The retailer said in a statement: 'The board confirms it has been approached with regard to the possible acquisition of the entire share capital of the company and discussions have taken place. A further announcement will be made in due course.'
However, Britain's second-largest garden centre chain stressed that there is no certainty at this stage that any offer will be forthcoming.
Apax, which last year spent£1.6 billion on fashion label Tommy Hilfiger, recently bought Scandinavian garden centre chain Plantagen. A spokesman confirmed that the private equity group is keen to make further acquisitions. Apax is thought to be conducting a review of Dobbies' business with a view to making a bid.
However, Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner believes the approach is most likely to be from Tom Hunter's West Coast Capital, which bought rival garden centre chain Wyevale last year. He said: 'We believe the market is expecting a price of about 1500p a share. However, we are not certain that Hunter would wish to pay as much.'