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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?

Colin Faulkner says:
9 July 2011

Ordered plants from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds Ltd in March – arrived May after delay (apologies received from company). Geranium plugs in very poor condition – smaller than the advertised size and hardly worth planting – those that I managed to save (hardly any) have not yet flowered. Company very apologetic and gave me a full refund – no quibble. Annoyingly Tesco’s geranium plugs were in much better condition and cheaper – that is the way to go for me in the future.

Stephanie says:
9 July 2011

I too have been disappointed with Thompson and Morgan. Quality of plants within an order is mixed some barely an y root and hardly alive. Seed potatoes tine and starting to rot. Crocus was excellent, large healthy plants in big pots and well packaged.

Tony says:
10 July 2011

Last November I ordered 10 Pyracantha from Scotplants Direct. Due to the bad weather in Scotland they were not able to send them for a couple of weeks, and by the time they arrived the freeze had arrived here. I planted them as soon as I could, but in spring it was evident that some had not survived. I contacted Scotplants, they replaced these plants immediatley and said that if I had any problems with the others to contact them again. As the remaining plants died off I phoned Scotplants again, and these were replaced without any trouble. The three sets of plants always arrived on time, in one case I was even able to re-arrange the delivery date I was on holiday. I would have no worries about ordering from this firm again.

I have always found Victoriana Nursery (they have an online web site), to be particularly good.

Plants have arrived fresh and healthy and grow away well. Also, the prices are very fair.

Willsurrey says:
18 July 2011

I buy many items on the internet – 2 or 3 deliveries a week on average. Except for conifers that arrived on time and were excellent specimens, the other nurseries had:

Very poor service: Would not acknowledge emails or telephone messages
List items that they cannot ship for many months
Very poor quality of stock when delivered

Total waste of time in my opinion and I will stick to the local garden centre from now.

Rose says:
21 July 2011

I have only ordered plants on line once and I will never do it again. The plants were poor in quality and in the future I will go to a garden centre.

Stefka says:
25 August 2011

I’ve had consistently good quality from Thompson & Morgan in recent years, but having been a long time loyal customer of Crocus, their plant quality has really become rather hit and miss of late in my experience. Several purchases over the last 18 months have been more than unsatisfactory and it’s become a lottery as to what I’ll receive next.

Pat Manton says:
27 August 2011

I have bought plug plants from Thomson and Morgan and have been very satisfied. Well packed and delivered on time. One lot which was damaged were replaced immediately without any fuss.

Kathleen says:
28 August 2011

I bought sempervivums from sempbypost.When they arrived they were bone dry.I potted them up right away and soaked them overnight.Next day thay were twice their size.and are doing well.Have had no bad experiences from other companies.Have I just been lucky.

Julie Bearpark says:
29 August 2011

I have ordered plants for myself and other members of my local Hardy Plant group from Elizabeth MacGregor Nursery at Kirkcudbright for many years. As the post and packing charge is quite high, it is economical to share an order with other people. The plants arrive beautifully packed always thrive and the service is excellent. I cannot recommend them too highly.

Endeg says:
30 August 2011

I have made online orders four times with Thompson & Morgan: twice for seed potatoes and twice for plants. Had no problems with the potatoes. The first plant order was for plugs of Busy Lizzies, which arrived fairly battered, owing to insubstantial packing. I called to say so, and T&M promptly sent a replacement order. The second order for plants, last Autumn, was for a collection of irises — 5 tubers x 5 varieties. Of these, just one tuber had rotted in transit. T&M was called, expecting a replacement for the one, at most the pack of that variety. To my surprise, they sent the whole order (i.e. 25 tubers) as replacement, with, of course, their apologies. This left me with mixed emotions: pleased at their promptness and with their generosity, but, as one incapable of throwing away good plants, cursing at the work involved in finding space for the extra 25 tubers.

Sylvia says:
31 August 2011

I ordered a Hydrangea from Thompson & Morgan which cost me £9.99 plus postage. This tiny plant arrived about six inches tall in a 3inch pot . I could have bought a 2 foot one in my local nursery for £7.99. This is a warning to everyone. I couldn’t complain because their website sizes are all in Centimeters which mean nothing to me. I was taught feet and inches. So be aware of the pot size when you order.

Bob Hughes says:
1 September 2011

I had a poor experience with thompson and morgan some 3 or 4 years ago but to their credit they put the problem right and sent vouchers for the following year.Not so with this present years order fron the VERNON GERANIUM NURSEY they sent me firstly approximately 10 plants that died–which they replaced.- then out of all the hardy geraniums they sent approx 90% were the wrong colour so they sent more and again some wer’nt the right colour and then when they came out in may the whole batch of 18 red geraniums all yes all came out pink.The only decent thing to report on them is the flowers that did come out were all pretty good quality.I wrote to them telling of my disapointment 5 weeks later they took time out to contact me that was 7 or 8 weeks ago and since nothing.No more from them.

Christine Warner says:
1 September 2011

About 3 years ago I bought a minerette apple tree from Ken Muir. It appeared to flourish and even produced fruitlets. But then the fruit and leaves turned brown and the whole tree deteriorated. I asked Ken Muir for advice, sending them photos by email and followed their suggestions. But the plant failed anyway. Eventually, Ken Muir replaced the tree and the new one is doing fine. Last year it had 2 or 3 fruits and this year it is loaded. I have bought other fruit plants from Ken Muir which have been fine.

diana webb says:
8 September 2011

I ordered from Unwins/Marshall in Feb of this year Dahlias, seeds, geraniums and Angelonia. Dahlias and seeds turned up in good time. The Geraniums and Angelonia turned up the end a of May a month late. Very poor condition and tiny. When I complained my money was immediately refunded which led me to think this was a common occurrence. Geraniums when they flowered at the end of July were orange not Lavender. The plants bore no resemblance to the pictures shown in the brochure and the sales blurb was totally misleading. “All plants are carefully graded and packed by hand” whoever packed them could see they were of very poor quality. I would have thought it was illegal to mislead the public in this way it is quite apparent they have no Quality Control in operation. Then to cap it all the Customer Service Manager would not to speak me I had to write in although they had my emails and photographs you would have thought that would have been sufficient. I feel they should refund the money you have to spend buying replacement plants at the height of the season

Pierre says:
22 September 2011

Plugs from Jersey Direct arrived in very poor condition – damaged, dry and impossible to revive. Had similar problem with Thomson & Morgan last year although they were replaced albeit with plants of similar quality. Overall have been very disappointed with plants sent via the post.

Earlier this year I ordered 150 Freesia bulbs of mixed colours from QVC after their expert said they have been specially treated so that they will flower this year.
I followed their instructions and planted on arrival in good quality compost.
I grew half out doors and half in the greenhouse for nice clean flowers for picking.
Now mid September I am the proud owner of three (yes 3) Freesia blooms. One in the greenhouse and two outdoors. All three are yellow.
Needless to say I do not coinsider 2% success rate satisfactory and I will be taking this up directly with QVC but would advise anyone who is considering buying plants from QVC should think very carefully and maybe go to a plant specialist.

KatieB says:
22 September 2011

I ordered a courgette and squash collection from Sarah Raven. They were late, arriving only after I chased them, and not in the best condition. Only two of the six plants survived beyond seedling, and they are still going, but none of the courgettes have ever matured, and the squash has produced flowers byt no fruit. Back to the farmers’ market next year, I think.

I have ordered beech hedging plants from Hedges Direct (http://www.hedgesdirect.co.uk/) twice now mainly because I could not find them in the local garden centres. In both cases they arrived in a few days and were of good quality. I would use them again.