I can’t say I’m a connoisseur of garden centres; their combination of hoes and postcards, lasagne and water features, barbecues and whatever is in flower today may be a commercial necessity, but it somehow scrubs the part of any mind where plants and plans can usefully combine. I find myself filling the boot with things I’ve never wanted at ten percent off.
We made a detour, though, on our way home from Dolgellau, to visit Ashwood Nursery, near Stourbridge in a part of the country I don’t know at all. I had chanced on their website and been seduced by their choice of hellebores, daphnes, auriculas, hepaticas…the sort of things a gardener thinks of in winter. Especially a gardener with a tiny north-facing garden and a new greenhouse.
We were not disappointed. There was none of the usual corporate formula. It was clear straight away that this a nursery in the true sense of the word. Yes, the entrance/exit hall was full of china figurines (but even Kew trades in knick-knacks these days). Once past it, though, and the queue for the savoury-smelling café, the winter garden scene was perfect: intimate, enticing, jolly, with good plants and original ideas wherever you looked. The need for a gnome-land was handled with great applomb: you are greeted by a meadow of little model sheep. Then paths wind off through beds that look long-established and promising for all seasons, with enough January colour to spur you on; leading to glass houses on flower-show form, with the possibilities of the month excellently displayed and clearly explained.
No corporation, I thought, would have such taste or such high standards. Sadly we were there two weeks too early for the owner’s winter open garden day, but the photographs showed us what we were missing: a full-on demonstration of the possible, more personal and less stereotyped than any our public institutions give us. We shall be going back.