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  • Interesting and Unusual Products

Interesting and Unusual Products

We're a bit arrogant sometimes (us lot); we pride ourselves in seeking out the unusual and hard to get-hold-of, but once we've had something a few weeks it becomes familiar and we forget to rave about it because we're off hunting for something else. To put matters right I thought we could use this space to list some of the things we stock that have excited us - lest we forget - and then we can list more things as and when we find then. Deal?

I'm going do this by walking around the garden centre with a new set of eyes - pretending I've not seen any of the things we stock before - that way I can bring to your attention all kinds of bits and bobs. Think of it as being a bit like Martin Brundle's grid walk at the Grand Prix every other Sunday.

Composts and Mulches

Westland's Multi-purpose with added John Innes. It's brilliant! We spent the whole of last year advising customers that the compost best suited to their needs was a mixture of loam and peat based products, and hey presto now we've got it one bag. The proof is in the growing - try it and we think you'll be impressed.

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I've already mentioned it under special offers: soil conditioner. It's from Westland, and from the outside it just looks like a big heavy bag. Not so inside; if you're into compost (it takes all sorts) then this is one to get you excited. A blend of composted bark and farmyard manure with a few added goodies; it smells and feels wonderful - imagine what it must do your soil. Spread it out, work it in with a fork or leave it on the surface as a fine mulch. Glorious stuff.

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Coloured decorative wood chips. Been keeping a bit of a low profile this product, but I really like it. Dyed bright colours including blue, yellow and terra cotta, or in more muted earth shades these uniformly small chips can add style or pizazz to your mulching. We had fun with it earlier in the year, using it as a patio-pot dressing on our Tuscan piazza.

Treat it as a whimsical product: use the blue in the summer and cool everywhere down; use the yellow and terra cotta to introduce a Mexican feel; or if you're a trendy modernist, the graphite is just what you need to go with your brushed aluminium and zinc plating.

Exotic rocks

Stones, rocks and boulders. We've shaped them, shined them up a bit and hung them around our necks and fastened them to our fingers for longer than we've had mirrors to see how good they look, but what about in the garden?

'Rockeries' are about as fashionable as Laura Ashley at the minute. Not so coloured and interestingly shaped stones. In our aggregates department we've a number of additions to traditional Cotswold and water-worn limestone. We've speckled granite cobbles which look not unlike monstrous bird eggs; we've cream and orange rainbow stones (very Mexican); we've black and white banded cobbles which look like giant mint humbugs; and weirdest of all we've got moon rock, a hard cream coloured stone, holed like a classic Dutch cheese. You can do loads of interesting things with these weird and wonderful lumps of hard stuff. Use them to make a dry riverbed (see Digital Digging), or to make simple standing stone arrangements a la Japanese Zen gardens. They're great for creating water features - most of them looking more dramatic when wet.

Exotic rocks work well with some of the gravel and stone chips. Slate scree and paddle stones are very 'in' at the moment, but what about brightly dyed stone chips? The turquoise and the purple are absolutely wild. Glass chips are fun as well. They've been tumbled to take the sharp edges off them and make an interesting alternative to alpine grit and gravel.

If you're thinking to yourself: 'Yeah, yeah, all well and good for these young uns.' (Which of course we are.) 'But what can I do with these alternative products.' Well, all I can say is: get yourself down to Greenhills and just have a look at some of the planters Elaine has made-up. From the stylish to the riotous, each startles in its own way. You can pinch and adapt her ideas, expand them to larger scale projects, or best of all use them as a spring-board to initiate your own creations.

Rope

It took us a little while to source some 'proper' rope, but it was worth the wait. Sisal and manila, 20mm or 36mm diameter, 1 - 200 metre long - we've got it.

Rope is such a wonderful material: it's natural, it's maritime, and it's versatile. Twist it, knot it, stain it, sculpt it even. You can use it to edge your decking, or make a fence. You can use it to set a sea-side garden theme, or create that nautical look.

Two tips:

  1. Wet it and allow to dry before using - it can shrink quite a bit.
  2. If using it outside then treat it with linseed oil or a vanish to preserve it.

