7 glorious garden centre cafes in Suffolk
- Credit: Contributed
Little can beat the satisfaction of a trip to the local garden centre. I’m sure I would have baulked at the idea as a teenager, but as I’ve gotten older (and wiser) I’ve definitely come to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.
There’s something mindful about walking amongst the displays of flowers, shrubs and trees, plotting your next little project.
The experience is always bettered when you know there’s the promise of a really good breakfast, a scone, a piece of hand cut cake, or quiche at the end.
Over the border in Essex, I highly recommend Perrywoods at Tiptree and Poplar Nurseries at Mark’s Tey (you will not leave their food hall empty handed). As for Suffolk...here are just a few recommendations.
Goslings Farm Shop, Garden Centre and Café
Where: High Road, Trimley St Martin, Felixstowe
Open: Breakfast from 9am to 11.30am and lunch 12noon to 3pm Monday to Saturday, and open 12noon to 2.30pm Sunday
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There’s something for everyone at Goslings, where the PYO season is in full swing. “We’re known for our strawberries,” smiles site supervisor Diane Conroy. “They’re at their best now and ready to pick. And we’ve got currants and gooseberries coming in too, with raspberries later in the year.”
Diane says the garden centre is absolutely packed with flowers right now (including hanging baskets), and that the farm shop is well worth a visit if you’re popping in.
“We have so many nice things. I buy in everything locally. We have our own honey from our hives, a good arrangement of local jams and preserves and juices, and frozen meals ready to take home.”
A member of the kitchen team told me all about the menu, with the majority of items (bar a few cakes made locally for them by a bakery) homemade at Goslings.
“We have nice sausage rolls and a variety of quiches – which absolutely fly out,” she says. “And we have a lot of fresh cakes which make nice desserts, like cheesecake and meringues and Bakewell tarts.”
Naturally they use strawberries and other fruit from the farm as often as they can. And apparently the scones are to be seen to be believed. “They are so popular. We make them on site and they are massive, behemoth scones.”
You can try them as part of a cream tea (with jam, cream and a pot of tea) or savoury tea (cheese scone with chilli jam, butter and tea) for £4.95.
Lunchtime favourites range from homemade lasagne, to mac and cheese, with specials on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “That’s things like steak pie, or cauliflower cheese. Recently we had stuffed peppers with cous cous and mushrooms which was nice. Today one of our specials was bread and butter pudding. There’s always a good selection with something for everyone.”
There are smaller portions for children, who can also have their own lunch box made up.
The Bluebell Tea Room
Where: Bypass Nurseries, London Road, Capel St Mary
Open: 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, and 10am to 3pm Sunday
Building work is currently ongoing to increase the outside capacity of this popular tearoom to over 100. It should be complete in the next two to three months, but for now customers can enjoy dining in, or nabbing a spot at one of the five tables situated amongst the garden centre’s plants.
Mandy Tracey, who runs the tearoom, prides it on several things. First of all, being a brilliant community space. There’s a children’s play area, dogs are welcome, a book stall raises money for charity, and it’s a Meet Up Monday spot, from 10am to 11.30am on Mondays.
You can swing by to grab a cone of Kelly’s ice cream, or a thick ice cream milkshake on hot days...or stay awhile and tuck into the homemade food.
“Everything’s cooked to order and homemade,” Mandy says. “From our cakes and scones, to the rest of our menu. We use locally-sourced products where possible, some of them exclusive to us, and we use the best quality ingredients.”
Breakfast (10am to 2pm), lunch and snacks are all available. “Our ham, egg and chips is very popular,” Mandy says, adding that they do a “wicked” ploughman’s. “It comes with Black Bomber cheese, beautiful Suffolk ham, silverskin onions, chutney, lovely warm baguette and plenty of salad and coleslaw. It really does go down a storm.”
Other hits include the made-to-order omelettes, and scampi and chips.
“We’ve always got a good selection of cakes too. They’re made just as you would make them at home with no preservatives or rubbish in them, and we have vegan and gluten-free options.
“Today,” Mandy says as we chat, “we have a chocolate fudge cake, white chocolate and raspberry cake, lemon cake, and a brilliant pina colada cake with lots of coconut and pineapple.”
Afternoon tea (at least 24 hours’ notice required) is £16.99 per person, including finger sandwiches, homemade scones, clotted cream and jam, and a selection of sweet treats, with unlimited tea or coffee. While a cream tea is £5.95.
The coffee here, Mandy adds, is exceptionally good – their own blend, which she spent months perfecting, ground by the cup, and available to buy in retail bags to take home, after guests raved about it.
There’s a full range of teas and cold drinks too.
The garden centre itself is extensive, with everything you could need, from bedding plants, to a wide selection of furniture, and a great lifestyle/home section. There is also an aquatics centre.
Find The Bluebell Tea Room on Facebook, or call 01473 806620.
Narey’s Garden Centre
Where: Spikes Lane, Stowmarket
Open: From 8.30am Monday to Saturday and from 10am Sunday
Narey’s is a fantastic, family-run garden centre, started by David Narey’s grandfather in 1955, then run by his father, David and his brother, and now including David’s two sons.
