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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?

Roy Harper says:
24 September 2011

Ihave ordered plants from Jersey Plants;they came late i did not get the plants i ordered the ones that came were in poor condition i did ring up and complain and still did not get the plants i ordered.Do not recomend Jersey Plants at all

martinmoore says:
29 September 2011

Dont agree at all, been using Jerseyplantsdirect, no postage great plants. The secret is to order in good time and grow the plug plants on as they tell you too. Fantastic display of begonia this yea and I have just planted up my winter pansy.

10 October 2011

I do not agree. Used jersey plants for years. Orders on time, good plants, and a good display all year.

Ginetta says:
24 September 2011

I have bought plants, plug plants etc from Gardening Direct and always been very satisfied. I once had problems with T & M but was sent replacements when I rang and explained the problem. I find online good for specific plants but often local B & Q is best in the right season for bog standard things like pansies etc.

John Williams says:
24 September 2011

Have been buying for several years from Gardening Direct. Have noticed a decline in the last two years – plants are released very late which means that e.g. only now in Sept are my gailardias established and in flower. It seems as though they are waiting for the orders to arrive and then growing to meet the demand, which means late despatch. Prices are fairly reasonable, but I don’t really want 40+ of everything at miniscule size. I would sooner have 10 decent sized plants. It is also inevitable that plants will be shaken about in transit and I can accept a few losses as a result, providing they are planted quickly.
I won’t be buying from any online suppliers next year.

Giselle Hampton says:
25 September 2011

Have ordered from Jersey and thompson-morgon last year. Would never buy plants online again. Some were dried out, some damaged, some did not turn up. One box was pushed through my letter box resulting in squashed plants. Not for me thank you.

Thomas Tocher says:
25 September 2011

WE HAVE ordered plants on two occasions this summer from Jersey plants and been disapointed by the size and lack of communication. No prior notice of when plants will arrive; granium seedlings much too young, with very little root system. Heuchera’s and coreopsis plants ordered late July have only just arrived (after I queried where they were) and are nothing more than small rooted cuttings. Too expensive. and very disappointing.

I have repeatedly bought vegetable plants from Delfland Nurseries (www.organicplants.co.uk) and have found them to be very good: the plants arrive in good condition and on time and what’s more customer service is excellent. And no, I have no connections to the company!

Maurice says:
26 September 2011

Bought plants and bulbs from both Dobies and Mr. Fothergill. they have been in good condition and have been delivered when specified.

S Yates says:
26 September 2011

I have a passion for Carnations and was excited to find a nursery that supplied them. My experience was with Allwoods http://www.allwoods.net who according to their catalogue had been trading since 1915 so I was confident I was dealing with anursery of long standing. When my plants arrived they were barely rooted plugs that struggled to make growth. Those that did come to bloom had no scent and I was dissappointed with them.
Not to be put off I tried Newport Mills Nursery. http://www.newportmillsnursery.farming.officelive.com and waited with great repidation. Healthy plants arrived growing away in 7 cm pots and plants had been stopped and were breaking out new side growth, in fact I was able to plant straight away into their final pots. When flowers bloomed they had the most wonderful scent and were British raised and bred. I have also learnt that Newport Mills Nursery grows Elatum Hybrid Delphiniums for sale and they are so good that the Delphinium Society has selected Newport Mills Nursery for the past 13 years to supply its blooms and plants that they show at Chelsea Flower Show. Finally, if you want good quality plants that it has got to be Newport Mills Nursery from Wrantage, Taunton TA3 6DJ.

m greening says:
26 September 2011

I had used Jersey plants direct for several years and recommended them, but this year was a disaster: emails complaining of failure to deliver went unanswered, telephone calls eventually yielded two letters assuring me the plants had been sent out, finally two letters to the CEO and a grudging email saying replacements would be sent out 10 weeks late!!
Very poor customer service, no ability to track orders and grudging replacements.
Will NEVER use them again. (pity cos plants were quite good quality!)

Thomson and Morgan

I received three Canterbury Bell plants as ordered online. Two were and are fine, but I [promptly received a voucher in return for the failed plant. I simply had to phone and I more than covered the original cost. I have used the voucher confidently for further orders. Margaret

Jacqui says:
28 September 2011

I have bought from Jersey Direct for the last 3 years. Their plug plants are always in superb condition, well-packed and are P+P free. I have also bought from Gardening Direct and they are good too. This year’s JD begonias arrived late, but they had experienced problems, though I had to chase the order up; however, it was explained to me with apologies. So surprised at the negative comments on here.

V Bracegirdle says:
28 September 2011

I don’t think buying plants online is a lottery. Like everything in life, sometimes it can go wrong but a good consumer would contact the provider to explain the situation and get it rectified, which is what I have done each time something went wrong.
I have bought plants online for well 10 years, and prior to online I did it by post and phone – so I have over 15 years of experience.
I have used companies such as T&M, Gardening Direct, Jersey Plants Direct, Fothergills, Suttons, Marshalls and many more.
My recent experiences with Gardening Direct are:
Several years ago they delivered blue lobelia when I ordered white. A phonecall was all it took to get the white ones, and they let me keep the blue ones as well.
2 years ago the buzy lizzies were delivered in a very poor state, badly packaged and knocked about in the post. I gave them a good try, potted as many as I could into larger pots but most were too damaged to survive. This time I sent an email and some photo evidence. Replacements were very promptly forthcoming.
This year I ordered on the internet but no plants had arrived by the end of April. I phoned and discovered my internet order had been lost – but they were able to retireve it overnight. By April the small plug plants were all sold out. But I was sent replacement plants – the vast majority of which were the larger plugs and to ensure I received the correct quantity they sent slightly more than my original order, and sent everything very promptly. I had a few replacements, but nothing to trouble me. In all I think the value of the larger plants they sent was more than double, in fact almost triple, the original cost of my order. I could not fault their customer service.

