And gardening is meant to be therapeutic

24th January 2011:

In less than a week two journalists from the same paper have left me somewhat surprised by their comments.

The first was Fionnuala Fallon, who did an excellent feature in the Irish Times on Thursday 20th, giving sound advice on growing potatoes. However at the end of the piece Fionnuala recommends a variety of potatoes (Mayan Delight) and lists the supplier, an English Garden Centre.

So explain this – an Irish writer in an Irish publication recommending an English Garden Centre. Hardly supportive of Irish retailers of potatoes, who need just as much support in this difficult economic climate, if not more. What’s more, when the product is available in Ireland it is not really an environmentally sound suggestion either…….

So my blood had finally stopped boiling when on Sunday, I opened the Home section of The Sunday Times and read Plot 34 by Mark Keenan. His even less helpful quote was as follows:

“DIY stores and garden centres are expensive and, if you come to rely on them your food -growing efforts will cost you money rather than saving it.”

Such a sweeping statement! As an owner of a garden centre I disagree, and not because I wish to live a life of luxury with the multi-millions I make every year (I wish). More that this statement is damming of the free advice, free courses,recycled materials and all round hard work that we as a team put in every year as passionate gardeners. Mark may have his own views but I would suggest he take some responsibility before he tars us all with same brush……

All I can say is thank goodness that there was one lovely garden writer at The Irish Times this week (Jane Powers)and she provides a calming balance in her feature……

6 thoughts on “And gardening is meant to be therapeutic”

  1. The Secret Gardener

    I was both surprised and delighted to have received a response from Fionnuala Fallon of The Irish Times in relation to my views of her recommending an English garden centre for the supply of a variety of seed potatoes.

    Fionnuala did attempt to identify an Irish stockist from the supplier, however she received no response and when she contacted several garden centres here they had not heard of the variety.

    I am pleased to say that we will be selling taster packs of Mayan Gold as of early February, and Fionnuala is invited for coffee and cake if she is ever in this neck of the woods……

  2. Dear Sir/Madame

    It may be a little late to reply, but I just came across your comments about my Sunday Times column and thought I’d better chip in my tuppence worth (or E5.35 worth – if it’s for a packet of bean seeds).

    First of all, apologies for making your blood boil – whoever you are.

    But yes, as you say, my column regularly refers to the increasing prices of plants, seeds and garden equipment in garden centres – even as the price of most of everything else is coming down.

    I would say that those who have been growing food for a number of years have been becoming increasingly aware that the so called “zeitgeist” is of late being cashed in on by many traders – some to an unacceptable degree.

    Were I to buy all my stuff at these garden centres, it would simply not be worth my while growing food at all. More recently I asserted that increasing costs were turning food gardening into a paid for hobby like golf or ten pin bowling.

    Recently I tallied up the cost of growing 34 beans and worked out that, thanks to increasing prices at garden centres/supplier for manure, seeds, poles, petrol etc, it cost E17 to grow beans I could buy in the supermarket for a tenner. The packet of beans cost E5.35 for 34 beans (I surmise they must be magic beans). Similar stories can be told for a range of other products.

    Why does a packet of seeds cost twice as much here in Ireland as it does in the UK where it originates? The commonest excuse is transport costs – but that doesn’t wash. Does it really cost an extra two quid to send an envelope sized package to Ireland?

    If it’s the middleman, not the garden centre, why then doesn’t the garden centre change this or buy from someone else?

    Also in my experience (not everyone’s) many garden centres (not all) hire staff who don’t know anything about plants – in some cases not even enough to keep their displays alive long enough to sell them – as evidenced by the trays of flailing juvenile plants you’ll find at the “garden barn” I visited last week.

    While there are always outlets which offer good value and advice out there, it remains my view that there are twice as many more who are cynically ripping off their customers.

    In either case, I certainly don’t think too many people would disagree with the particular point you take issue with in particular: my assertion that garden centres are expensive.

    But unlike my newspaper column and blog and those others you refer to – which make it perfectly clear who is doing the sniping and thus renders us wholly accountable, I note that your blood boiling is, like much of that conducted online, exclusively conducted behind the dubious veil of anonmimity.

