Hello all, it's been a while. I'm hoping to get some time for some travel and book reviews soon. Things have been taking off with my angel readings and baby keeps me on my toes! Hope you're all well.
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Here Today, Scone Tomorrow - *Updated 11/8/13*
fantastic range and choice of products, outstanding cafe, family friendly
can be expensive - look out for the bargains and offers
Is it worth visiting?Excellent
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*Placing travel reviews at the top as it's summer holidays - hope this is helpful.*
Situated in leafy Glazebury on the Cheshire/Lancashire border, Bents Garden Centre attracts custom from all over both counties and even further afield. Named as the UK’s best garden centre in 2009, 2010 and 2011, it is definitely more than just a garden centre – it’s a bona fide tourist attraction with even bigger and better plans for the future. We’re lucky enough to live nearby and visit often…
~*~ “FOR BEAUTIFUL LIVING” ~*~
First and foremost, Bents is a large shop with a curiosity in every corner. The entrance doors lead to a copious cards and gifts section, which includes amongst its wares Yankee candles, books, ornaments, toys and even jewellery. We have always found that it’s a great place to get a gift for that tricky person who already has everything – there are lots of unusual vases, dishes, candles, artwork and ornamental pieces in diverse styles from floral and fragrant, to rustic and rural, to modernist and minimalist, to city chic. For younger children and babies, there are beautiful traditional wooden trains, dolls’ houses and animals, though there probably isn’t much in the way of giftware for older children. My mum especially loves the artificial flowers section because she collects them, so I’m never stuck for something to buy her these days! Gifts can be very expensive, so it’s important to check prices early in the choosing process, with some items in excess of £50, but they also stock lovely and unique items for around the £10-£20 mark.
Also under the vast, magnificent, glass greenhouse-like roof are a great selection of houseplants including your commonplace shrubs, peace lilies and spider plants but also more exotic offerings such as cacti, Bonsai, lemon, olive and chilli plants. There is a small Edinburgh Woollen Mill within the complex, selling mostly outdoor clothing and woollen items, who seem to be having a sale more often than not though I would say the clothes are geared at older customers. Bents themselves also sells a small selection of clothing, accessories, shoes and bags though again, the prices for such items are often on the high side. Most of the year round there are many displays of garden furniture, and decorative items such as solar lamps and citronella candles, taking up a lot of the floor space, with Bents staff on hand to help if you’re hoping to make a purchase. The shop part of Bents is well-organised, it’s easy to find your way round, but also easy to become absorbed wandering round browsing, and with such beautiful items, it’s almost as much fun to window shop as anything!
~*~ FOR THRIVING GARDENS ~*~
Beyond the large shop area, the back end of the main building has shelves stacked high with the likes of garden tools, plant food, pest deterrent, compost and fertiliser. From here you enter the conservatory area, which is almost as large as the main building and full of tender budding plants as well as pots in every colour of the rainbow, water features both wonderful and wacky, and even jacuzzis! Various stands of seeds and bulbs abound in both areas. I am into herbs and many garden centres I’ve visited don’t always have the herb I am after for my collection, but I’ve never been disappointed at Bents – they have always had just what I want in stock. The only caution I would give with the herbs would be not to buy pre-planted pretty pots of them – for some reason their attempts at this are not so successful and they always seem to die off – do the potting yourself. Most flowers and plants are reasonably priced between £5-£20 but do check those price tags - and most of them do thrive when planted in your garden. Roses seem to be a bit of a speciality and as well as a magnificent choice of colours and types they can be purchased for as little as £8.
As well as being stocked to the rafters with seasonal plants and flowers, in the outside area Bents have an impressive collection of trees, including many different fir trees, fruit trees, and the monkey puzzle trees (at a price) which fascinate my son so much we ended up buying him a baby one. Something that really impressed me was that the more expensive plants come with a year’s money-back guarantee if they don’t take or become diseased or unexpectedly die. All you have to do is keep your receipt – which I have done! I have my eye on one of the tall, gentle willow saplings at the moment. There are also all manner of stone ornaments including sundials, gargoyles and benches, and many a pretty sunhouse, sturdy shed and cute playhouse. My son especially loves a two-storey one which sadly is well out of my budget, but I usually let him play for 5 minutes in it, even though there are signs up saying you’re not supposed to. I’m sorry, Bents, I do love your garden centre, but if a child sees a playhouse they’re going to want to play in it! There are also such practical items as fences, trellises, stone flags and gravel and while there isn’t a huge choice it’s bigger than at most garden centres. Prices do vary from the sublime to the ridiculous, but
Pictures of Bents Garden Centre, Glazebury
One of the Christmas displays.
they are very generous with sales and offers so it’s worth a look if you’re genuinely after a large garden item.
