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We want better plants by post for gardeners

Buying plants online or by mail order gives you access to a wide range of different plants, but deliveries aren’t always rosy. So we’ve come up with 10 best-practice criteria that we want all retailers to adopt.

When I first wrote a Conversation about buying plants online and by mail order back in July last year, I was surprised at the amount of responses it received.

The comments were mostly from people who had experienced problems when buying plants by post: dead plants, diseased plants or the wrong plant altogether were common problems, not to mention issues with packaging and delivery.

So we decided to decided to investigate further at Which? Gardening. We did a survey of 2,726 Which? members to see their experiences of buying plants by post, and asked them to rate the retailers they had used. The results are now in.

Plants by post problems

While eight in 10 of them said they were broadly satisfied with their experience of buying plants by post, more than a third (36%) said they had suffered problems when buying plants this way.

The problems included:

  • Problems with the quality of plants/bulbs provided (41%).
  • Package left on the doorstep while I was out/away (20%).
  • Package damaged/broken/thrown around by the courier/postal service (17%).

As far as the retailers offering to post plants, there was a big split between those who that were rated well and those that performed poorly. David Austin Roses came top of the retailers with a customer score of 84%, closely followed by Bloms Bulbs (81%) and Crocus (81%). Garden Bargains came bottom of the pile (46%) behind Spalding Bulbs (47%) and Bakker (49%).

Our Better Plants by Post campaign

So, thanks to this survey and your comments here on Which? Conversation, we have come up with 10 best practice criteria that we would like to see all retailers adopt. These include:

  • Accurate and detailed plant descriptions on websites or in catalogues.
  • Strict quality control before plants are sent out.
  • Secure packaging to completely protect the plant in transit.
  • Plans should be clearly labelled with instructions for planting.
  • Be clear about estimated dispatch dates and keep customers informed about any delays.

Nine companies have already pledged their support, including Garden Bargains, which is very keen to improve its performance.

We’re really pleased with the response we’ve received from retailers so far, and are meeting with several to discuss our findings. While we appreciate that plants are living things and less simple to send by post than, say, a book, we think some companies could be doing better. Have you experienced problems buying plants online or by mail order?


We stopped buying plants by mail order some time ago as we were increasingly dissatisfied with the product quality and delivery arrangements. Additionally, local garden centres improved their performance and it became possible to buy good stock at sensible prices, and more importantly to select the specimen you were purchasing. I fully endorse the best practice points. Not everyone has a good garden centre nearby so mail order remains an important channel for many gardeners, and I think it is good to encourage people to look after and improve their gardens. Selling plants by post must be very profitable, despite the packaging and carriage costs, because there is a tendency for people to order more than they might if they went to a garden centere. The attractive pictures of full-size shrubs and flowers in full bloom, plus the ‘bundling’ of offers, appeal to many people who might feel a bit unsure of themselves in a full-strength horticultural environment. On the other hand there are those who associate garden centres with weak tea and kacky ornaments and have bought through the post for years. It’s good to see that there are some very reliable suppliers.

25 June 2012

I look up on the specialist suppliers, also consult R.S.H. for info on plants etc.

I then proceed to buy my plants via a certain online site that uses Pa pal, I’ve never been disappointed with the ‘Plug Plants’ seeds etc.

Never had to Invoke Paypal for any plant problem sales.

I also buy fruit trees (Bare Root type) but only in November when they are dormant, had 100% success rate,…So far!

I bought some plants online for the first time recently as part of a newspaper offer and received them in very poor condition – they looked near to death and the roots were in an extremely sorry state. When I rang to complain I was told that the condition was ‘normal for the time of year’ and to get back in touch in a few weeks if they didn’t ‘pick-up’ when planted.

Unsurprisingly they didn’t pick-up or perk-up and so I got back in touch. The customer service person that I spoke to did offer me a refund straight away (for the cost of the plants, not the postage). However there was no apology for the the condition of the plants or the inconvenience caused and no reassurance that I wouldn’t be sent plants in a similar condition in the future if I bought from them again.

I was unimpressed to say the least.

So I’m pleased to see that several companies are now pledging to carry out ‘strict quality control’ before plants are sent out.

jo finn says:
28 June 2012

In April I ordered plants via a newspaper offer, delivery to be “by the end of May”. Now, at the end of June, the plants have not arrived and I am told delivery is now expected at the end of July. As these are basically bedding plants I will have lost most of the season so I cancelled the order. I am now shocked to discover that the company had taken money from my credit card in April on the day I placed the order – I queried this and was told it was common practice. Surely, with the uncertainties associated with the production of plants, they should wait until they know they are able to supply before taking customers money.

