Garden centre still has capacity to excite visitors

Heighley Gate displays.
Heighley Gate displays.

We all have at least one place that gives us a warm glow inside when we visit but this fellow is lucky enough to have several.

In no particular order they are the stables where we keep our horses and the river which is almost on the doorstep.

Indoor pot plants.

Indoor pot plants.

Several local gardens have the same relax-enjoy effect – Howick, Cragside, Wallington and Alnwick of course!

But the one garden centre that never fails to excite because it offers so many options is a mere 20 minutes drive away.

Heighley Gate and I (plus the lady of the house) have been chums since the early seventies, when we watched from afar as David and Sheila Lishman transformed a field into the must-go place for plants.

Of course the site has developed, and the range of merchandise widened, but the body and soul of a garden centre remains, that is evident in the diversity of plants and sundries for sale; from ornamentals to fruit and vegetables or ponds. And if you’re a member of their Garden Club (it’s free) there is a notification of special offers sent out every month.

Bulb displays .

Bulb displays .

Each season has its attractions there but two stand out for me; there is the buzz of spring activity and the reflective planning and purchasing of autumn.

Little wonder that April and May see the car parks at Heighley Gate full to overflowing.

Last week’s visit was just as exciting because in the background they were flagging up Christmas (interesting) but we were fixed on two aspects of mainstream gardening; hardy specimens to plant now while the soil retains some warmth, and potted plants that will keep our spirits high over winter. In both respects there was no disappointment with the options on offer.

Fruit trees and bushes, ornamental trees and shrubs, specimen conifers and heathers, they’re all in place for the expected demand that goes with nature’s planting time. This is a good opportunity to be creating a new hedge and there are choices for that, plus a wide range of herbaceous perennials.

Nor is it too late for bulb planting. I did notice some tempting bargains which encouraged an element of bulk buying, and was delighted to see the polythene gloves that should be provided for customers next to all such displays. Several bulb species have poisonous qualities so protection whilst handling is important.

I found polyanthus, pansies and violas in abundance, good news for anyone wishing to brighten the gloom by planting up a container or adding interest to a bare patch of soil.

Attractive though the large blooms of pansies are, I do prefer the petite violas which come in single or mixed colours. They stand up to wind and rain so much better thanks to their compact form and the explosive seed dispersal facility nature has given them. Once you’ve introduced them, every year after there are seedlings galore to round up for an organised display.