Gill Switalaki says:
29 September 2011

Don’t by plants online or from a newspaper offer
I have wasted so much money on small plants late plants or the wrong plants
Phone David Austin they aree brilliant and they don’t just sell roses
Crocus are good too
Thompson and morgan and J Parker hopeless although I did eventuAlly get my money back

Peter Watson says:
1 October 2011

I did have a problem with J Parker last year but it was quickly sorted and I have ordered again this year with no problems

John C says:
29 September 2011

Chrysanthemums Direct were extremely efficient in both dispatch and aftersales service. I can thoroughly recommend this online plant retailer.

Guy Farrow says:
29 September 2011

I purchased 5 bare -root fruit trees from gardenbargains.com (The Good Life Limited, Coy no. 6482520)
in March 2009.They were described as a bramley apple, braeburn apple, conference pear, victoria plum, and Stella cherry. It is clear that the ‘bramley’ and victoria are not as described- the bramley produces light green fruits,which are very mushy upon maturity, and the victoria produces sharp tasting dark purple fruits.The pear and cherry have not produced a single fruit since purchase, and the pear and suffered from a fungal disease since purchase.The bramley is a poor cropper, with few, particularly poorly formed fruits.This is despite following the cultivation instructions religiously.This of course, compounds the frustration, as I feel I have invested wasted effort.I have received no response to my e mails of complaint.

J. Mitchell says:
29 September 2011

Responding to an offer in Gardeners’ World magazine in June, 2011, I sent for 6 free lavender plants and also paid at the same time for helianthum, dianthus and heuchera plants from Thompson & Morgan. The dianthus and heuchera plants arrived fairly quickly as jumbo plug plants and were in fair condition. The lavender plants arrived later and were small and dry: one was dead and two succumbed soon afterwards. Eventually T&M let me know that the helianthemum plants were delayed and I waited so I could plant all the plants at the same time. They finally arrived last week – tiny cuttings in mini plugs. The compost was dropping off the plugs as the roots were not well developed. When I entered into email dialogue with T&M they claimed the photo I sent showed healthy plants which just needed potting on! Recently I bought helebores and bulbs from Suttons and they were beautiful healthy plants and plump bulbs.

martinmoore says:
29 September 2011

Jersey plants direct are brilliant and I feel compelled to right the negative comments to give balance. I order the smallest plug plants and grow them on. I find if you order late you get the later sown seeds so dont be surprised if they are small, they are not magicians! The plants are subject to posting with associated risks but I have never had a problem. Thanks to Jersey plants for delivering what I expect and good quality plants. I chose begonia sahra for my pots andthey were fantastic and I just planted out my winter pansies which arrived as expected in August and have been grown on to nice mature flowering plants.

Reg Greatorex says:
29 September 2011

For years we always obtained our plants from Gardening Direct. Never again! We ordered an assortment of plants which, when they did arrive, were in a most disgraceful condition. It looked as if the packers had used the boxes to practice rugby conversions into the distribution vehicle. The boxes were battered and inside the plants were all over the place with little or no compost around the roots. Even one of our delivery men said that there was enough compost in his van “to plant a field of potatoes”. The delivery men obviously are not responsible for loading the vans. No amount of complaints seemed to do any good as you got a different person on the phone each time I phoned and only got an apology with an offer of a replacement or credit. When you got the replacements, they were of the same useless condition. I refused credit as I told them I would no longer be using them again. We still get emails regularly from the company even though we have tried to stop them. Try to cancel the emails and you get a message saying “you have encountered a fault, go back and try again”. I could go on and on telling you of the horrors we have had with this company this year but I wont. Apparently, according to the company, they told us that they had changed their distributors from GPO and were obligated to continue with them until matters could be sorted out. Cancelling their contract would not help immediately as they had no replacement. There must be distributors crying out for this type of contract if handled properly. It looks as if we shall use Crocus in future if your recommendation is taken up or will use local companies if we can find any suitable. Get some companies who can supply decent plants etc to add their names to Which? Local.

Stephanie groves says:
30 September 2011

I have found that The Hairy Plant Complany is absolutely the best for online plants, and would recommend them to anyone interested in perennials and herbs..Great service and very environmentally friendly.

Peter Watson says:
1 October 2011

Ordered early flowering spray chrysanthemums from the Chrysanthemum Society’s “Approved Partner” Woolmans in January for delivery end-March to mid April. When they had not turned up by end April chased a number of times by phone and e-mail given promises and missed delivery dates only to be finally told that they had gone on “back-order” with their supplier and I should receive them by end May but I could cancel if I wanted. Received in early June with a note to apologise but saying that they would quickly catch up. The plants were not particularly high quality but with a lot of care and attention managed to get some flowers in 3rd week of September – far later than envisaged. My impression is that they were not really interested in providing a quality service and I was just a problem that they wanted to go away. Compared to other suppliers such as Suttons or Taylors which I go great service from – not a pleasant experience. Received their new catalogue today but I’m sure that there must be a better supplier out there.