It’s a large site, growing lots of its own plants (head there now for bright and cheery hanging baskets), and operating a modern, comfortable café where everything is made fresh.
“We were only open a few months before lockdown happened,” David says of what is essentially a ‘new’ facility. “We haven’t had a full year here yet!”
The team at Narey’s café use as many local suppliers as they can to pull together a classic menu, starting with cooked breakfasts in the morning, going on to toasted sandwiches, salads and jacket potatoes at lunchtimes.
All the cakes are baked in the kitchen, with David picking out lemon drizzle, Victoria sponge, apricot cake and brownies as favourites.
“We cater for children as well. We have toasties, half jacket potatoes, sandwiches and soup of the day for them.”
Where: Barningham Road, Stanton, Bury St Edmunds
Open: 9am to 3pm Monday to Sunday, with hot food until 2pm
You could easily lose several hours wandering around this excellent site, which is so much more than a garden centre. Beyond the homegrown plants and gardening wherewithal, there’s a farm shop boasting local fruit and veg, milk, bread and more (visit on Fridays for fresh fish).
The onsite butchery (specialising in rare breed beef) is open for everything you need, be it a joint for the Sunday roast, sausages (try the award-winning Marmite and Cheddar variety), meal solutions, or marinated cuts for the barbecue.
There’s a deli.
And the café, opened in 2016, is a busy spot, where you can pop in for scones made daily with local flour, butter and sugar, great cakes, and homemade meals crafted using prime ingredients – be that Palmers bread, meat from the onsite butchery, or eggs, fruit and veg from nearby villages.
Start the day with a breakfast of champions – with two rashers of bacon, two sausages, two eggs, mushrooms, sauteed potatoes and beans.
Or go for lunch, with chef Joanne Morton saying the kitchen’s quiches (from cheese and bacon to cheese and onion) are so popular customers call ahead before booking to check the dish will be on the menu.
“Our sausage and cheese plait is very good,” she adds, telling me about some of her favourite lunch dishes. “We have a nice chilli con carne and do our own pies and soups.”
Pie flavours, like quiche, rotate all the time, but have included steak and kidney, chicken and sweetcorn and chicken and ham.
Where: Church Walk, Sturmer, Haverhill
Open: 10am to 4.30pm daily. Until 4pm Sunday. Garden centre and café closed Thursdays
This nursery has long been applauded for its tearoom which opened at the family-run site in 2014.
The kitchen team go above and beyond to consider the quality and ethical implications of everything on the menu.
Owner Samantha Mason is looking forward to summer, having only re-opened the dining space in September last year (after closing in March 2020 due to Covid restrictions).
Samantha is very specific about what the tearoom offers, which really does set this place apart.
“We try to be as ethical as we can. All our hot drinks are made with organic milk. We only buy free-range meat from our local butchers. And we try and source locally – our bread rolls come from a local bakery and our Criterion ice cream is made nearby in Thurston, Bury St Edmunds. We try to be a green as we can using pole-and-line tuna and North Atlantic freshwater prawns that are sustainably sourced.”
Everything, as far as possible, is made on site. There’s only one tiny oven, so although the majority of cakes are created in-house, some of the baking goes out to “two lovely local ladies” who share Samantha’s ethos, using the finest raw ingredients in everything they supply.
In the mornings the tea room offers sausage and bacon sandwiches and baps. Cheese and fruit scones are made by the cooks every single morning. And teacakes come in, plump, delicious and ready for toasting, daily from the local bakery.
When lunch comes around there are sandwiches, made to order, a few specials, and quiches “stuffed full of lovely ingredients.”
“But it’s probably our scones we’re best known for. The cheese scones are really cheesy. We use good vintage Cheddar to make them, and they can come in a savoury cream tea with chilli jam, a pot of grated cheese, cream cheese and butter.
“We like to garnish our Scotch eggs and sausage rolls nicely too. So the Scotch eggs might come with piccalilli and a salad garnish, and the sausage rolls with caramelised onion marmalade.”
When it comes to cakes, Samantha says you can’t beat the ‘old favourites’, adding they took Victoria sponge off the menu once and customers were crying out for it.
“One we really like is our chocolate and banana cake with cream cheese frosting, and also a Guinness cake. Biscoff rocky road has been really popular. And our Bakewell tarts and Bakewell sponge cake are made in-house.”
Coffee is sourced from Coffee World in Cambridge. “Our beans are artisan-blend Fairtrade – which is important to us – and are specially roasted for us. We also sell loose leaf Brew Tea in a variety of flavours. Even our hot chocolate is Rainforest Alliance single origin.”
The tearoom offers an array of drinks you won’t easily find in supermarkets, such as Breckland Orchard’s ‘posh pop’ in Cream Soda, Plum and Cherry, Dandelion and Burdock and Ginger Beer. “However we do supply Coke and Diet Coke...in old-fashioned 50s glass bottles with metal caps as we can recycle the glass, and they’re a bit different, like us.”
