I have to say that I was very surprised when a friend of mine suggested that we go to our local garden center in the UK to get our hands on amazing gourmet cheeses, artisan bread, organic meats, jams, chutneys, pickles, and frozen ready meals. I mean, garden centers or nurseries as we like to call them in the US are for buying flowers aren’t they?

Sure enough, when we visited I was amazed. No longer are these places just for flowers, seeds, manure, and patio furniture. No, this is where the yuppies shop as they don’t have a Whole Foods in the UK. These places are awesome. Sure, we have Larry’s produce, but these shops are something completely other. The closest thing that I can equate to them is Oxbow Market, without the slick, Napa restaurants. They do have a coffee shop/lunch place but they are simple fare and nothing I would ever call a restaurant.

You can get a variety of gourmet chocolates, cakes, scones, treats, and all kinds of fancy coffees and teas at these places.

Several of these places have local handmade crafted gift items like organic natural soaps, lotions, and candles. They also are big on handmade cards, jewelry, and clothing, like knits and silks.

During my time in the U.K., I have been to several of these places, some of them even feature craft beers and wine! Ok, so how cool is this: You tell people that you went to the garden center on a Sunday and got drunk? Works for me! These crazy Brits have managed to take gardening to a whole other level. Anything that includes alcohol you can count me in!

Anyway, I digress. So the first time I went to one of these mega-garden centers I kinda wandered around like a lost puppy. There were so many wonderful choices for food, I was just wowed! It was like I had never seen food in my entire life. Thankfully I was with friends and they managed to reel me back in.

We purchased frozen Coquilles St. Jacques as an appetizer for our meal that night. If you have never had it, it’s so beyond yummy! Tender cooked sea scallops and bacon cooked in a white wine and cream sauce; topped with mashed potato. We bought each one for about $4.00. Restaurant quality food; frozen and ready to heat and serve! They had many choices on offer from lasagna and various pasta dishes to stews and pies, both savory and sweet. Just take it home; heat and serve. This isn’t your gross TV dinner full of preservatives or a grocery store bought pizza. This is the real deal. Shh… no one needs to know that you didn’t spend hours in the kitchen preparing this culinary delight.

These places also have little cafes and restaurants that are open for breakfast and lunch. Some of the food is good and some of it is truly gourmet. My mother-in-law and I visited The Loch Arthur Camphill Collective Farm Shop and Creamery in Scotland where the food was absolutely amazing. Everything is organic and the flavors were fresh and wonderful. They even sell gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan food and treats. It is very impressive as it is in the back and beyond of Scotland.

For my lunch I ordered the charcuterie plate. For £7.50 (which is about $9.00) I got an amazing plate full of organic meats, homemade bread, butter, and a chutney to pull it all together. I couldn’t believe the value for what I got. Delicious!

My mother-in-law ordered soup and a half sandwich. Her bowl of garden vegetable soup was tasty, just like you’d make at home. We were both very impressed by the quality of the meal. I have added it to my list of favorite places to visit the next time I am here.

On our way out we also purchased some of the artisan cheeses, meats, cookies, and honey. It was all so good looking it was hard to resist!

The other thing about these places are the views. Often they face lakes or gorgeous farmland. We sat enjoying our lunch overlooking a little pond with the clouds looming in the background.

To me, this beats fast food any day for lunch. For the same money as Subway, you can get fresh, organic food. I think we should bring this concept to the US. How about you?

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