9 Lazy Steps to Create a Crappy Garden Centre.

“Dear Customer Service: First of all, you should know that I’m typing this with my middle finger.” ~ Anon

Shopping at the nursery used to be one of my favourite things to do.

But lately, it’s really become an exercise in disappointment, and yesterday was the last straw.

It was my birthday, so we kicked off the “Festival of Melissa“* by heading down to the classiest plant centre in our district for some lunch and a browse.

This nursery has been a bit of a landmark for over 20 years.  It is a fantastic space, lots of parking, a huge area for display, a cafe,  a gift shop and even a playground for kids.  It is one of five franchised nurseries in the city.

I was looking forward to a peaceful amble around, select some plants for the bare spots in the garden and enjoy the cool autumn weather.

Instead, I wandered around resisting the urge to tidy the whole place up.


It was awful. But, let me count the ways…. here’s what to do to create a crappy garden centre of your very own.

1. Sell Dead Plants

$8.95 for dead lavender. Try harder.
$8.95 for dead lavender. Try harder.

If a nursery kills a potted plant, as a customer I think “Geez, what chance have I got?”  It’s so unbelievably lazy, its almost unforgivable.

A quick whip around in the morning before customers arrive would solve the problem.  Send wilted plants to the bargain (or giveaway) table, or rehabilitate them out of sight.

Chuck out the no hopers.  Like the lavenders on your left….

It’s that simple.



2. Sell Mislabelled Plants

Pretty sure that is not Lemon Balm.
Pretty sure that is not Lemon Balm.

That pot labelled “Lemon Balm” or Melissa officinalis, was actually not.  From the look and smell of it, I think it was either bergamont or a citrus scented basil.  Either way, it was a big fail.

It’s like a restaurant serving up chicken when you actually ordered lamb.  And then trying to convince you chicken is lamb.

3. Sell Pricey Plants

Whoa, these plants were super pricey.  My local hardware and garden centre offered the same plants for almost half the price.  Ouch.  Bananas, grapes, seedlings and fruit trees were all on offer, but they were all shabby looking and I probably would passed them over if they were on a discount trolley, let alone double the price I could get elsewhere.

Plus I couldn’t find prices on about 1/4 of all the plants on display.

Husband jovially exclaimed “Perhaps they are free!”   Um, I don’t think so.  By this stage, Husband was begging to leave because I had clearly put on my ranty-pants and was letting fly….

4.  Be Generally Untidy

A bad look....
A bad look….

The whole place needed a good sweep and clean up.  There were weird spaces where it seemed rubbish was stuffed to get it out of the way, even though it was in plain sight. That’s the kind of trick my 5 year old pulls when you ask him to clean his room, without him actually cleaning his room.

The plants and products themselves were really poorly arranged and displayed.

There were tall trolleys loaded with unpacked plants everywhere, making it difficult to navigate around the displays.  Why not park them all out the way and unpack them one at a time?  Instead, it seemed the customers were expected to just help themselves.

5. Ignore the Renovations Required.

The infrastructure has probably seen better days.  A lovely sprawling rotunda that was once covered, is now bare, but patched up with cheap, ill fitting shadecloth sails. Sad.

The kids park is pretty dire, with sand and woodchip mulch blending into an unsightly mess.

It seems every display table is painted a different colour.

There are potholes in the tarmac that are actually pretty dangerous. I slipped and Mr 3 fell over and grazed his knee.

Their own gardens need maintenance!  A good pruning and a clean out of choking garden beds.

Ironically, the car park area and entrance looks pretty good.  They are pulling a bait & switch!

6. Employ Scruffy Staff

Maybe I’m just getting old (it was my birthday and I did just buy my first tube of “erase the wrinkles” product) but I am completely turned off by scruffy, grubby looking staff.

Yes, I know its a garden centre and there is an element of physical labour, but that’s what aprons are for.  And soap.

It’s not a reason to sport dirty hair or a faded shirt with a few holes.  I would walk across to the other side of the road to avoid these guys, so I’m even less likely to approach them asking for some friendly plant growing advice.

7. Provide Indifferent Service

I had to tell the cashier the price of my purchases. He had no clue, but then didn’t believe me anyway. So I  offered to take him to the display sign in his own store.

Alternatively, actually put prices on all the pots and reduce the chance of having to pick a fight with the customer.

