‘It’s a blessing to be out’: customers enjoy visit to Welsh garden centre

First through the doors of Chepstow Garden Centre was Hannah Davies. She admitted she did not have green fingers, but had a special reason to be keen to take advantage of the Welsh governments decision to allow garden centres to re-open.
My mum, Sharon, died five years ago. She made me promise to keep the garden going, said Davies, 24. So every year I come and buy some nice, colourful flowers and do the best I can. Im not a gardener. Im winging it and just try to have a go.
During lockdown, Davies has been tidying up the garden in nearby Magor. Ive turned over the soil, jet-washed the patio, painted the fence the boring stuff. But on Monday her trolley was full of shockingly bright rhododendrons. I cant wait to get these planted, she said.
The Labour-led Welsh government announced on Friday that garden centres would be allowed to re-open before the rest of the UK as long as physical distancing could take place.
Chepstow Garden Centre, just on the Welsh side of the border with England, opened at 9.30am on Monday. They didnt advertise that they were opening because they were worried they would be over-run before their systems were in place. Throughout the day, business was steady.
Its great to be back open, said the owner, James Boyle. We want to make sure we can provide a service to people who want it and have missed coming here, but we have to be sure we do it in the safest way possible.
The staff had been carefully drilled. The number of visitors was being limited and trolleys were carefully washed down before being issued. Employees wore bright tabards asking people to stay 2 metres away from them. A one-way system operated inside.
Over in Cardiff, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, was making it crystal clear that people from England were not going to be allowed to travel to Wales for exercise.
Later a spokesperson for the Welsh government said if people lived in England but very close to the border and within a couple of miles of a garden centre a visit would be allowed. But the spokesperson emphasised this would be only a very small number of people.
At least one person risked it. Realising that he might be on thin ice, he asked to be identified only as Pete from the Bristol area. I come over to this place from time to time. I like the trip over the old bridge and when I heard that Welsh garden centres were re-opening I couldnt resist it.
The garden centre has put a few workers on furlough during lockdown, but has kept most going. They have provided delivery and click and collect service for those who really needed their floral fix.
Huw Williams, who described himself as as general dogsbody at the garden centre, was delighted to be back advising people on the best flowers for their borders or greens for their veg patches. Its a nice atmosphere here today. Sunny, windy, fresh, he said.
While he has been making deliveries he has come across a lot of worried people. Some think they are never going to get out again, he said.
Those that had ventured out were clearly delighted. Some said they had to blink as they saw the vivid colours of the bedding plants near the entrance. Many headed over to sniff the glorious wisteria dripping down one of the walls as soon as they had parked up.
Michael and Josephine Adams had driven over from Newport. Its a blessing to be out, said Josephine. Michael, a retired dairy manager, said he was worried there was confusion over who could go out and when. I think it comes down to using your own common sense in the end.
Marion Crook, a retired local government worker, was choosing some rose peonies for her garden in Magor. I do think what the prime minister said was confusing for many people, she said. Its made me more anxious. I feel nervous about going out. What I want more than anything is to be able to see the grandchildren. I just dont see an end to all of this at the moment.
The trip out to the garden centre, however, had been at least a break from the grind of lockdown. Ive cleared a space for these peonies, said Crook. Ill wait for the wind to die there and get out and plant them. Thats something to look forward to, at least.
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