/ Shopping

You say: buying plants online is too problematic

If I ordered a toaster online, I’d be a bit surprised if I received a breadmaker. But it seems that when it comes to buying plants online, it’s commonplace to receive the wrong product – that’s if you get it at all.

What’s more, it can be pretty tricky to get a refund or a replacement.

When we asked you whether you’d had problems buying plants online here on Which? Conversation, we were surprised at the number of negative responses. It appears that many of you have had big problems. These problems included:

1. Dead, dying, poor quality or rotted plants – or plants that succumbed rapidly to disease. Janet Anderson shared her experiences of ordering butterfly orchid tubers:

‘Absolutely tiny and rotted before I found the required special compost. The same was true of some trailing petunias: five out of the twelve were no good.’

2. Battered plants – usually due to poor packaging. Giselle Hampton said:

‘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.

3. Wrongly-coloured plants – or the wrong plants altogether. Bob Hughes wasn’t impressed by the hardy geraniums he ordered:

‘Approximately 90% were the wrong colour, so they sent more and again some weren’t the right colour and then when they came out in May the whole batch of 18 red geraniums […] came out pink.’

4. Plants that arrived very late – or didn’t turn up at all. Robert Talbot’s partner had a nightmare with the miniature geraniums she bought:

‘Delivery date, according to the catalogue, was to be March or April. Nothing arrived. She telephoned the company and was told “sometime in May”. Nothing had arrived by the beginning of June, so she contacted them 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. Since the flowering period of this particular plant was April-June, my partner insisted on cancellation but we are still waiting for the refund.’

All of these problems would be frustrating in themselves, but what really seems to be a bugbear for many is the customer service that they’ve received when an order has gone wrong. So when it comes to bad customer service, you’ve shared complaints about:

  • Lack of communication – calls and emails have gone unanswered; customers are not informed early enough if a plant is out of stock.
  • Lack of tracking or despatch details.
  • Inadequate compensation and a lack of acknowledgement that there’s been a problem.

It’s not all negative

Ordering things online is second nature for many of us these days, and our recent online shopping satisfaction survey showed that, broadly speaking, people are happy with their experiences. In fact, 83% of members asked said they hadn’t had cause to complain about their recent online purchases.

However, your Conversation comments have shown that this isn’t always the same with buying plants. That’s not to say everyone is having bad experiences, many of your comments praised good service and plants in good condition, like Fred Sole:

‘Earlier this year I ordered four different hybrid tea roses. 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.’

Which? Gardening is taking a closer look at the problems you’ve raised with the aim of coming up with some solutions in the future. As living things, plants are inevitably more complicated than books, clothes or toasters, but that doesn’t mean that buying them online shouldn’t be as hassle-free as with anything else.

So, please keep sharing your online plant buying experiences – and especially, what you’d like retailers to do differently.


I’m an avid gardener (I even open my garden for the National Gardens Scheme) and I’m particularly keen on roses. I buy a great many plants on line and I did respond to the Which? survey.

My experience when buying from specialist plant suppliers, such as specialist rose nurseries or the well known Bulb company based in Manchester, has been almost universally excellent – and much as described in the quote from Fred Sole in the intro.

On the other hand, buying plants from “reader offers” in newspapers and periodicals such as the Radio Times, where you order from the publication but the plants are clearly from somewhere else (i.e. the Radio Times clearly are not growing and sending their own stock for example) the experience has been much more varied. There have been some bargains, yes, and there have been some plants that arrived looking a bit worse for wear but then rallied and have turned out to be stunners, but there have been far more negative experiences, including some outright disasters.

The conclusion that I have drawn from this, rightly or wrongly, is that specialist plant suppliers understand how to pack the plants so that they will travel well and stand a chance of surviving the postal system, and send out better plants to start with, but other suppliers probably don’t employ people with any interest in or knowledge of plants and pretty much throw them into a post sack without a second thought (often sending inferior plants, which I don’t doubt are cheaper and so attractive for “offers”, and so they don’t stand much chance anyway, even before suffering the postal handling).

My own moral: only buy from specialist plant growers and suppliers and I reckon you’ll have a far better chance of success.

But best of all, of course, (if you can) go to a proper nursery (which is quite different form a Garden Centre or DIY store) and you will be able to select the exact plants you want and buy them cheaper than you can at supermarkets, DIY chains, most garden centres and most on line offers.

Having had mixed results from buying on-line we have now stopped doing so. Some companies were very good but others were a total let down. The biggest problems were puny shrubs and bad packaging. We have an excellent independent garden centre nearby which has stock from local nurseries and we can fulfil most of our requirements there and they deliver our selected plants carefully. For roses we are near a first class grower who is a perennial gold medal winner at Chelsea and we can spend an enjoyable few hours wandering around the gardens and selecting perfect specimens from the enormous stock. Dave D sums it up as usual. Reminds me . . . I’ve got a sackful of narcissus bulbs to plant . . . must get on.

We have had the same experience, and have also stopped. Most of the plants from one nursery arrived dead, and rotting. Many have what I see as fire virus on the edges of the leaves. The plugs expected are usually much smaller than ordered, or shown, yet when measured are the correct size. We ordered “Pink” daffs, as my wife wanted some. I said we plant then together and label the area. I managed to carry my way, despite threats of mayhem and carnage. Luckily they all came up yellow. I won £5-00 and a special dinner – and my little ptarmigan took up the batten with the nursery. As we had had various mishaps with colours in the past, there was no way these were going to be scattered all over the garden. We have local nurseries and garden centers around, and even greengrocers sell spring plants.

