Whether you fancy coffee and cake or a fresh salad, there’s a garden centres caf? or restaurant to suit.?Gardening and good food go hand in hand, that seems perfectly clear. Or at least it does today.
There was a time, however, when to think of a garden centre was not to think of food. Earlier generations would certainly not have gone to browse bedding plants in the hope of sitting down to a delicious home-made lunch in the caf? afterwards.
The idea of including food as part of a garden centre offering is a recent development, mainly driven by two forces.
First, the resurgent grow-your-own movement, a reaction against processed and imported produce. Home-grown and home-cooked food have new kudos, and garden centres are in prime position to provide both. It is counter-intuitive to have all those fresh ingredients at your fingertips and not create something delicious with them.
The other factor is financial. Like other retailers, garden centres must compete with online shopping. Run well, a food offering can be a big part of the business: according to the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), on average, caf?s and restaurants contribute 17 per cent of a garden centre’s turnover. In some cases, this contribution can reach 50 per cent. Food is also resistant to the internet ? you cannot eat a salad online.
Petersham Nurseries, in Surrey, was one of the first to take food seriously, and won a Michelin star in 2011 under chef Skye Gyngell. Now run by Cat Ashton, it became a destination restaurant, independent of the plants it sold.
Petersham Nurseries (HEATHER EDWARDS)
Inspired by that example, other nurseries have been improving their cafeterias over the past few years. Now even the chains are getting in on the act. The Garden Centre Group, which owns 139 outlets, has hired Jason Danciger as food and beverage director. Previously Danciger worked for the Roux brothers as a chef de cuisine, and more recently he was head of hospitality for Marks & Spencer.
“I want to develop a real connection between the garden centre and the restaurant,” he says. “The look and the feel are important. It needs to be a destination food experience that you would cross the road for.”
The 25 garden centre or nursery destinations listed right combine the pleasures of plants and delicious dining. Some have been tried and tasted by me recently, the others come recommended by green-fingered friends.
If your favourite garden centre caf? or restaurant does not appear here, please nominate it by email, giving a brief description of why you think it is outstanding, and we will publish top recommendations from readers online.
The Olive Tree Restaurant, Busy Bee Garden Centre
Ryde, Isle of Wight
An airy modern space with French-style lighting, wooden floors and simple furniture. Don’t miss the apple shortcake and a range of delicious cakes made on site, or the truly scrumptious coffee served by happy, friendly staff. There’s a great all-day breakfast menu and plenty of good value choices (01983 811096; busybeegardencentre.co.uk).
Ventnor Botanic Garden
Ventnor, Isle of Wight
The Plantation Room Caf? serves exquisite loose leaf (and flower) teas, coffee, home-made cakes and light lunches. It’s a beautiful space complete with shelves of botanical books. On warmer days, sit out on the terrace overlooking the medicinal garden and the palm house (01983 855397; botanic.co.uk).
Lowden Garden Centre
An open plan, homely place for a spot of lunch. There’s great coffee and a choice of inspiring soups, quiches and light lunches with fresh herb salads and seasonal local veg. You can even have a glass of prosecco. Perch on stools at rustic tables, or chill out on conservatory furniture. Don’t miss the farm shop (01225 702345; lowdengardencentre.com).
Arthurs at Coolings
Local fresh ingredients are this caf?’s mainstay. Once you’ve got the hang of the overhead electronic menu, you can order home-made cakes, coffee and delicious light lunches. There are nice seeded paninis and great coffee served by friendly, helpful staff. The pleasant decor and converted barn-like atmosphere create a cosy feel. Attention to detail makes all the difference here (01959 532269; coolings.co.uk).
Woodcote Green Garden Centre
With a seasonal menu augmented by home-grown produce, the Terrace Garden Caf? offers a restaurant-quality menu with an ever-changing and inspiring specials board. The on-site gardeners work closely with the restaurant; the farm shop butcher provides fresh, local meat and makes the sausages served at breakfast and lunch (020 8647 6838; woodcotegreen.com).
Box Tree Caf?, Cleeve Nursery
This small but perfectly formed nursery boasts a matching caf?, offering a creative specials board and delicious home-made soups, toasted paninis and more. A wood burner and comfy sofa add to the positive vibes (01934 832134; cleevenursery.co.uk).
Riverside Garden Centre Caf?
Bristol’s community garden centre includes its very own veggie caf? with hearty soups and stews, artisan bread and delectable home-made cakes (0117 966 7535; riverside gardencentre.com).
Belle & Joe’s Kitchen, Timmermans Garden Centre
Firmly established as a meeting place for friends and family, this caf? prepares all meals from scratch, right down to the pizza dough. Summer salad ingredients are grown in the vegetable garden and greenhouse (0115 966 4033; timmermansgardencentre.com).