Fiona Cowell says:
16 July 2012

I bought £187-worth of miniature dianthus, in two separate lots, from Allwoods, mail order to France. The plants were excellent, no complaint about that, but it became apparent as they grew on that the second lot was not the variety I had ordered. They finally admitted this and said “they could only apologise”. As the plants were for a continuous matched border the second variety was useless to me. I have heard nothing since I pointed this out!

Fred Harding says:
12 August 2012

I bought 6 sugana raspberry canes from Suttons online ,when they arrived they were in pots I watered them and planted them into compost enriced soil after about a week the leaves on 1 started to go brown rang Sutton told lack of potash within 2 months all gone brown and after sending photos and ringing on numerous occasions still having trouble with Suttons customer services still awaiting e-mail link to send more photos,would not recommend Suttons at all to anyone

clare baldwin says:
1 September 2012

I buy loads of plants online and I must say I have not yet had a bad experience. It gives me the opportunity to pick up good value plug plants that I can grow on myself as well as special plants I have read about but which are not stocked locally. I live in coastal Suffolk, which is quite far from everywhere really, and the cost of fuel makes it prohibitive to go driving around nurseries searching for the plants I want. Plants these days are really carefully packed and healthy specimens. I do go to nurseries too, generally not a fan of Garden Centres, but online is my favourite method of plant shopping. One click gives me more time to spend in my garden.

I think I have the proverbial ‘green fingers’, my plants very rarely die and most of them thrive way beyond expectation. But I have never ever had any luck with plants purchased by mail order. They always die within 4 weeks.

Norman Parkyns says:
11 May 2014

Cannot find results of survey best mail order plants

Hello Norman, here’s our guide to buying plants online or by mail order: http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/garden/guides/how-to-buy-plants/buying-plants-online-or-by-mail-order/

bindu says:
29 July 2014

The first time I used an online plant website I ordered from Garden Express. The plants were absolutely fantastic though a bit expensive. This gave me the courage to order more plants from different nurseries….4 times. Once, the plants came diseased and had slugs in the bottom of the containers. The second time, the plants were already wilting and in distress. No matter what I did…none of them survived. The third time, I ordered thirty 9am potted perennial geraniums from Plants for Shade. This was for a communal planting scheme and all they did was inserted plug plants into 9cm pots and shipped them. It only became apparent that they were plug plants when we came to plant them out and all the soil around them started falling apart. This was a bit embarrassing as the homeowners had contributed around 150.00 for the plants. I did get some really good slow growing buxus plants through a nursery from the Netherlands via Amazon.

Jenni Miller says:
5 February 2015

I too have just spent the last half hour trying to find the results of the best and worst mail order I know David Austin is god! But would really like to See the whole list which apparently is in the July edition of the gardening mag. But how to access it ??

Jenni Miller says:
5 February 2015

Re my post above I remember seeing a comment that Nicky’s Seeds had a Which endorsement for good germination , there seem to be a few web sites using variations of that name , which one was recommended please?

Hi Jenni, thanks for your posts. First of all, I believe you’re referring to Nicky’s Nursery – you can visit their website here:


With regards to the supplier list featured in our Which? Gardening magazine. I’m glad to let you know that this information about bulb suppliers is mentioned on page 21 of the September 2014 issue. Hope this information helps, Jenni.

George says:
8 February 2018

One of the largest mail-order companies dealing in plants, bulbs and seeds, Bakker.com, has gone bust

[Hello your comment has been removed to align with our commenting rules. Thanks, mods]

Sue Robins says:
12 March 2019

I see that Bloms bulbs has come near to the top of the “best mail order suppliers” listing. I must be very unlucky because this year my troughs at the front of my house are devoid of daffodils for the first time in 16 years!!!!! I am an experienced gardener and was dismayed to find that one third of the daffodil bulbs they sent me were rotten and that the remainder are only 3inches above ground, and won’t perform at all this year. The tulips in the same troughs are fine, but I have had to buy 6 dozen boxes of violas to fill in the gaps. Bloms did replace the rotten bulbs with tulips, but I really wanted to have the daffodil display before the tulips, so I’m afraid I cannot rate them at all and won’t use them again.