Nina says:
8 December 2011

Recently I started to have time and enthusiasm for and doing both the front and back garden. I spent a lot of time reading up about different plants and flowers. I dont have a nursery near me and the nearest one is very expensive and I do not drive so I placed orders with JParkers and ordered a lot of their jumbo garden sized plugs. The plants that arrived were not giant garden ready at all, they were tiny weeny little things. Others were totally dead and all shrivelled. I was told this were dormant and are supposed to be like this at this time of the year and will flourish next year! If you had put them straight out they would have just disappeared. They were actually the very mini plugs but advertised as garden ready. When you complain they say send them back. I also ordered plants from Thomson and Morgan which were advertised as mini plugs and were, they were the same size as JParkers supposedly giant maxi garden ready plugs. Well I dont have a post office near me and the time to traipse to go to a post office, and that would mean a taxi there and back. IF I was able to whizz about everywhere I would not be buying online in the first place.

Barry F. says:
30 December 2011

I also have had trouble with J Parkers.Ordering a mixture of Tulip bulbs, 60 in total, on the 17th Nov. 2011, they finally arrived three months later. This after numerous telephone calls querying the status.They quoted 28 days delivery and had cashed my cheque on the 27th Nov. 2011.Each and every bulb was covered in green mould,some had started to decompose.On complaint, I was told to return all the bulbs, before they would consider a refund.They obviously were not prepared to believe my complaint without evidence. In all of my years dealing with the major nurseries, there has never been a problem with any complaints,refunds instantly.I did send back part of the order, but was only refunded for those few bulbs.Needless to say I will never deal with Parkers again.

How disappointing to hear two sorry tales of J Parkers. This is the company based in Manchester to which I referred on Nov 16th (first post on this convo) and since posting that I am pleased to be able to report that I have received a further order of bulbs and fruit and herb plants from Parkers.

It’s a shame that they don’t appear to be consistent for everyone.

Mr Vincent says:
9 December 2011

A couple of months back I ordered some turf from http://www.turfland.co.uk. Prior to that I had researched turf on the internet because I was unsure exactly what I needed, or which turf to get. I found the website extremely easy to use, and that they supplied the type of turf I required. Of all the sites I checked this one seemed to be the best so I decided to take the plunge, nervously I placed my order. During the order I thought it would be wise to add some lawn feed because during my research I found everyone recommended it when laying turf, however what was unknown to me was Turfland provided this free with the turf. Just one day after placing the order Turfland phoned me to confirm the order, with the salesman asking me if I was aware of the free lawn feed because I had ordered a second batch, I stated I was not. He then asked me if I would like to cancel the second order as one would be enough, in my experience there are not many firms that would do this. Suddenly I found my self feeling confident about my order. And sure enough I had reason to be confident. The order arrived exactly when they said it would. Now I have a beautiful lush green lawn that has now rooted firmly. I do not plan to live in this house for ever as the children will soon out grow it and I will need to move to a bigger house. Rest assured that if I need any turf in the new property I will not hesitate in asking Turfland to provide it for me.

Lawrie says:
23 March 2012

If you are interested in geraniums (pelargoniums) I can really recommend Vernons Geranium Nurseries. They supply plants by post which invariably arrive in pristine condition – if not, they replace without question.I have no connection with the firm other than as a very satisfied customer.

Psytech says:
31 May 2012

On the Crocus internet page was a news article from Which on this topic, where it states that Which readers reported that their service was excellent – they must be the lucky ones. I have been having trouble with a late order, I have sent 3 emails (and got no reply) and rung twice. The first time they promised to ring me back and did not, the second time the phone was put down halfway through the conversation. All I want to know is an approximate date for delivery as the order is already late. My advice – stay away from buying plants online!

Tracy M says:
5 June 2012

On May 1st this year I ordered some sweetpeas from Sarah Raven. Over a month later I still haven’t received them. Two e-mails have been ignored and after waiting a couple of times for my calls to be answered, I received only a woolly explanation about ‘problems’ despatching the plants this year. It’s very disappointing.

Mark Pitman says:
22 June 2012

As an online retailer of plants (www.hillieronline.co.uk) we’re always trying to improve what we offer, and the service we give. This article is excellent reading, and also all the comments, as it highlights whats important. The biggest issue for us is safe and secure handling via the courier service, and we do sometimes get damages, but always replace FOC. Id hope that some of your readers have used us and had positive experiences, and if not, that we sorted it out for them. Glad i stumbled upon this article – keep the thread going, its great feedback

I’ve bought plants from ‘plantman26’ on Ebay and they’ve been really good value and very well packed.

Jo says:
3 July 2018

ordered in good faith from bakka Won’t be using this firm again.

# after the 5 days delivery as stipulated when I ordered with no delivery or information I contacted asking for a status on the delivery and they replied to say I would receive the plants on Thursday 27th June..
# when on 30th June they hadn’t arrived I messaged to ask why ..no reply .
# I messaged 6 times more without response before sending a further message to CANCEL the order
# the reply to that I was it was too late to cancel as the order was ALREADY DISPATCHED on 25th June that message was dated..Sat 30 th June
# on Monday 2ND July they emailed to say my order WILL be despatched in the next 24 hours.. NOTE .. that WAS 3 days after I asked for order to be cancelled. Therefore they were not despatched AT ALL.
# Today the parcel arrived Time of delivery 9.29 am..
# on opening the box at 9.50am I find 6 totally dry brown and withered DEAD PLANTS..
# no way am I prepared to pay for these dead plants..
#I have sent by EMAIL and fb MESSENGER photos OF THE DEAD PLANTS and formally demanded a full refund of my costs.