Bybrook Barn Garden Centre
PUBLISHED: 12:53 22 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:53 22 March 2014
Nearly 40 years ago, Bybrook Garden Centre was a dilapidated barn near Ashford. Now it's a thriving garden centre and this year has joined the Kent Life Garden Awards as one of its principal sponsors
Whenever I need to cheer myself up I go to a garden centre – it always works. Your guilty pleasure might be the latest shoes or a nice handbag, but show me an array of new-season bedding plants, shrubs, tubs and even giant bags of potting compost, and I’m happy.
So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that our new Garden of the Year sponsor, Bybrook Barn, is not only a pretty fab garden centre but that it sells everything else you could possible think of, and then some.
From furniture to silk and dried flowers and gifts, pets and fish to toys, outdoor furniture, hot tubs and clothing – even a new convenience food shop– you name it, this one-stop shop has got it.
And when it all gets too much you can always collapse with a cuppa or something more substantial in The Pavilion Restaurant and Tea Room.
The centre has an interesting history, too. Bybrook Barn is named after an old barn on the site which had lain derelict for many years. In 1975 owner and managing director Terry Burch bought the barn along with its surrounding waste ground and, with little money but bags of enthusiasm, administered major surgery to the crumbling building, repairing bulging sides, fixing the collapsed roof and replacing rotten timbers.
Terry originally studied agriculture with a view to becoming a farmer and after working on a mixed farm in the West Country took a job on a dairy in Caterham, where he started a milk round in the morning and worked on the farm after his round.
After National Service in Aldershot (where he shared a barrack room with actor Albert Finney), Terry emerged into an exciting time for retailing and decided to get involved with the new supermarkets then coming onto the scene from America.
Sticking with what he knew best, he took over and built up a milk business and was soon competing with the major national dairies. By now it was the early 1970s and the supermarkets were making inroads into doorstep milk deliveries.
With a solid background in agriculture, Terry felt that nurseries could develop into what have now become today’s garden centres, spotted Bybrook Barn and, despite its sorry state, saw its potential.
Six months later, Bybrook Barn Garden Centre was open and trading, which it did for the next 12 years, becoming firmly established as one of the leading garden centres in the area. In 1986 the business moved across the road to its new site, and it’s been growing ever since.
I am shown round by the very welcoming centre manager Paul Bowen, who studied Horticulture at Hadlow College and been in the industry for 30 years.
Married with twin 18-year-old daughters, he lives in the Weald but most of his 60-plus staff are local, and many have worked at the Ashford site for more than 10 years. A keen plantsman, Paul has always preferred working with large, independent businesses and joined Terry at Bybrook eight years ago.
“What I enjoy about the work is the seasons, the plant side and the diverse range of products that we offer, and that it’s an ever-changing feast of products and new ranges,” he tells me over a coffee in the cheery restaurant.
“The team are all very hands-on, as am I, and we chat to customers about where they’re from, how far they’ve travelled. Our catchment area has grown.
“Local is still our core, but now we’re getting people in from as far as Sittingbourne, Gillingham, Tenterden, Wrotham, Hastings, Folkestone, Hythe, Dover and Canterbury.
“The garden furniture is always a very good draw, then people tend to spend more when they’re here.”
The garden furniture selection is indeed impressive – on the first floor there’s 10,000 sq ft of tables, chairs, loungers and suites. Effectively a clearance centre, as all the products are supplier ends of lines, it’s all very affordably priced.
As Tony says: “It’s a great attraction for us, as not many garden centres have such a vast range. This area was used for storage, so we turned it over to a sales area and put the lift in so everyone could get to it.”
Access is a key attraction at Bybrook. As well as its central position near the M20, the site is flat and 99 per cent of it is easily reached by all customers – the attractive man-made lake (pictured above) and some of its walks possibly the only challenge to the less mobile.
There’s free parking and plenty of disabled spaces by the entrance, a boon to the average customer, who is aged 55-plus.
There is plenty to please this key age group, too, including an over-55s club offer on food: two courses plus tea or coffee for £5.95, plus a daily breakfast special.
“Everything is freshly cooked and we try to use local suppliers such as Pluckley tea, Rochesters Provisions and Korker Sausages,” says Paul.
An excellent advert himself for the centre, Paul admits there’s nothing he likes better than getting stuck into the gardening at home in his spare time.
“My role isn’t hands on with the plants at work so it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday at home, but I do enjoy the gardening.
“It also keeps my hand in with the seasons, which change every year because of the different weather patterns.
“I like vegetable growing – there’s nothing like home-grown food - and I am a big fan of dahlias, the big flowery, blowsy ones. Architectural shrubs like twisted willow, and acers – I love all that.”
GET IN TOUCH
Bybrook Barn Garden Centre
Kennington, nr Ashford TN24 9JZ
01233 631959 or email@example.com
Open: Mon-Sat 9am-6pm and Sun 10.30am-4.30pm