/ Home & Energy, Shopping, Travel & Leisure

Plants by post: can we put problems to bed?

Buying plants online or by post can be a frustrating process. You shared your problems, and we’ve been campaigning to get companies to improve – so has anything changed?

Back in 2011 a Conversation post on buying plants online unearthed your gripes of dealing with poor products and dodgy deliveries. The issues raised included problems with plant descriptions, packaging, labelling, dispatch dates and returns, and prompted our Better Plants By Post campaign of 2012 and again in 2014.

Your experiences of plants by post

Ann Eastman shared her mail-order plant problems:

‘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. Mine always die within four weeks.’

And, Jax explained the frustrations of ordering online:

‘Buying plants online is a very frustrating process. Most will replace without a quibble – if they still have the plants you ordered in stock, or a refund if not (not terribly helpful).

‘But I’d really like a bit more care given to consistently providing healthy plants in the first place. I’ve had a delivery today of two pre-planted hanging baskets, which were a replacement for two baskets from last year. These don’t look much better. Dry, unwatered, not in flower etc. Pretty basic stuff.’

Suppliers step up their service

Plants are covered by the Consumer Rights Act, which states that an item must match the seller’s description. But, we’ve had a recent update from three of the big suppliers as to how they’ve upped their game for 2016 in response to our campaign. So if you’re thinking of buying plants by post, it’s worth noting these changes:

    • Thompson & Morgan customers can check the status of orders online and will be contacted when orders are dispatched. From spring, customers will be able to track delivery via the website.
    • Marshalls has improved packaging and started dispatching plants by Royal Mail so they should never be in transit for more than 48 hours.
    • Suttons Seeds has also improved packaging and will send emails at point of dispatch, warn customers about delays and allow customers to track their orders online.

Putting the issue to bed?

So, service is improving for mail order plants. The question is, have you seen improvements at all? Or are you still having problems with ordering plants online or in the post?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I buy plants locally and so do neighbours and friends. I expect this costs more but at least you can see what you are getting.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

I get far more satisfaction out of growing plants from seed. Much cheaper, you get more (usually too many) and it takes time. But it is initially surprising how many you need even to populate a small garden; disappointing just how little impact a few boxes of expensive plants from the garden centre can have. Good to give to your family, friends and neighbours. Bedding, perennials, vegetables – all easy to grow.

Some plants need to be purchased initially – fuschias, chrysanthemums, large dahlias for example. But once you have grown them, after the first year take cuttings or divide to increase the numbers at little cost.

For others you may want you’ll need to purchase – many shrubs, roses, paeonies -are expensive when bought locally in containers. Much cheaper bought bare-rooted online. I may have been lucky but Telegraph Garden (J Parkers) have always been satisfactory.

Profile photo of Janice Shipp
Member

I’m glad to hear you buy bare root shrubs – this seems to be something of a dying art, and, as you say is often the best way to get reasonably priced plants at a time of year which is very good for planting shrubs. Our experience is also that these bare root shrubs, especially roses, are one of the most reliable things to buy online, too, but buying herbaceous plants as bare roots can be much trickier.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

There were a lot of complaints in a previous Conversation [no link provided unfortunately] about one particular company and the disappointing condition of many of the purchases. The company dutifully responded to commenters through this website but didn’t appear to do much to learn from their customers’ feedback. They kept making the same apology over and over again but nothing seemed to get better and the complaints kept coming in. They did seem to resolve the problems by eventually replacing stock or refunding payments but it was heavy going. They are not cited in the Intro alongside other growers so either Which? hasn’t contacted them or they don’t have any improvements they wish to report.

Profile photo of Janice Shipp
Member

I’ve looked back and believe you’re referring to the first conversation we had on this subject in 2011, when we launched this campaign. There were a lot of comments at the time about Van Meuwen, who were quick to respond. They are in fact part of the Thompson & Morgan company, so we are hoping that their service will improve in the same ways that Thompson & Morgan have described. We’d be interested to hear from anyone who might have more recent experience of using them, so we can get an idea whether the improvements are already making a difference.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Thank you Janice. I believe that same 2011 Conversation has been active recently with the same sort of problems reported.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

With an excellent independent garden centre within ten minutes walk of our home we now always buy plants from there. We used to buy some on-line but became fed up with the poor quality. Plants are more expensive at the garden centre but the ability to choose the specimen you want and to choose from a number of varieties makes up for that, plus it is a more enjoyable way of spending one’s time than sitting at a computer. It is still possible to do it the old-fashioned way by mail order without leaving the comfort and privacy of your home because plant catalogues don’t seem to have evolved much over the last fifty years with their tiny crowded pictures, grainy photos, inadequate descriptions, cramped order forms, and phoney testimonials.

Profile photo of Janice Shipp
Member

There is a lot to be said for seeing plants before you buy and it’s hard to beat a good garden centre with knowledgeable staff, but we feel it should be possible to offer a good service via online mail order as well. So many things are now sold that way and it suits some people to shop from home. We’d like to see a similar standard of service applied to plants as has become the norm in many other retail areas.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

” We’d like to see a similar standard of service applied to plants as has become the norm in many other retail areas.”

It set me wondering what other live items can be ordered for deliver through the post. I have to admit to being flummoxed. Anyone any ideas?

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I agree with what you say Janice, but my conclusion has to be that the companies that serve the on-line market are not putting the same amount of effort into the production and presentation of their plants as the better garden centres and growers whose products have to stand up to the scrutiny of customers before purchase. The other benefit of garden centres is that some plants are grown on more and have a more established look when transplanted in the garden – this is reflected in the price, of course. I appreciate that it suits some people to shop from home but are they realising that in return for lower prices they will receive a less satisfactory product? Probably not because there are so many complaints.

Member
richard sheppard says:
27 September 2016

I ordered a tree from Ashridge nurseries that didn’t look well when it arrived – very little root – but it’s hard to be sure with bare root plants, so I photographed the roots, but planted the tree and gave it the best treatment I could. When it showed no signs of growth several months into the growing season I contacted the company, who suggested I wait another couple of months. Still no growth – they wanted me to send the pictures (fair enough) but then wanted to charge me postage for a replacement! I had to be very assertive to get them to waive this – they offer a ‘guarantee’ but the terms include paying postage. They were nice enough about it in the end, but I lost a whole growing season.