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Buying plants online – it’s not all rosy

Green computer mouse in grass

If our experiences are anything to go by, buying plants online can be a lottery. Our Gardening team used several well-known suppliers and got a mixed bag of deliveries. Some plants were damaged, others diseased.

Four members of the Which? Gardening team ordered an assortment of young plants for trials this summer, from well-known online suppliers and one smaller specialist website.

While many of the plants arrived on time and in perfect condition, we had quite a few letdowns. They included:

  • Small plants that were little more than cuttings
  • Damaged plants
  • Plants with dried-out roots
  • Diseased plants
  • Plants that were the wrong colour
  • Plants that were incorrectly labelled

Plants that are incorrectly labelled can especially wreak havoc with our testing, since if we can’t be sure that a plant is what it claims to be, we can’t include it in our trials.

We’ve also had problems with the delivery of the plants themselves. Many deliveries were held up in the post, came late, and in one case, not at all! Again, this makes co-ordinating our trials a bit tricky.

Your rights when buying plants online

Of course, when ordering a product by post or online, you have some legal protection from the Sale of Goods Act, meaning most companies will offer to refund or replace an item.

But it’s not so straightforward with plants. It’s not always obvious that something is amiss straight away – it may be several weeks or months before they flower, for example. By the time you’ve noticed the flowers are the wrong colour, it may be too late to organise a replacement in time for the growing season.

Have you been satisfied with the plants you’ve received after ordering them online, or have you had some disappointments? If so, what were they?


I’ve found Crocus to be very good for plants – had some fantastic roses and peonies from them this year. Very well packed, lovely healthy plants.

Thompson and Morgan is a bit mixed. Some years back I bought what were supposed to be lace primulas from them. Nurtured them for months, cost me cash I couldn’t really afford for pots and compost (only a small back yard so no flower bed as such) to find they were just the boring pink ones. They sent me a £10 voucher when I complained but I didn’t manage to use it as it only lasted 6 months and I didn’t want any more plants from them anyway.

This year I bought potatoes from them, admittedly a bit late in the season. The blue danubes I ordered only arrived in JUNE! I complained on their face book page (and another lady commented she’d had the same) to be told to plant them and they would soon catch up as the soil was warm now. I won’t be using them ever again.

We’ve had the exact opposite with Thompson & Morgan – various plants ordered arrived on time and at this moment in time are flourishing in the garden as I type!

Lily Dazzler & various Begonias ordered from the company (quite late on as we are so far north) but they are all starting to come through and we felt we had exceptional service from them.

Not sure if it quite comes under the umbrella of online ordering but we also had great success with Cockers Roses – hubby decided to buy me a ‘dozen roses’ but rather than one’s to put in a vase, as a Scotsman who likes to look after his pennies, he thought it would save him money in the long run by not having to buy roses for each and every special occasion, to buy plants instead!

They are also in full bloom at the moment, even after a horrendously hard winter.

Sophie Gilbert says:
7 July 2011

I ordered Aloe variegata from Easy Cactus and they were great. The plants arrived in good condition and well packaged and with very good instructions about how to care for them plus a hand-written compliment slip. I would order from them again and recommend them. (The plants are doing very well, by the way).

pickle says:
7 July 2011

I have ordered plants from Thompson and Morgon – they were a bit small but grew on well. I ordered roses from Baker with mixed results (admittedly they were cheap). Three are doing well, the othet two are failures.
Generally I prefer to buy seeds and cultivate them myself – them it’s my fault if they don’t do well!

JKS says:
8 July 2011

I have ordered plants on several occasions from Crocus and they have been excellent. Strong, healthy plants and very good value. On one occasion I did a ‘collect them yourself’ order, and the staff were great, very helpful and knowledgeable.

Victoria says:
8 July 2011

Good experience with Crocus. Poor experience with Thompson & Morgan.

D Brown says:
8 July 2011

Crocus’ packaging and quick delivery couldn’t be beaten and the plants themselves were excellent.
Guess you get what you pay for!! Another good company for me is Taylor’s Clematis who, once again, have been quick to despatch and were well packaged. I have ordered a total of 10 different Clematis from them and only one was a failure and that was my fault.

Dave says:
8 July 2011

Purchased two supposedly identical magnolia bushes from Thompson & Morgan, one is still alive the other that always had totally different leaves is now dead. They insisted they were the same plants but I do not believe them. The plants were actually purchased through the Daily Mail but they came from Thompson & Morgan. After two years neither has flowered.

Also used Gardening Direct but never again. Some of their plants were OK but they failed to deliver at Xmas and this years plants, Bussy Lizies and Trailing Begonias were absolute rubbish. Did also buy some mixed Geraniums and they are OK. I think I will use local garden centres in future, they may be a bit more expensive but the plants are far higher quality.

Ann says:
8 July 2011

Ordered a number of items from Jersey Direct. Tomato plant was very leggy, the Potentilla was minute and Begonias arrived in a battered state, with only about half surviving. However, when notifying Jersey Direct of this their response was excellent and they refunded money for the Tomato and Potentilla and replaced the Begonias. There was a problem with their carriers which has now been sorted out.

