“More than just a garden centre,” boasted the website for Van Hage Garden Centre in Great Amwell and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this really is the case. Towards the end of the summer holidays I was running out of cheap and cheerful places to take Blue so I decided to pay a visit to Van Hage’s to see exactly what ‘more’ we could find.
We found the entrance to the Animal Gardens: a free miniature zoo in the garden centre and were greeted by chickens roaming freely on a little lawn. Blue was fascinated. We stood just watching the chickens pecking and clucking which is bizarrely hypnotic. Fortunately, before I had formed a solid plan to fit a chicken coop in the garden Blue was off again but there was plenty more to discover. We found raccoons, skunks, degus, ferrets, chinchillas, meerkats and a coatis (which looked like a mixture between an aardvark and a fox). There was also a modest duck pond and another area of the Animal Garden with a huge tortoise, terrapins, pigs, pygmy goats and a turkey! The collection is eclectic and it didn’t take more than fifteen minutes to go round all the animals but we discovered that during the school holidays they run free events in the Animal Garden - part of the lawn was taken over by a square of hay bales and we managed to catch a ‘meet the reptiles’ session. Blue even touched a snake!
After our reptile encounter we wandered over to the far side of the garden centre to find that the East Herts Miniature Railway Society operate a Miniature Railway. This was a huge bonus as Blue is really taking an interest in trains at the moment and it was only 80p each for a ride. It was all going so well and then we went through a tunnel (which with all the steam was quite hot and smokey) and then the train blew its whistle so Blue ended up being the one on the train bawling his eyes out as we pulled into the station - you can’t have everything! The trains are run by volunteers and only operate on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays but they do run a service on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the school holidays.
We watched a few more trains go by and waved at the passengers to cheer Blue up and headed to the big top. The John Lawson’s circus had come to Van Hage and £6.00 per person didn’t seem too much to pay, having already visited the Animal Garden and the Miniature Railway for the grand sum of £1.60. Watching the acts in the circus was like watching Saturday night television in the 80’s. There was an act where a glamourous woman balanced wine glasses on a stick that she held in her teeth and a trapeze that wouldn’t have looked out of place on The Generation Game but Blue loved the colours, music and the spectacle.
After all that excitement there wasn’t much time to visit the rest of the garden centre which has a large cafe, farm shop, a lovely shop that sells traditional and modern African crafts and some actual plants! We had a brilliant visit and we will definitely be going again soon, before they build the ice rink.
By Kirsty Hornblow
Disclosure: Nothing was received and we paid our way, we had a great time and wanted to share it.