~*~ FOR AMAZING ANIMALS ~*~
The Pets’ Corner shop houses all manner of pet food, toys, bedding, accessories, cages, tanks and hutches, along with well-trained staff who can advise on the best product for your pet. In addition to this, Bents has a large choice of food for those of us who feed our garden birds – giant economy tubs of fat balls is one of our most frequent purchases! From other areas of the garden centre you can also purchase items which make it easier, such as bird tables and bird baths. We have always found these types of purchases to be very reasonably priced. The stone bird bath I purchased was only £35, for example, and the said economy tubs of fat balls provide 50 balls for in the region of £5.99. The only moan I would have animal-wise is that, despite all the space and staff employed who clearly know their stuff about pets, there are no actual small pets in Pets’ Corner. It makes a trip to a garden centre so much more occupying for my son if there are a few hamsters, rabbits, budgies and fish – and most garden centres, certainly in the north-west, do have them.
A pleasant little thing to look out for is the wild birds who come into the conservatory area when it’s cold and sing up in the eaves. This spring there were even a family of geese proudly walking their goslings down the side of the conservatory building on one visit, which was lovely to show my son!
~*~ FOR FABULOUS FOOD ~*~
One of the main reasons Bents is seen as an attraction rather than just a garden centre is its café. Don’t be deceived by the approach which makes it look tiny with just a few chairs and tables out front – in the back of the serving area there are four further large seating areas, one in the conservatory, with a small number of al fresco tables available when weather allows; a general eating area; a waiter/waitress service area which obviously carries a surcharge but may be nice for a special occasion; and a children’s area with a small choice of toys and books including a drawing station and sometimes, which is always a very nice touch, free balloons. We have sat in all areas apart from the waiter/waitress service area, and all tables are kept clean, quickly emptied after use, and have plenty of room to put down your food. The café is spacious and accessible, with a good stock of high-chairs for families who need them.
The choice of food is also excellent, including sandwiches, salads, soups, hot meals of the day, hot and cold drinks, a few alcoholic drinks, and best of all, dairy ice-cream, a wide variety of fresh cakes and biscuits, and Bents’ own trademark fruit or cherry scones. These are all displayed in glass cabinets and are suitably tempting looking! We have sampled a few different things and found everything to be lip-smackingly gorgeous, though we rarely have a full meal as it’s as expensive as a restaurant to do so. We usually have a scone and a hot drink: the scones are crunchy on the outside with a melt-in-the-mouth quality on the inside, and never last long enough, but that’s hardly a criticism! They always offer you jam and cream for an extra charge, but honestly, they’re enough of a treat without! I am partial to cappuccino with chocolate or cinnamon sprinkles and my mum usually has hot chocolate (without the cream and marshmallows they offer) – they offer a loyalty card on coffee, where each time you order a coffee you get a stamp, and when you reach seven you get a free drink. This is great if everybody you tend to go with drinks coffee and you live locally, but since I’m the only coffee fiend it’s taking me some time to fill mine! They offer a lovely lunchbox option for children which comes in a green grow tray and includes random seeds, a tiny colouring book and crayon pack, and includes a sandwich from a decent choice, a yogurt, a piece of fruit, a drink and a packet of crisps or biscuits. My son enjoys this but can never finish it!
It’s not just the café that makes Bents foodie heaven. They have a huge food court behind the café area stocked with oodles of locally and farm produced food. This includes items such as my favourite Tyrell’s crisps, dips, jams, chutneys, cooking sauces, herbs, spices, spreads, snacks, sweets, breads, cakes, dried fruits, chocolate offerings (especially around Easter and Christmas), and farm dairy products. They have “food fortnights” periodically where they will set up a sampling stand and have special offers on food items. Something I have found very useful is their gift service; you choose a basket (in the region of £4-£10 to buy), choose whatever items you like from the stock, and then have it gift-presented with cellophane and ribbons by the creative staff. This is free – you just pay for the items – and they will have it ready for you within about 20 minutes. This provided an ideal and unusual Father’s Day present this year for my son to give his daddy!