Terry Stephens says:
8 July 2011

I signed up with Garden Bargains last year, as they were offering a 5% discount on all orders for an annual fee of £20. Because they got into a mess over my first order, they offered to reduce the £20 to £10, which I naturally accepted. In May of this year I placed an order for Impatiens, Lobelias and Petunias. A month later nothing had arrived, so I contacted Garden Bargains, firstly by email, which they acknowledged, but never followed up, then by telephone. I was told they had under-stocked Impatiens plants/plugs, so I would not be getting any. It was not their policy to advise customers of this sort of situation, which I find disgraceful. I had great trouble in June finding Impatiens, as most stocks had been sold out. I have a north-facing back garden, so Impatiens are ideal for summer colour. I never received the other two sets of plants I ordered. I still have not received a refund. Apparently it taked 21 days to process. Ridiculous!
Needless to say, I shall not be ordering from Garden Bargains again!

Janet Anderson says:
8 July 2011

Bought butterfly orchid tubers from Van Meuwen. Absolutely tiny and rotted before i found the required special compost.Some regal geraniums from J.Parker were damaged on arrival and several others were weedy and died off. The same was true of some trailing petunias : five out of the twelve were no good.Shall try to get to local garden centres in future.

roger says:
8 July 2011

I ordered plants from Vanmeuwen via Admail. One set of plants were not delivered, 3 others perished. I am still in correspondence for a refund. I will never buy plants online or by post again.

Fred Sole says:
8 July 2011

Earlier this year I ordered 4 different HT Roses from Fryers Roses of Knutsford. They arrived in about ten days, beautifully packed and in excellent condition. Just recently I ordered three more and the result was a repeat performance. All have been planted and even in this first year the display has been magnificent. I shall be unlikely to buy anyone else’s roses whilst I can get such good service. Highly recommended.

Wendy C says:
8 July 2011

I ordered Thompson and Morgan fuchias via Brand Alley and they were disgusting quality when they arrived, complained to BA and they refunded. No prob. Also ordered direct from T&M verbascum, bizzie lizzie butterfly orange. The verbascum were dreadful plants, they replaced them. The BLs were a bit different, did not arrive on time, complained and they said they would be send out when new stocks arrived – this in in June! Well they did arrive after I told them to cancel the order, but……they sent me extra mini plug mixed colours. I was fuming as this was part of a colour scheme. They sent 150 mini plugs!! I complained and they refunded and also gave me a voucher for future plants – ordered bulbs, which are due for delivery in September,. These were my first experiences of buying by mail….and my last. Certainly won’t by T&M.

I used to help out in a nursery and know a bit about bedding plants and am not at all impressed by mail order.

Angela Greenfield says:
8 July 2011

I too have found Crocus to be excellent – we order the majority of our perennials and shrubs from them and have been doing so for the last four years – we have yet to be disappointed. Plants arrive without fail in good condition and carefully packed. Delivery times reliable Customer services always very helpful. Have also found Taylors Clematis to be of a high standard.

Robert Talbot says:
8 July 2011

My partner ordered 3 minature geranium plants from Thompson & Morgan in February 2011. Delivery date, according to the catalogue, was to be March or April. Nothing arrived. She telephoned the company & was told “sometime in May”. Nothing had arrived by the beginning of June, so she contacted T & M again to be told that the plants would be despatched by 15 June at latest. July arrived, but again the geraniums had failed to materialise. She attempted to cancel the order on 4 July & met with resistance on the part of the company who assured her that delivery would definitely be made by the end of July. Since the flowering period of this particular plant was April-June, my partner insisted on cancellation but we are still waiting for the refund. This is not a company I’d choose to buy from ever again.

Alan Whyte says:
9 July 2011

Garden Bargains – delivery took ages. Plants arrived dead. Refused to accept delivery, returned to sender. Refund only price of plants not postage. Only able to refund with cheque which took over a month to arrive.

Deb Miller says:
9 July 2011

I usually use Suttons for my veg seeds and plants and have found the service very good. However, I ordered some leek plants from them, and when they arrived, there were 9 fewer baby leeks than stated on the website. This was unusual for this company, as you often get a few extra veg plants per batch to be on the safe side. I emailed Suttons to complain and a whole new batch was sent within a few days, which I think is good customer service. Mistakes do happen, but it is not a problem if they are rectified quiclky.

Last year, I placed orders with Hayloft Plants for bare-rooted phlox, young penstemons and young perennial geraniums. The penstemons arrived late Autumn, were very sickly little things and didn’t survive much more than a week. I complained and Hayloft, to their credit, immediately promised to send replacements this growing season. The replacements were slightly better but only five of the ten survived. The phlox arrived in the Spring and, thankfully, are growing well. However, the geraniums arrived at the end of June and were little more than poor rooted cuttings – two weeks later they are dead, despite careful nurturing. I know that Hayloft are very good at handling complaints but this shouldn’t be necessary if the original plants are stronger and growing properly. In future, I shall use local garden centres.

JKS says:
9 July 2011

At Chelsea this year I ordered 3 Heuchera’s from Plantagogo (not strictly online I appreciate, but they came through the post and orders can be placed online). The plants were excellent (very well packed, had clearly been watered and looked after at packing time), strong, healthy and established very quickly when I planted them. I have no hesitation in ordering from them again and am about to do so.