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Last updated: July 28 2018...
The past 10 months making my podcast On The Ledge have taken me on a deep dive into the world of houseplants. I knew I was addicted - I've been growing stuff inside since I was a small child - but starting a podcast about them has only fed my hunger for plants.
So I find my collection swelling week by week. I have completely run out of cachepots and places to put plants, and yet I still want more. And it seems as if you have the same problem. I keep hearing from people who jokily complain (well I assume it’s a joke) that my podcast is costing them a lot of money. Every time they listen, they have another long list of houseplants to add to their wishlist.
As houseplants continue to soar in popularity, there are more and more places to buy them, and yet certain specimens still seem ridiculously hard to get hold of. I am frequently asked - where do you buy your plants? So here’s my potted guide to the best places to purchase houseplants in the UK.* Included here are many recommendations of my own, plus several from listeners who I petitioned on Twitter for their favourite places to buy plants - you can read the whole thread here.
I'd like to keep adding to this guide as I find - or you tell me about - great new suppliers, so please get in touch if you want to tell me where you source your plants in the UK.
*I haven’t tried to cover the US or the rest of the world because I don’t have direct experience of buying plants, but I hope to put together a guide for North America ASAP.
Swaps, freebies and person to person purchases
I’d never advise “half-inching” cuttings without the owner’s permission, but you’d be surprised how often plant lovers are happy enough to share their bounty with you, even if they don’t know you from Adam. If you see a plant you like, don’t be afraid to politely ask for a cutting: the worst thing that can happen is they say no.
A bit of knowledge about plant propagation is useful: for instance, certain plants won’t grow properly from single leaves (eg fiddle leaf figs and Hoyas) whereas others (Streptocarpus, African violets and Echeverias, for instance) will. The small hobby seller may also be offering plants for sale via a Facebook page or the like, and this is definitely an exciting way to buy, but test out with a small purchase before sending a lot of money their way. If you do take a cutting, place it in a clear plastic bag, ideally wrapped in some moistened kitchen paper until you can get it home. Then get it in some water or moist compost as soon as possible.
Also keep an eye on Gumtree, Preloved, Freegle, Freecycle and local Facebook groups for people looking to offload houseplants as this can be a cheap or free way of expanding your collection - but check the plants carefully for pests before you let them join your precious collection, otherwise they may bring an unwelcome payload with them! (In fact, this is good practice for new plants you buy from anywhere...)
DIY sheds, discount stores and supermarkets
You can pick up some cheap houseplants from the likes of B&Q, Homebase, Tesco and Waitrose, but its usually the "usual suspects" rather than anything particularly unusual. Try to pounce on them as soon as they come into the shop, as most stores give plants no attention or watering once they’re on the shelves (top tip: Lidl's plant deliveries seem to arrive on a Thursday - go on Sunday and they are usually mostly gone or half dead). Labelling is hit and miss to say the least, (often it's just one word; "succulent" or "fern") but it’s a good way of getting plants locally if you’re on a tight budget. One last hitch - these plants are often potted in poor quality compost - or sometimes the wrong compost entirely - so consider repotting plants as soon as you get them home. And the whole glittery/painted succulents thing? I'll tackle that in a different post but please, just... don't.
Unless you are in the London area, these may require a special trip, but Prick (see episode 25 of the podcast for an interview with owner Gynelle Leon) and Conservatory Archives in London are all brilliant places to buy houseplants. You’ll pay a little more, but you get top quality advice, well-packed plants and an inspiring place to shop. I also hear good things about Plant Shop Manchester and Toro in Falmouth, and I have just discovered Old Market Plants in Bristol: its curators have impeccable horticultural qualifications, so this is definitely on my "must visit" list... Flourish Manchester came to my attention when they did a fabulously imaginative houseplant display at the RHS Tatton show - they sell online too with an innovative 'limited edition', including some pretty hard to get plants, so are definitely worth keeping an eye on!
Big mail order firms
Some of the mail order seed and plant outfits are now cottoning on to the popularity of houseplants: Suttons sells a range of interesting begonias, Streptocarpus and African violets which are supplied by the specialist nursery Dibleys, while Crocus sells a good range of plants too. I have ordered from bakker.co.uk in the past but I wouldn't order from them at the moment, because I have heard that they are in financial difficulties. I haven't tried Best4Garden but they seem to have a reasonably big range of houseplants.