~*~ FOR PERFECT CHRISTMASSES ~*~
Exciting times are ahead very soon – Bents are putting up their renowned Christmas displays on 12th October. I love just looking round in the run up to Christmas, because as I may have mentioned in a previous piece, I’m a Christmas freak, and this place turns into a veritable Santa’s grotto for the final two months of the year. Blackout curtains block the light from the glass roof so that you can appreciate the full magnificence of strings of Christmas lights. A few years ago, I bought a set of Victoriana lamp lights which reminded me of the ones we had on the tree when I was a little girl for £20; they are excellent quality and have not yet (touch wood) even fused. The garden furniture displays make way for bays upon bays of Christmas decorations in every colour scheme you can imagine: angels, fairies, baubles, bells, reindeer, snowflakes, peace doves and tinsel sparkle and shine at every turn, with packs for the budget-conscious and beautiful, excellent-quality (glass, pot, wood and metal on the whole rather than plastic), well-crafted individual ornaments for between £2-£7 (ish) so you can pick out ones which are perfect for your taste. There are also outdoor decorations – my son loved the snowmen that took off their hat as you passed last year – plastic greenery decorations for the Pagan- or nature-oriented among us, and large pieces such as musical snow scenes in giant baubles (we bought one last year), lit-up moving musical carousels and train sets, a cornucopia of oohs and ahhs for every child (young and old). This is all magically set off by the most beautifully dressed Christmas trees you’ve ever seen – perfect inspiration to precede and prolong my favourite Christmas activity which is decorating the tree!
In addition to all the wonderful Christmas items you can buy and the beautiful atmosphere of the place at Christmastime, Bents usually have a Santa. Rather than confining himself to a grotto for which you have to pay even more money, for the last two years we have been pleased to see him wandering round the store greeting children, shaking their hand, asking them what they’d like for Christmas, wishing them a Merry Christmas and giving them a little toy or chocolate coins. This has really helped my autistic son, who was once afraid of men in Santa suits but got used to them because this idea is so much more non-threatening to a nervous child. He could take it or leave it, and last year he got very excited and really loved his chocolate coins. There are sometimes also extra stalls at Christmas: I remember them having mulled wine for customers for which you only had to give a charity donation one year. Christmas trees (as well as beautiful wreaths, poinsettias and the like) are a strong point at Bents, with a good choice of spruce (better for satisfying childhood nostalgia), Scots pine (better for less needle drop) and the hybrid Nordmann firs which give the best of both. Prices are reasonable – in the last few years we’ve found them cheaper than local farms, for example – and they deliver around the local Leigh/Astley/Glazebury/Newton area.
Even though we don’t have much money this year, I will still be going to Bents a few times over the Christmas period to soak up the atmosphere, purchase our Christmas tree, and continue the tradition I started a few years ago of buying a new, beautiful Bents decoration to add to my collection this year.
*Update 2.11.11* Having visited this half-term you'll notice I've added a couple of pictures of the Christmas displays. However I was not able to take pictures of all the beautiful Christmas trees as a member of staff (very politely) told me it wasn't allowed. I also noticed there was a "write a letter to Santa" activity out for children in the conservatory which was a very nice touch indeed!
~*~ FOR SEASONAL FROLICS ~*~
Bents represent the turning of the seasons so very well, which is a wonderful spirit to have, engaging visitors and children in nature, and giving you a reason to return time and again throughout the year. They have seasonal events, especially for children, such as a Halloween extravaganza coming up at half-term which involves treasure hunts, pumpkin carving and Animal Encounters with their travelling creepy-crawlie and bug show. I will definitely be taking my son – it perfectly fits in with the Pagan spirit which I try to convey to him, while teaching him about all religions. Displays are changed regularly and sport seasonal treats most of the year round – the Easter decorations and choice of gifts was particularly spectacular. In between more “obvious” seasonal events they sandwich events such as their recent food fortnight and upcoming charity coffee morning.