Jessie’s Kitchen, Turriff’s Garden Centre
Broughty Ferry, Dundee
Jessie’s was awarded the Best Catering Facilities accolade at the 2012 Garden Retail Awards as well as taking the 2012 Scottish Home Baking Award. The caf? offers home-baked delights and produce grown on site (01382 778488; turriffs.com).
Glendoick Garden Centre
Awarded best Garden Centre Caf? in the Garden Retail Awards 2013 (and 2006, 2008 and 2010). Renowned for its fresh, home-made soups, delicious Glendoick scones and muffins and afternoon tea (01738 860265; glendoick.com).
Caf? Azure, Azure Garden Centre
Offering fine food and fine value using locally sourced ingredients (01670 733762; cafe-azure.co.uk).
Donaghadee, Co Down
Tempting cakes and desserts, large pies and a range of tasty lunches as well as great coffee (028 9188 3603; creativegardens.net).
The Garden Restaurant, Raemoir Garden Centre
Popular for lunches and afternoon tea, the restaurant offers a changing menu, or for a light lunch visit the self-service caf? (01330 825059; raemoirgardencentre.co.uk).
Sally’s Tea Rooms, The Secret Garden
Popular for its freshly prepared home-made food, great views of the Gwent countryside and honey foraged locally, as well as unusual plants in the adjacent nursery (01495 785237; secretgardenwales.co.uk).
Burford Garden Company Caf?
Winner of Best Caf? and Best Deli in the Oxfordshire Restaurant Awards 2013. It’s the detail that counts at this greenhouse-based caf?. The relaxed approach is augmented by exceptional food, including house-baked cakes, freshly prepared soups and hot dishes (01993 823117; burford.co.uk).
Fresh Approach Restaurant
Bents, nr Warrington, Cheshire
A wide choice of fresh contemporary and traditional dishes. Modern salad bar and buffet-style servery. Undergoing a major refurbishment (01942 266300; bents.co.uk).
Belton Garden Centre
The new coffee shop and restaurant offers seasonal food, snacks to lunches, all made on site from local produce. Don’t miss the award-winning scones (01476 563 700; beltongardencentre.co.uk).
The Quince Tree Caf?
Clifton Nurseries, London W9
Combining patisserie and plants with finesse, the caf? in the Palm House serves breakfast, delicious lunches, afternoon tea and scrumptious cakes (020 7289 6851; clifton.co.uk).
White Waltham, Berks
The kitchen garden and farm are managed according to biodynamic principles and produce is harvested only when ready, to ensure quality and flavour. The tea room (open May-Sept), serves estate produce, including delicious sausages and burgers or steak sandwiches, depending what’s available on the day (01628 825517; walthamplace.com).
The Organic Gardens
Yeo Valley, Blagdon, Somerset
Delicious inspiring salads from the garden coupled with cold meats, cheese and quiches (all organic and from the Yeo Valley farm). Delicious and all in view of the kitchen garden. Open May to October on select dates, check website (01761 461650; theorganicgardens.co.uk).
Alnwick Garden, Northumberland
A destination in its own right. For a breakfast baguette drop into the Potting Shed, but if it’s a high-end culinary treat you are after, book a table in the Treehouse and walk the oak planks into this timber-clad haven illuminated with fairy lights and furnished with idiosyncratic thrones. Woven branches divide the dining area, which is heated with roaring wood fires. Don’t miss the Deadly and Dirty Jane cocktails created by the Duchess of Northumberland and inspired by the Poison garden (01665 511852; alnwickgarden.com).
Easton Walled Garden
This highly rated tea room is well loved by locals and rounds off a visit to the always-interesting garden and nursery. Bread is baked locally, cakes are made on site with free-range eggs, the honey comes from bees that use the gardens, and salad and soup ingredients come from the gardens during the summer (01476 530063; eastonwalledgardens.co.uk).
Worton Organic Farm Shop, Cassington, Oxon
Sarah Raven runs cookery courses at her garden at Perch Hill in Sussex where she grows a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. ?Somewhere that I would go out of my way to travel to for lunch is Worton Organic Garden and caf? in Oxfordshire,? she says. ?It?s streets ahead of the rest. I love the relationship there between the food on your plate and what is growing in the garden.? (07718 518964; wortonorganicgarden.com).
Dorney Court, Kitchen Garden, Dorney, Berks
Writer Naomi Slade recommends this garden centre near Eton. ?It has great food and atmosphere as part of their USP,? she says. The chefs use quality local, seasonal produce wherever possible, with many ingredients grown on-site (01628 669999; dckg.co.uk).
Ashwood Nurseries, Kingswinford, West Midlands
Val Bourne nominates the ?brilliant? tea rooms attached to an equally outstanding garden centre. The menu starts with a full English breakfast and runs through chef?s daily lunch specials, sandwiches, cakes and ice creams (01384 401996; ashwoodnurseries.com).
Source: The Telegraph