Are things looking up for online plant buying?


I was approached recently by Plantify to review their new packaging for online purchasing of plants.  I was quite intrigued by their claims since I have had very mixed experiences of buying plants on-line.  It is frustrating because often the plants I want to buy are quite specialist, particularly with my growing interest in Primulas and alpines and so the nurseries that supply what I want are somewhere else in the country.  I recently had a houseplant delivered which lost a third of its mass when I unwrapped it from being buffeted around and now is only a fifth of its original size due to the damage. 

Plantify’s approach is partly about design and partly about plants and buying them online but this review is about plant buying.  They have two USPs – firstly the plants are all sourced from British nurseries, something I am keen to support, and secondly they claim their packaging is unique  and aims to ensure that your plants arrive safely and in one piece.  I was asked to select three plants at random from their website.  I thought I would try to be clever and choose three very different plants to test their packaging but at the same time they would obviously have to be plants I wanted – so whilst I was very tempted to try out a spiky Agave I ended up not going for that option.  I chose Rosa ‘Eyes for You’, Dryopteris  erythrosora (Cooper shield fern) and an Aster.  I then had an email saying that they had been unhappy with the quality of the Aster when it arrived from the nursery so wanted to offer me an alternative – Aster lateriflorous ‘Lady in Black’.  I thought this was interesting and wondered if it was just to ensure a good review but I was advised that if I was a paying customer they would have contacted me and discussed the problem before sending out a plant they felt wasn’t up to standard.  How refreshing.

As you can see each of the three plants was in a separate box all fitting snugly in the larger box – so very strong and robust.  The package also arrived within 24hrs of me being told it was on its way.  Inside the individual boxes the plants are held in place by two sort of cardboard catches, that’s not a very good description and it is explained better on their website, but it was very effective and there was no way I could get the plants out until I had undone these.

As you can see the plants are very healthy in appearance.  I was quite impressed as my previous experience has often been of substandard and tired looking plants turning up. Also included in the package was a print out of the website page for each plant with all the growing information which I thought was a simple but excellent idea as it saved me having to hunt out the information.

I get the impression that Plantify is in its infancy as the list of nurseries supplying them at present seems quite small but that could be me not looking in the right place.  However the nurseries that are listed include some well-known ones which have excellent reputations such as Edulis and Taylors Clematis.    Plantify is also a supporter of the Which ‘Better Plants by Post’ campaign.  If you have a look around the website you will see that the plants are very reasonably priced.  I would have liked to have seen clearer information about delivery costs but playing around on the website and choosing a hydrangea to pretend to buy it indicated that this would cost me around £7 for delivery, which isn’t bad given the cost of petrol it would take to go to a nursery to find the plant.

As I have said Plantify also has a design service. There is an online garden design tool which is free to download and interestingly you can avoid having to measure up your space as it uses google maps to find your garden and that is the starting point.  I’m not really interested in design but I can see it being an interesting tool to play with if you are and then of course once you have played around planting your plants on-line you will want to buy them from Plantify so it is quite a good concept.

I am all for supporting British Nurseries over imports.  I do find myself wondering at the price of the plants and whether it is cost-effective for the nurseries but I also know that there is little money in plant production – maybe that is another campaign Which should have.  Anyway, I was very impressed with the quality of the plants and the condition they arrived in.  I will definitely consider Plantify next time I want to buy some plants online.


14 Comments Add yours

  1. lindasgarden says:

    brill post Helen have a great wekend

  2. Yet another very good post.

    An intriguing concept by this company, they have obviously done their homework and identified a possible niche in the market.
    Now normally I like to get my hands on plants when buying, and talk to the growers if possible, that’s why I usually purchase from shows. However I’m finding some prices are actually elevated for shows & you must always cost in the price of traveling and entrance fee.

    As I am specialising in more ‘interesting’ plants these days I also purchase from via mail order, as I can have these deliveries sent to me at work.

    I will have a rootle about the website of the company who sent you these plants, and maybe test them out myself. 🙂

    I’ll keep you posted.

  3. Donna says:

    Thanks for a very informative post. I vaguely remember you musing some time ago about going into the plant selling business (I may be wrong?), whatever happened to that idea?

    1. patientgardener says:

      Hi Donna – I played around with the idea of selling plants on line for a while but got stuck at the packaging stage and worrying about plants arriving safely. Then life got in the way and work etc but tthe idea is still there on the back burner

  4. Cathy says:

    Thanks for the review, Helen – it made for interesting reading. I think ‘Which? Gardening’ rattled a few cages when they started their campaign and it was interesting to read in recent issues that several companies had immediately liaised with Which? to make sure they were up to scratch – gives the company a good image but obviously the consumer benefits from it too. For those of us who buy plants on a regular basis by mail order finding a company we can trust to send excellent plants that we know will arrive safely is very important. I sold a few (only a few) snowdrops through eBay earlier this year and it was a scarey business, waiting for the feedback!!

    1. patientgardener says:

      oh that was brave, its what has put me off. I just lack the courage and would worry that the plants wouldnt arrive all right. I came close to selling plants on line but it was the packaging that put me off

  5. Anna says:

    A most interesting concept Helen although I would rather buy directly from the nursery supplying the plants. Have on the whole been lucky with mail order/online purchases over the years, apart from a couple of bad experiences which were more plant than packing related.

  6. For the most part I’ve been very happy with the quality of plants I get from on-line retailers, and the packaging generally keeps the plants in good shape, whether they are bare root or not. Retailers I’ve been happy with include Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin, Prairie Moon in Minnesota, Bluestone Perennials in Ohio, and Forest Farm in Oregon.

  7. Linda says:

    I’ve had my share of frustrations with plants ordered online. Just this year I ordered a ‘Gold Heart’ dicentra, and the whole top of it was broken off and lying in the box. It never recovered. I’ve ordered from that nursery before, and while most of the plants arrive ok, the bleeding heart wasn’t the first one that arrived damaged and didn’t recover. I’m through with them! There’s an online nursery in Michigan called Garden Crossings that packages the same way as your Plantify does. They definitely have it figured out. Their plants are also larger than what I’ve generally found online, though they’re also more expensive, and the shipping costs more. I’ve been happy with everything I’ve ordered from them.

  8. Lou says:

    I had a terrible experience with Claire Austin. Really awful customer service and poor quality. And yet plants from Crocus always arrive in a lovely condition, and I’ve never had any problems with them. Haven’t heard of Plantify before, will have to give them a try!

  9. Holleygarden says:

    I find it does sometimes take a few trial and error purchases before finding a nursery that packages well, has nice sized plants, and good customer service. I hope this is the nursery for you – buying online can be so thrilling!

  10. jackie says:

    I agree with Lou – I’ve bought a lot of plants from Crocus and they have always been excellent. Ditto plants from Beth Chatto’s nursery

  11. jane says:

    I Have bought plants from Crocus too and they have been very good. They arrived promptly and were very well packaged. As much as i love a wander around a nursery or garden centre buying plants online has the thrill of receiving a present ( albeit one you,ve paid for yourself ! )

  12. Kathleen says:

    I have mail ordered quite a few plants over the years too Helen & have been pleasantly surprised (most of the time) with the condition of the plants upon arrival. It’s the only way to get specific plants for those of us hooked on a particular variety. I’m excited to read you’re getting into primulas ~ that’s been one of my faves for a while now but difficult to grow in our dry climate. I’m sure you’ll have greater success & many for me to drool over before long!

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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