Garden centre group Wyevale has bought Heighley Gate Garden Centre, near Morpeth in Northumberland, as its extends its geographical reach.

The centre is the latest in a string of purchases made by Wyevale since tycoon Sir Tom Hunter bought the 121-store business in April 2006. Last year alone, Wyevale spent more than£50 million on acquisitions.

Heighley Gate, Wyevale’s most northerly store and its first in Northumberland, brings the retailer closer to the Scottish heartland of arch-rival Dobbies, in which Hunter retains a stake despite his failure to stop Tesco taking control last year.

A Wyevale spokesman said: "By buying Heighley Gate, we are knocking on Dobbies' door. It operates mainly in the west of Scotland, so we are just filling in the spaces.”

The garden centre sector has attracted interest from private equity and retail multiples because it remains one the last unmodernised and unconsolidated markets.

Industry sources believe that Wyevale or Dobbies may eventually attempt to take the other over.