Saturday, April 11, 2009

Little Miss Chief

The giant wagon wheels and life sized exotic animals outside the Chief Trading Garden Centre in Oldland Common were always enough to unleash a little curiosity when I drove past, but not enough for me to stop and see exactly what kind of garden centre sells elephants and gorillas.

Until today.

I’d been longing to grow some tomatoes ever since I left my piddly London flat for the green and supreme hills and vales of the west country. I’d heard tomatoes were low maintenance, and that’s the kind of gardening that appealed to me. I was given a bonsai tree once. Big mistake. The poor little thing didn’t have a hope in hell.

As winter finally gave way to spring, it was time to embrace the Green Lady within. Throwing caution to the wind, and forgetting the Bonsai lesson, I decided to up the stakes. Why not bung in some herbs too and see what happens? Taking my urge to live the good life by the reins, I invested in some rosemary, thyme (even I know they're like salt and pepper, you just need both) parsley, mint, and sage. Goodbye Grazia. Hello Gardener’s World.

It was a need for some compost for these little fellas which led me to drag my boyfriend to the Chief Trading Post, a garden centre which, we were to discover, puts all others in the shade. We came for compost. We stayed for the paradise within.

What an incredible experience. I’ve been to garden centres before, I know they supply trinkets and gnomes, fridge magnets and patio slabs, but this one really goes above and beyond. We spent a few bewildering hours wandering around the jungle-like greenhouses and pretending we owned a farmhouse, just so we could imagine where we'd put the wagon wheel swinging seat and hand carved rocking chair.

Inside, things only got better. Having decided we’d grow both tomatoes and strawberries in our grow bag, and having garnered advice aplenty from the multitude of cheery workers, we sat down for a well earned scone. Well, all the dreaming about farmhouses whilst going ‘ooh’ at big benches and bright flowers was exhausting work. Any excuse to use the sentence 'lashings of strawberry jam' gets my vote. The food was delicious, and if I haven’t already driven home how happy the employees were, I’ll reiterate. Working Easter Saturday didn’t deter these folk from some witty banter and encouraging guidance to a pair of novices like Gareth and me.

The café, or high tea saloon, to use the proper name, is immersed in a labyrinth of cacti, so humongous they’re bursting through the roof, giving the whole scone scoffing experience wonderful charm.

If I were five years old, I’d be off gallivanting through the maze of sand pits, plants, lions, gypsy caravans and hanging baskets. If I had children, I’d bring them here for a day out. I’d teach them all about plants and let them take home (to the farmhouse) one fruit or vegetable to grow for themselves. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I can barely keep these herbs alive, let alone a child.

Floating from our lovely garden centre experience, we came home and got green fingered. Much to my delight, Gareth , who I thought might head straight to his laptop and leave me to it, joined me on the patio for some potting. He re-homed the tomatoes while I tended the herbs, which I'd forgotten to water since buying a week ago and were on their last legs. Nothing a bit of baby bio won't sort out, I'm sure. ‘Doesn’t it make you feel at one with nature?’ I asked, encouraging Gareth's green side. ‘I’m very at one with my grow bag,’ he replied with the kind of dead pan tone that reminded me not to push it.

As we surveyed our makeshift garden, fingers muddy and herbs looking rather like a child who knows the babysitter doesn’t have much faith in their child caring abilities (wilting away from us slightly. Cowering, you might say) we smiled satisfactorily. The whole experience can be summed up in no other word than delightful.

My god. I’m using the word ‘delightful' to describe my past times. Look out Grandma, there’s a young pretender to your rocking chair.

I think I need a stiff drink. Luckily I’ve got some homegrown mint, barely making it past week one in my care, ready to fulfill it’s destiny and become a mojito. Pass the rum, I need to regain my youth.

The Chief Trading Post LTD Barry Road, Oldland Common, BS30 6QY 01179 323 112


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