Back in the day, I loved finding a plant or seed catalog in the mail. I studied each one carefully, marking up my wish list and then winnowing it down to something almost reasonable. I read the descriptions on each shrub and perennial, compared tomato, bean and squash varieties, and stayed abreast of all the latest and greatest plant introductions.
Over the past thirty years (plus or minus) I have ordered everything from fruit trees to roses, ferns, geraniums, tomato seeds and Caladium bulbs.
I have received some fine, healthy plants that grew well, and I’ve received some duds. Like you probably have over the years, too. I used to collect heirloom roses and fruit trees. There weren’t deer or rabbits in that garden, and I could grow vegetables and strawberries, too. I grew at least six varieties of apples and three different peaches, all purchased through the mail.
I remember those days fondly. The mail came every day, efficiently and without long delays. Prices were fair and nursery companies were honorable and cared about their reputations.
But things change over time, don’t they? For the last few years, most of the nursery catalogs that make it to my mailbox go straight to the recycling can, just as soon as I can remove and shred my address label. A quick glance shows me how ridiculously overpriced the most common perennial can be when ordered through the mail. What I can buy locally for $5 suddenly becomes a $20 a plant before tacking on the postage.
It has been a long time since I have found a good deal on anything other than my favorite Caladium tubers. A few years ago, I took a chance on ordering a rare, hard to locate Iris. I ordered from a huge national company that advertises heavily, used a coupon code, and waited excitedly for my Iris to arrive. The stock looked good on arrival and I potted up the several I had purchased. They didn’t bloom the first year, and so I had an entire year to anticipate these inky, almost black, species Iris flowers.
And then there were buds, and finally the buds opened…. blue. What had been sold as an Iris chrysographes bloomed as a pale blue Japanese Iris. It was a pretty enough Iris, but not what I had ordered. And so instead of refunding my purchase, the company sent me a letter promising store credit on my next order. That letter sat in my filing cabinet for a couple of years, because I truly wasn’t interested in buying anything else from them.
And then temptation struck me this past February. February does strange things to an otherwise sensible gardener’s sensibility. I found this fern I just had to have, and this company had it at a fair enough price. And so one freezing February day I ordered the golden fern and a couple of Calla lily bulbs, and paid for it with my letter of credit, plus a few extra dollars to cover the difference.
Well, the fern arrived just fine in early March, but no bulbs. They said the bulbs would be along shortly. And so I waited patiently through the time frame they indicated, and still no Calla bulbs. When I called customer service last week, the sweet lady apologized profusely while telling me that the next time frame for mailing them would be mid-May. No thank you.
I cancelled the order, scolding myself the entire time, and requested a refund. Well, I’m still waiting for that refund. Are you surprised?
I tried a new company last February, too. The Tennessee Wholesale Nursery has a professional looking website and carries a large selection of bare root ferns. I was in fern bliss ordering species never found in stores. The order arrived a few weeks later in March, and I was pleased with what I received.
Pleased enough that I had the botanical garden where I volunteer place an order for a project I was planting there. We were a bit shocked to pay around $30 for postage for a few packages of bare root ferns, but there was no stated shipping policy on the website other than a statement that they would determine the shipping on each order. Those ferns were shipped the same day they were ordered, and I was a very happy gardener to open that order, too.
Perhaps I should have been satisfied and left it at that. But no, I wanted a few more ferns for my spring projects, so I placed the third order with Tennessee Wholesale Nursery in mid-March. The website indicated it would ship out in March, and my credit card was charged on March 20.
And I’m still waiting for that order a month later in mid-April, while getting nothing helpful or encouraging from their customer service agent. When they told me last Monday that they wouldn’t be able to dig my ferns for several more weeks, I asked that the order be cancelled if they couldn’t ship by today. Numerous attempts to call the available numbers led only through the phone tree to full voice mailboxes.
Well, the order wasn’t prepared last week, and so on Friday, I requested that it be cancelled, and my payment refunded. No acknowledgement, just an apology. It is getting too late in the season here for me to want to start off with bare root plants. Our cool spring is history, and it is stressful for plants to have to grow new roots in our heat.
I requested again today that the order be cancelled. And I followed up with an email to the owner. Still, no acknowledgment that it has been cancelled, or that my refund is in process, even after writing to the owner. Instead of happily planting my ferns, I am left pondering next steps . . .
I have one more plant order ‘out there’ that is supposed to ship this week from Plant Delights in North Carolina. This will be my first order with them in several years. Once their shipping costs went above $30 for even a single plant, it cooled my plant lust considerably. All it took was a few moments of ‘doing the math’ to figure out the actual cost of the plant to convince me that I didn’t need it that badly.
But I was given a gift of cash and asked to get something I had been wanting for a while. And after several days of thinking about it, I decided to support the work that Plant Delights does for the horticultural community with a purchase/donation. I say donation because the prices are so high. But they are quite honest and let you know that your purchase helps support their botanical garden where the plants are trialed and cultivated. Fair enough.
I am waiting to hear that the order has shipped. Plant Delights has a good track record of customer service. If you don’t mind paying $20-$30 a plant for a little something in a 3.5” pot, you can source plants from them unavailable from anyone else. And, the plants are healthy and correctly labeled.
Buying new plants should be joyous. We all want to be treated fairly and to receive good value for our expenditure. The plants we receive should be healthy, arrive at the correct time, and we should be able to communicate with the nursery staff if problems arise.
Many of the old names in the mail-order nursery business have gone under in recent years. Others have consolidated. This past year has presented special challenges for every sort of business, including mail-order nurseries. I appreciate the work they do and the opportunity to purchase unusual plants few others carry.
This past week I unsubscribed from the emails of all but two nursery companies. Why read the emails and see the sales when I’ve decided to stop ordering from them? I am still allowing emails from Plant Delights, because I enjoy seeing their new introductions. And I am still impressed with the quality, service and selection at Classic Caladiums, in Avon Park, Florida.
Beyond that, I have placed my final plant order. I will shop locally or find happiness with whatever wildflower or sapling pops up in my yard. Because peace of mind is priceless.