The Arium: The Leeds family attraction with a huge play area that you might not know about
This garden centre in the Leeds countryside is one of the city's best free days out for the family.
The Arium is a Leeds City Council-owned horticultural nursery where plants are grown for the city's parks and public areas. It's the biggest local authority growing nursery in the country and since 2017, it's been open to the public. There's a great range of facilities - you can look around the huge glasshouses, use the children's playground, visit the garden shop and eat in the cafe.
Where is The Arium?
In 2017 it moved from its old site, Red Hall Nursery, to a new location on the outskirts of Thorner and Whinmoor. It has a 19,000sq.m glasshouse that produces three million plants every year. The site is accessible from the A64 - it's just a short distance down Thorner Lane. There are 70 parking spaces and entry is free. The 70 and 71 buses stop nearby.
When does it open?
The Arium is open all through the year. Its summer hours are: Monday - Saturday 9am - 5pm and Sunday 10am - 4pm.
What is there for kids to do?
There's a fantastic playground with climbing frames, slides, a sandpit, mechanical digger, picnic area and ice cream kiosk.
The Arium runs free kids' gardening workshops and activities throughout the year.
The cafe has a children's menu.
What about adults?
If you love gardening, The Arium is the place to be. There are four growing zones, each the size of Millennium Square, and 500 different species of plant to look at. There's an on-site lagoon that's used to collect rainwater. Herbs, vegetables and soft fruits are grown as well as flowers.
The garden shop sells shrubs, winter bedding plants, bulbs, summer plants, Christmas trees, pots and other accessories - but not landscaping materials or pond supplies.
There are gardening workshops and advice clinics held throughout the year.
What about the cafe?
The on-site cafe sells lunches, coffees, cakes and children's meals. All ingredients are locally sourced and there are vegetarian and gluten-free options.
What's the history of The Arium?
The council has had its own plant nursery since 1956, when Red Hall, behind Red Hall Mansion, opened. Before then, parks had their own glasshouses for growing.
It was extended in the 1980s and seven more acres of indoor space were added. Leeds-grown plants had such a good reputation that councils from as far afield as Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight bought them for their own parks.
However, this demand led to Red Hall requiring more capacity, and in 2017 The Arium was opened on a purpose-built site.