*Update 2.11.11* The day we visited in half-term, we had a look at the Animal Encounters. The wildlife man had brought two snakes - one of them was huge - a tarantula spider, some hedgehogs and some meerkats. My son really enjoyed getting close to the animals, and he was able to stroke a snake which was a first for him - I couldn't get a picture of that as was busy supervising, but I have included a meerkat picture! The wildlife man seemed very knowledgeable though it was more adults than children asking him questions and having a go at wearing the big snake round their necks. It was free to look at and handle the animals and staff were pointing them out to any parties with children so that nobody missed out, which impressed me.
~*~ FOR DIVERSE COMMUNITIES ~*~
A real mix of people frequent Bents, from older couples who garden in their retirement, to ladies what lunch who come for the cake and coffee, to young couples with DIY dreams, to families with children of all ages. The whole site is spacious, accessible and all on one floor. Two luxurious toilet facilities, including disabled cubicles, are placed centrally, one in the café, one in the entrance, with shiny surfaces, luxury hand-wash and those super-fast Dyson hand-driers. They have been immaculate every time I’ve visited. There are mobility scooters available with metal baskets attached for collecting purchases. Staff are friendly to the whole range of customers. Bents also cater for school visits – my son went with his school in the spring – where they do a gardening activity in “Mr Bent’s Garden” which is not open to regular visitors, get to bring home what they’ve planted, and are given a history pamphlet complete with puzzle to reinforce their learning back at school or home, which really demonstrates that this is a genuine family business which has grown to epic proportions through the dedication and vision of the local Bent family. My son got a lot out of his visit, and I didn’t have to pay much for the trip – perhaps about £5.
*Update 2.11.11* I was also impressed on our visit last week that there were toy tractors out for children to play on during half-term visits surrounded by straw bales. As these were positioned next to the Santa's workshop display (see photos), I think it's the area of space staff have cleared ready for the Christmas trees, but I thought it was lovely that they had toys out for children in the holidays and will check again next holiday to see if anything else special is going on for them. The only moan is that there were only five tractors, and quite frequently children waiting for a turn, but then the space wasn't all that big so I'm not sure they could have accommodated any more. Again, this holiday activity was free and you can't sniff at that!
*Update 11/8/13* In the past, we filled in a suggestion card stating that we would like to see a small park for children on the grounds as this was one thing the attraction was lacking. The said tractors have now become an integral part of a small play park outside the restaurant, with a variety of toys and clear information on which toys are for which age group and ample seating for adults. Not only does this give Bents yet another selling point as a place to visit - it shows that suggestions made (and I'm sure many made the same suggestion) are taken on board and sometimes acted upon.
~*~ FOR HOPEFUL FUTURES ~*~
Last time I was in Bents, I was highly impressed to see on the wall a grand plan for the future, on which it shows planned expansions using more of the local countryside to make the existing garden centre the literal centre of a larger nature reserve. I can’t wait to see what they develop – it’s a case of “watch this space”!
~*~ FOR HAPPY DAYS ~*~
You can easily spend a full morning or afternoon in Bents, longer if you actually have something in mind that you want to buy and will be eating there as well. It’s easy to find from the A580 Manchester to Liverpool road (which links with the M6) taking the turn-off opposite the prominent Greyhound Hotel. Buses do run out that way from Leigh town centre but I have never used this bus service so cannot comment. Parking is ample, though one small gripe is that the parking spaces are all on a slight angle, making it awkward to manoeuvre in and out, especially when it’s busy.
During the summer months there is usually an ice-cream van outside the main entrance – a cheaper alternative for a cooling treat. If you wanted to expand and make a day of it, it’s a 10-minute drive from the rather more budget-friendly Pennington Flash Country Park, on which I wrote a separate review previously. We have also noticed that there’s a pub called the Comfortable Gill directly opposite Bents which has a sign up proclaiming it has a pets’ corner and a playground for children – we intend to top off our next Bents visit with a couple of drinks there where there is additional entertainment for my son. (I will add to this review when we do).
~*~ IS IT “FOR” YOU? ~*~
Well, it’s definitely for me. While some items can be a bit pricey, on which count I’ve taken away one star, because it’s so fabulous just for window-shopping or a casual browse, having cash flow problems isn’t going to stop me using it as a morning’s amusement for my son and myself! We genuinely love it there and it’s nice to know we’re supporting a local independent business to boot. All year round, you will find me there at regular intervals. If you’re ever in the area, whoever you are and whatever you’re into, I would highly recommend this as a stopping-off point.
Bents Garden Centre, Warrington Road, Glazebury, Cheshire, WA3 5NT.