temple to shopping, not gardening.

We exit via the discount books, where Dad says things like ‘452 pages, and look at the quality of the paper! The thing weighs about a pound and it’s only 2.99. Now that’s what I call good value.’

In the supermarket afterwards, he insists on paying for everything in my basket. Knowing how he feels about extravagance, I curtail my normal shopping habits. I’ll have to go back for a proper shop later. Complicated things, families.

But it isn’t just being ripped off that Dad objects to. It’s the sense that everything conspires these days to make people soft. Just before we leave, I grab four packets of Ibuprofen.

‘They won’t let you buy that many,’ says Dad. ‘It’s one packet per customer, in case you’re a suicide risk. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Health and Safety gone mad.’

‘Forty-eight Ibuprofen are probably not enough to kill me.’

‘They could be, if you washed ’em down with half a bottle of gin. But if that’s what you were going to do, you’d do it anyway, wouldn’t you? You’d just have to go to Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, Waitrose and Boots first.’

When the girl at the till checks the drugs through without comment, or interest, Dad looks disappointed. He leans across the checkout and points back at me. ‘Now she’s going home to commit suicide!’

Allotment humour: shed decorated with fairy lights

A waste of £14.99

At times, I share Dad’s sense of a world gone mad. But there’s something to be said for going with the flow, too.

Later, I pop back to the garden centre. I linger by the Big Drippa, thinking it might be useful when we go on holiday, if the neighbours happen to be away at the same time.

I pull myself together.

My sights are set on something I saw earlier: multicoloured lights powered by a tiny solar panel.

If those aren’t frivolous and a waste of £14.99, I’d like to know what is.

But whatever Dad says, once he sees them in situ he’s going to love them.