Peter Bromhead: Garden centres, again

By Peter Bromhead

I'm being reluctantly dragged back into visiting garden centres again, thanks to the caregiver's decision to purchase a rural retreat.

As a long-term apartment owner, such establishments dropped off my weekend must-do list years ago, so I noticed a few marketing changes in this, ahem, blossoming industry.

In the olden days (as my 8-year-old son describes anything more than a decade ago) garden centres, as I recollect, focused on stocking seed packets and small containers of spring and winter vegetable plants, plus the usual collection of fruit trees and evergreen bushes. A garden shop was essentially about buying tiny stuff to grow.

Today, most of the work has already been done - it's now a beguiling world of instant display. Flowers and vegetables in full bloom are sold in large pots alongside geometrically shaped bushes, manicured to make it seem a French topiary expert has been giving your section the once-over.

No longer do you visit a garden centre just to buy tomato plants, but to contemplate over coffee in the centre's cafe, the merits of purchasing an enormous fountain - the sort of thing that would have been regarded as essential ornamental stonework in Renaissance times.

The growth in garden ornaments is phenomenal. Sadly, much of the stuff on offer is poorly reproduced, with tawdry copies of everything from Michelangelo's David to statues of Buddha.

The growth in Eastern cultural icons is interesting and must surely be worthy of a university study - statues of Buddha outnumber reproductions of St Francis of Assisi by about 20 to 1.

"Are garden lovers rejecting Rome in favour of seeking nirvana?" I pensively asked the caregiver, as I wandered around contemplating all the kitschy stonework. As usual, she ignored the question, reminding me to focus on buying silverbeet plants.

When I optimistically suggested that a 3m Buddha statue added to our garden might make the vegetables grow better, I received nothing but another long, silent, weary look.

I was hoping to draw her out on complex questions troubling me: is a Tupperware-style reproduction of the Buddha as culturally iconic as the 3-tonne gold model found in some obscure Burmese temple?

When I asked my 8-year-old the same question, his answer reflected pure Zen enlightenment:"no way do we need a Buddha statue - buy a trampoline instead."

- NZ Herald

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