Water Features

Not the best summer for being inspired to install a water feature perhaps, but that hasn't deterred many of you. We are always looking for interesting ideas and new designs and this season has revealed a couple of gems.

Beginning with a not so new design, we have installed another of the Henri Studio, obelisk water features on the garden centre entrance. Its slate finish and futuristic shape sits well with the mature conifer plantings, whilst the three substantial water falls give a freshness of sound as you approach from the car park. There's no place for ambivalence with this one: visitors either love it or hate it. Oops! Can you believe it - someone's gone and bought it (someone with good taste I might add). Oh well, we've pictures of it in the catalogue and we'll get another one in for next year.

A range of dinosaur-egg water features by Brannams have created quite an impact. Glazed egg shapes in blue, green, or ox-blood sit on matching sauces while water wells from an opening in the top and shimmers down and around the ovoid shape. There are small ones for indoors, medium ones for the conservatory, large ones for outside and an enormous feature-sized one to create a substantial visual statement. The choice - as they say - is yours.

Something different for those of you with pebble pools or a small pond is the Aqualisk granite and resin columns. Three and five foot high, they look like slender columns of hewn rock. An integral base ensures stability whilst a tube, cast in the middle, carries water to the top, which then tumbles down the craggy faces - glinting in the light as it goes. Wow! They're not cheap, but really are a must-have.

Granite from China

We've something of a reputation for stocking a wide range of garden statuary, and when it comes to oriental ornaments, well, where else is there to go?

'What next?' You're saying. So how about a few tons of hand carved granite? It took a while to get here and a fair amount of effort to put it in place, but was worth the wait. Some of you will already be familiar with the stunning 'elephant bench' we have in the car park - now there's more. There's a polished granite bench, supported by two friendly looking crocodiles (our supplier tells us it's the only one in the country). Exclusive or what?

Over in the Zen garden we have an interesting selection of temples, lanterns and bowls. If you want to know their correct names, where they should be positioned, and perhaps an amusing little tale, then come in one weekend and speak to our resident specialist, Dr.(I might look fierce, but I'm cuddly really) Paul Darby.

There's a cluster of granite mushrooms amongst the Japanese maples, stepping stones and millstones in the stone department, and in the gift shop carved and polished cats are something quite special.

As a customer said recently: 'Granite's not for life, it's for ever.'

Frolics

Now these really are hot off the press. We first saw them at Hampton Court Flower Show and just said: 'Yes. Those we have to have.'

Made from exterior grade MDF and painted to protect from the weather, these intricately cut illusion panels really are the business. There's an impressive range of designs to add drama if not a little theatre to your home and garden. Place six foot high topiary trees in Versailles planters either side of your front door; put a gate and passageway in a neighbours fence; and install a cloud-pruned tree in your Japanese corner. Do all these things in minutes, without lifting anything heavy, without doing any building work and, best of all, without spending too much money.

Frolic - a fun word and a fun product.

Pots

I'm not really sure where they all go, but demand for pots really does seem insatiable. This year we've taken a wider range of terra cotta pots from a specialist manufacturer in Bordeaux (yes I know that's France, but they're really, really good pots - honest). In addition we've begun to stock a range from Tuscany. You have to see the size and the quality of these Italian pots for yourself - my enthusing just doesn't do them justice. Time and time again customers are asking us to check the prices because they can't believe they are so cheap.

We've carried a colossal range of glazed pots since the day we opened, and many of these have become permanent lines as customers rely on us for continuity of stock. This doesn't stop us keeping an eye open for something different though. What about Catalan pots? Slim-walled, decorative pots in verdigris, and burnt umber shades. These out-door quality pots make a distinctly Spanish statement.

Something special: a dramatic range of glazed pots, spheres, pyramids and ammonites in silver and bronze. I have to admit we haven't taken delivery yet - should be early November - but as my mate Andy Tucker says: 'when you see them they'll blow your socks off!'

All Articles 2000 Paul Lathrope
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