    So reveal yourself sir/madame!! And then myself and your other readers will spill forth and spend voraciously on your threshold. Because a garden centre which is good value these days is a very rare find indeed…..

    Yours Mark Keenan
    The Sunday Times – an entire week’s reading with three magazines included for E2.70 – for less than the price of a cup of takeaway coffee and the equivalent cost of 17 french bean seeds from the last garden centre I visited.)

  3. Never to late to reply Mark and delighted you have albeit with a sarcastic overture.

    Firstly I do not see how my blog, and or comment, has been made as you refer ‘ like much of that conducted online, exclusively conducted behind the dubious veil of anonmimity.’ As you found the item on the blog, you will have seen it was clearly attached to the website of the garden centre and with some simple investigative journalism one would have been able to have identified the author. Had I written the piece under a pseudonym and hidden my identity then I feel your comment may have been justified.

    I am also somewhat surprised to see that you perceive the price of ‘most of everything’ as coming down bar garden centre produce. The Irish Independent in March 2011 actually reported cost of living as going up 2.2pc in the last year, with household and fuel bills leading the rise. I have also read several articles over many years within The Sunday Times which has clearly highlighted the higher costs of goods in the Republic of Eire compared to England and other European countries and this does not relate to just garden centres as you refer.

    However as economics is not my area of expertise I will get back to the price of a pack of French Beans. At present I have two varieties of Dwarf French Beans for sale. The first retails at €2 (or £1.65 in the UK) for 100 organic seeds, the second is a whopping 49 cents more expensive. So please feel free to spend voraciously on our threshold

    As I stated in the original blog I did find your statement to be a sweeping judgement and it is unlikely that the supermarket will provide you with free advice, free courses, recycled materials and loyalty card all of which are provided within our small independent garden centre.

  4. Some points of note:

    statistic fact: print sales are steadily declining.
    point of note: controversy may be seen by the disruptor as a logic step in raising a profile
    also: i refer to the ryanair sarkozy case or in the case of a blog, the ryanair versus Jason Roe [not actually a case] – also know as attention seeking for free/ cheap promotion.
    further: I would guage a survey at least via the Garden Centre Assoc of Ireland/ Bord Bia etc was not undertaken.

    That aside, I have used the case example of a gentleman I witnessed buying 4 bags of compost with ‘miraculous powers’ to grow a pot of potatoes [inc. pot and organic seed – which makes it not organic] at a cost of €51 [approx] as the most expensive 1kg of spuds ever produced. Also there are garden centres who are more expensive than others, naturally. But, this also goes for pubs and beverages. Then again, sticking with the beverage analogy, there is a difference between an espresso and a spoon of instant ie. like with like. That said I don’t mind paying the extra little for a better service/ experience and the obvious setting within that location.

    [To the growing of spuds domestically, I would rather see it noted that raised beds and the plethora of paraphernalia that may be bought are not necessary and also that the investment in a soil sieve may be a more logic purchase that compost – and also a back garden is much cheaper than an allotment…. the list goes on]

    Whilst Mark may well be correct in what he is suggesting as versus researching. [ie in a survey of 100 garden centres etc] there are garden centres who do give great value and do employ experienced gardeners/ horticulturists [although brackets are used in this part of the comment]. It would be nice [again] to see some good news and some promotion of what is Irish and great.

    Personally, I don’t mind when someone is critical of me and/ or my work as long as it is explained why they think so and maybe were I can improve within that downfall. Also if one is to go that far, one might take the time to point out what is good, if anything at all. At least it would give the article/ piece/ commentary/ author a little more credibility.

    As a by the way, my last packet of bean seeds cost €4.10 – happy knowing I bought local and supported my neighbouring family run garden centre.

    Yours Peter Donegan
    My Gardening Blog – an entire week’s reading with – no magazines included for E0.00 – for less than the price of a cup of takeaway coffee and *not the equivalent cost of 17 french bean seeds from the last garden centre I visited.)

  5. Wise words and great value from Peter, his gardening blog and of course the Sod Show.

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