There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, and oat, soya and lactose-free milk are available with drinks.
“We may have modern green credentials,” adds Samantha, “but we run on a very traditional, old-school ethic, with home-cooking, courtesy, manners and attention-to-detail. We love rough-cut sugar and tongs...and a choice of three mustards on our condiments dresser!”
Lime Kiln Kitchen
Where: Thetford Garden Centre, Kilverstone, Thetford
Open: 9am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm Sunday
Found in the hinterland (that’s what I call the overlapping edges of Norfolk and Suffolk) this fantastic garden centre is so good customers often visit for breakfast, go shopping, have lunch...and sometimes even stay on for cake in the afternoon.
As well as being renowned for the quality of its plants, the centre owes much of its success to the superb (and enormous) restaurant, where breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and treats, and more can be found.
Catering manager James Feuer says it’s attention to detail, and all the little finishing touches, as well as the fact everything’s homemade, that’s made the eatery so popular.
Using local suppliers is something else that James prides the kitchen on. They include Marimba Chocolate, Brown & May Seafood, Lakenham Dairy, Norfolk Brewhouse, Staithe Smokehouse, Hyam’s Bakery, East Anglian Foods and Breckland Honey.
In the mornings there are all the usual offerings you’d expect, as well as around four to five different types of pancakes.
The menu then moves onto light and full lunches, sharing platters and afternoon teas and cream teas.
“We bake our scones every single morning,” says James. “I reckon we do thousands of scones a year!”
The two most popular lunches he adds, are the quiche of the day, with house salad and new potatoes with chive butter, and the epic-sounding Norfolk Piggy Platter.
“You can order that for one or two. It comes with black pudding Scotch egg, crispy pork belly, sausage roll, panko apple cracking, chutney, thyme mayonnaise and local bread from the bakery in Brandon.”
Specials are added daily, from main meals and drinks, to cakes. Speaking of which, James says: “Hands down my favourite is the carrot cake. The coffee and walnut is very good too!”
He adds that the 250-cover restaurant has a large plant-based menu for veggies and vegans.
And that planning permission has been put in to extend the kitchen, allowing them to make even more items (particularly cakes and patisserie) on site...they already craft around 95% of what you see on the menu.
During the lockdown period, Lime Kiln Kitchen started offering teas, their specially-blended Butterworth coffee and cakes outside, and the two shipping containers they put in place remain – expanding the foodie options even further. Open Friday and Saturday (12noon to 7pm) and Sunday (12noon to 3pm) one container serves gelato and waffles, and the other pizzas, which dare to be different. “Every single ingredient in the pizza, apart from the flour and cheese, which is from Italy, is local. It’s our homage to all our local suppliers.”
Options include The Nelson (Cromer crab, chilli and garlic prawns, Norfolk mussels, leek and fior di latte mozzarella) and The Smokey Jeremiah (Colman’s wholegrain mustard roasted chicken with smoked bacon, Kilverstone honey, Waveney mushrooms and fior di latte mozzarella).
Perrywood Garden Centre
Where: Newton Road, Sudbury
Open: 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 3.30pm Sunday
Every time I visit this garden centre there seems to be something new around the corner. If you’ve been to the Tiptree centre you’ll know what to expect. Homegrown plants. A nice lifestyle section. House plants. Here there is a very large polytunnel/greenhouse, always filled with bedding, herbs, bulbs and, at Christmas, a stunning seasonal display.
Amazingly, for those who know the Tiptree branch, you might be surprised to learn the Sudbury site is much much bigger, and there are plans in place to expand, creating what should be a gardeners’ paradise.
“We hope to open our new garden centre in early 2024, says Hannah Powell. “It will include a large restaurant, and the design will be influenced by our love of plants and the natural world. As you would expect from Perrywood, we will be serving our high-quality home-cooked food.”
She adds. “We have a great team at Sudbury, who cook fantastic dishes every day. They love greeting both our many regulars and those who pop in for a bite to eat whilst shopping in the garden centre.”
Perrywood Sudbury is an oft-visited haunt for us. Everything we’ve tried has been just delicious. Sandwiches are thick cut and fresh, served with crisps, salad and coleslaw. The quiches are blooming fabulous. They make some of the most generously sliced, tasty cakes of any café. And I cannot quite get enough of their billowing scones. There are often special flavours, but staples are the fruit scones, and the Stilton and walnut ones, which are so delectable I often eat one ‘in-house’ and take one home for another day!
Hollow Trees Farm, Semer, hollowtrees.co.uk
Garnetts Gardens, Woodbridge, garnettsgardens.co.uk
Wild Blackberry, Swanns Nursery, Bromeswell, wildblackberrycafe.co.uk
Pura Vida Garden Centre, Harleston, puravidaplantsandcoffee.com
Tuddenham Nurseries, Tuddenham, Bury St Edmunds, tuddenhamnurseries.co.uk
Notcutts, Woodbridge, notcutts.co.uk
Roots and Shoots Garden Centre, Badley, rootsandshootsgc.co.uk
Place for Plants, East Bergholt, placeforplants.co.uk