I mentioned that the seedling section was pretty dismal and the manager just kind of shrugged his shoulders and said they’ll be getting more in on the weekend.  So apparently the weekday customers just have to suck it.

8.  Set up a Poorly Executed Gift Shop

The gift shop sprawls across an enormous space. Too much space.

The stuff on offer varies so much in quality and price, it just looks like the confused lair of a kleptomaniac with a botanic bent.

Plus, probably not a great idea to place your fertilizer section within whiffing distance of the fancy stuff.

9. Be Online like it’s 1999.

Wow, if I thought it was bad in store, checking out the website was like going back in time.  I would love to post the link so you could check it out for yourself, but don’t want to be sued!

No online store.  No “About Us” story to tell of their 25 year history in our city.  No seasonal promotions, there is only ONE photo of one of their actual stores, nothing to entice me to visit.

On the same page, it says “come into one of our 5 stores…” scroll down and it says “come into one of our 8 stores…”

If I want to sign up for the newsletter, there is a link to a form that I have to print out and “drop in” to one of their 5 (or is it 8?) stores.  No online registration.


You might think I am being harsh, it’s true, they may have been having a bad week. But the kind of deterioration I saw doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a few months.

In my city, there is a lot of bitching about how hard retail is given our mining boom.  Plus there is the old chestnut that the internet is killing the industry.  But, this is a hard argument to swallow when it appears they are not even attempting to achieve the basics.  They have everything there to make it work.  But they are just going through the motions.

Perth just seems to be constantly slugged with high prices and rubbish service and product, and customers just seem to take it.  The same business’ complain when customers like me reluctantly eschew the local supplier in favour of getting reliable, reasonably priced, quality plants delivered to my door from interstate.

But it got me thinking, what would I do if I had to put my money where where my mouth is?  What would I do differently?  What makes a great garden centre?

What do you love about your favourite garden centre?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

* My lovely mate Sharon gave me the idea.  Instead of celebrating her Birth-day, she created the “Festival of Sharon” a week long extravaganza that allows adequate time to meaningfully celebrate the day she arrived on the planet.  I think it’s genius.


  1. says

    I think I know which nursery you mean…

    Last time I was there I was excited about buying plants. I think we left with a packet of seeds.

    The online thing bugs me no end these days. I’m not too bothered if I can’t buy plants online, just make sure there’s some up to date info up there. Opening and closing times, shop address(es), that sort of thing. It’s like every business was told it needed a website in the late 90s, so they built one and then checked that box as done and didn’t need to do anything else with it.

    There’s a similar problem with yarn stores… If they don’t sell what we want we won’t shop there; if we don’t shop there then why would they get what we want? (I don’t know what the answer is).

    • says

      Does it begin with a “W”? on Wanneroo Road? To be fair, there are a lot of shabby urban nursery’s around us. I do wonder if the land they are sitting on would be worth more than the business.

      Also, I think the internet has created a much more sophisticated customer. Nursery’s have a real opportunity to create an engaging experience above and beyond what is offered by the hardware or department stores. It would be a shame to see local nurseries fizzle.

  2. says

    wow that’s terrible! We had a place like that near us, someone that used to advertise on radio a lot and was extremely successful, let his store run down very similar to the one you posted about and a few weeks later I saw they were out of business…no surprise there. We didn’t want to stay!

    • says

      It wouldn’t surprise me if it closed. But as crap as it is, it would still bother me to see it go. Perhaps I have been watching too much Mary, Queen of Shops, but I refuse to believe that urban nurseries will be swallowed up by competition from hardware stores. Local shops, done right, have so much to offer.

  3. Sharon says

    Couldn’t post comment last time I read this as internet crashed for 20 millionth time so am doing so now. (Internet seems to have recovered thanks to very helpful iinet man.)

    Wouldn’t Mary Portas have a heart attack?! So dreadful. Those pics tell it all. We used to go to that very nursery years and years ago every Sunday ‘avo after curry lunch with my mum and nana. Good times back then.

    Shaz xx

    p.s. So sad the festival has ended. Back to reality.

    • says

      Yes it used to be so good. But it’s a new age! I began writing a “My Ideal Garden Centre for the 21st century” Blog article, but now, it reads more like a business plan. Ooops!

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