Small mail order firms (including eBay.co.uk)
I have recently discovered the world of vivarium supply shops as a source for interesting houseplants: these may not be your obvious choice, but they are a great way to buy certain plants such as bromeliads, vines and ferns: things that will do well in the high humidity setting of a closed terrarium.
They are sometimes sold in pots but also as rooted cuttings which, provided you are confident at potting them up, are a cheap way of getting more plants. I’ve bought from Dartfrog and rainforestvivs (who sell on eBay.co.uk) but there are many more.
Ebay sellers can offer a way of getting hold of rarer plants and seeds, but it’s a bit of a “buyer beware” situation, particularly if you are ordering seeds from outside the UK - I have heard of people getting burned with seed packets containing chaff or something thy clearly didn’t order. Postage costs can be high, too.
After a period when many garden centres ditched houseplants aside from as a seasonal extra, they are now realising there is money to be made and ramping up their offerings again. Some are still on the rather boring side, but if you’re lucky you may have an excellent source of houseplants on your doorstep. If you're really lucky, they'll also have an active social media presence, too. Perrywood in Essex (their Instagram account @perrywoodhouseplants is shown above), Bodmin Nursery in Cornwall, Clifton Nurseries in London and Surrey, Ayletts in St Albans, The Secret Garden Centre in Crystal Palace, London and Alleyn Park in West Dulwich, London, and all got shout-outs on Twitter; the best garden centre near me (Bedfordshire) for houseplants is Frosts. I've also heard very good things about Ferndale Garden Centre south of Sheffield, N1 Garden Centre and Dulwich Pot and Plant Garden in Dulwich, London, but haven't paid a visit to any of them myself - yet!
The blue and yellow box does deserve a category all to its because, let's face it, many of us buy plants here. I've written on my blog already and for Gardenista.com about IKEA's houseplant offerings so won't say too much more, other than that they offer a reasonably interesting range of plants at a good price, but as per the big box DIY places, you need to get in quick on new deliveries, and check plants carefully when you buy as in-store care tends to be minimal.
If you have a passion for a particular type of plant, be it orchids, cacti, Tillandsias or carnivorous plants, one of the best places to head for is a specialist nursery: either by mail order or, ideally, in person. These guys really know their stuff, and while not the very cheapest, you are ensured excellent quality plants and great aftercare. If you are looking for orchids, Burnham Orchids in South Devon comes highly recommended, while the nursery at the Salutation in Kent has an eye-boggling selection of Plectranthus. I've bought wonderful cacti and succulents from Cactus Shop in Devon and fell in love with Craig House Cacti at last year's Chelsea. I'd also recommend Shrubland Park Nurseries in Suffolk which has a lovely range of houseplants available via mail order. There are of course dozens of specialist nurseries out there: use the Independent Nurseries Guide to find what you are looking for, or visit one of the big plant fairs or flower shows such as Chelsea or Hampton Court to meet the growers in person.
You can get subscription services for everything from hot sauce to handbags now, so not surprising then that some have popped up for houseplants. They suit some people down to the ground: a great way of getting new plants without having to trawl around for them. Andrew O'Brien has written positively about GeoFleur's Plant Post Club, and I've also heard good things about Lazy Flora and Hello Patch. It's not a route I'd go down: I have so many plants already I am usually searching out something really weird or unusual, not something I'd often find on a subscription service. But it may be right for you!
If you're passionate about a group of plants, joining a society will bring you into contact with people who feel the same way! You can expand your collection through attending meetings where sales are held, and by swaps and sales with other members through group forums and Facebook pages. Here's a few houseplant-related forums I know of ...
- British Pteridological Society (ferns!)
- British Cacti and Succulent Society
- National Begonia Society
- British Streptocarpus Society
- Pelargonium and Geranium Society
Perhaps you've never dreamed about growing your own houseplants from seed, but it's a cheap, fun way of expanding your collection. Great places to start include Chiltern Seeds, who have an extensive collection including cacti and succulents, Episcias, Clivias and Coleus; and Seedaholic, whose selection includes succulents, Coleus, and Strelitzia, and Jungle Seeds, who have Christmas cactus, Adenium obesum (desert rose) and others.