We love a wander around a garden centre – but even better if they have a free play area for children and are a good place to meet up with friends. I took my 3 year old son to Poplars Garden Centre in Bedfordshire in June 2019 to explore the play area and sandpit there. I’d also heard there was a hidden nature reserve so we were intrigued to see that too. Watch my video below to see the highlights and then scroll down for more information. 

Where is Poplars Garden Centre? 

Poplars Garden Centre is really easy to find. It’s just off junction 12 of the M1. The address is Harlington Road, Toddington, Dunstable LU5 6HE. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we live in Milton Keynes. Do check their opening times before travelling. 

What are the best things about Poplars Garden Centre? 

Walk through the garden centre following signs for the restaurant – go right to the back and through the outside doors and you’ll find a play area for children of customers of the centre. It’s really attractive painted in bright pink, purple and blue colours. There’s a small sandpit with lots of things to play with. There’s also a shed with chairs and garden games including noughts and crosses and throwing bean bags into targets. I took my 3 year old son on a quiet Monday in term-time in June and met a friend there with her 4 year old. They had a great time. The sandpit is quite small but big enough for toddler and pre-schoolers to play in. They also really liked the shed – they’re still at that age where any kind of wooden building with a door is fun. The area is contained with the exception of the door you walk through and because it’s not that big you can generally see the children unless they’re behind the shed. The play area is free to go in. 

What else is at Poplars Garden Centre for children? 

There’s a small indoor children’s corner – not really of much interest to my son, but if you have babies or young toddlers there’s somewhere soft to sit them down as well as a few toys there to play with. There’s also a ‘hidden’ area behind the garden centre called Wadelows Nature Reserve. To access it you have to get a key from the information point. My 3 year old and his friend loved doing it as they felt they were going to a secret place as you unlock a gate and then close it behind you. The nature reserve itself isn’t that big and seems to be quite overgrown. My son most enjoyed going into the bird hide and using the big binoculars. We didn’t spend much time in the reserve as we needed to dash to do the school run, but it’s a nice little unexpected bonus – getting the key was the novelty. The area does need to be cleared up a bit and signposted – as you walk through the gate it’s not immediately obvious where you need to go – you’re faced with bushes and then garden stuff to your left – so more could be made of it. 

Is it worth visiting Poplars Garden Centre? 

Yes. The outdoor play area with sandpit is a really lovely place to take young children and meet up with friends and have a coffee. I’d say it’s most suitable for under 5s as the sandpit is quite small – although I imagine had I taken my eldest son – who at the time of writing has just turned six – then he would have enjoyed it too. The play area needs a bit of TLC – some of the numbers had come off the beanbag game. The ‘secret’ nature reserve is an additional bonus but not worth going to on it’s own if the play area wasn’t there. If you’re looking for a cost effective day out then just be aware that although there is a good variety of food on offer – it’s not cheap. I paid £7 for a jacket potato and £6 for a pizza and drink for my son. Both were a good size and delicious but we only ate there as we’d been exploring parks in the morning and went straight there. So I’d suggest eating before or after going and just have a coffee if you want to make it a cheaper activity. 

I'm Laura, mum to two boys aged nine and seven. I run this website independently and free from advertising in addition to my day job. If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, here are some ways you can say thanks and support Milton Keynes Kids. 

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