Episode 52: online houseplant buying tips and tricks

Houseplants on sale at N1 garden centre in London, where this week's guest Paul Holt is creative director.

Houseplants on sale at N1 garden centre in London, where this week's guest Paul Holt is creative director.

Buying plants online is ridiculously easy - a few clicks and some fancy foliage plant or flowery specimen is on its way to you in the post. But it's a process that's fraught with potential problems. I recently did an interview for the BBC* about problems with online garden centres, but it was such a short chat that I really didn't get the chance to give many of the tips and suggestions I have up my sleeve, so I thought it was a good time to return to the subject here on On The Ledge.

In this episode I offer up my tips for buying online and plant swaps by post. I also chat to Paul Holt (@greenwizzard on Instagram), creative director of N1 and W6 garden centres in London, to get some tips on what to do when you visit a plant shop in person. 

*You can listen to my interview for BBC Radio 4's You & Yours consumer programme here - scroll down to 'online chapters' and select 'online gardening' to skip to the right segment. 

Want to hear me talking about gardening more generally?

Listen to my two-part interview with US gardening podcast Verdant North here and here. And you can listen to my other podcast recommendation, Sharp, here

Perrone's rules of plant ordering online

1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is

Amazing deals do come up online, but generally you do get what you pay for, so if you see that Philodendron 'Pink Princess' for $5, do think before you jump, because rare plants don't come cheap. Be extra suspicious and check everything out very carefully before you buy. 

2. What you see isn't always what you get

It's easy to be wowed by pictures of houseplants, but ask yourself, are the pictures showing the actual size of plants delivered? Some sellers will put up pictures of a plant that's the eventual size of the plant you have ordered, rather than the size it will arrive at your door. Look for information about pot size, plant height and so on: good sellers should make it abundantly clear whether the picture next to a description is the actual plant you are buying or not. If it's a cutting, are you buying rooted or unrooted? Will the plant be sent still in the pot or bareroot? All of these factors should influence the price you are paying. If it's not clear to you from the website, ask the seller - a good seller should be upfront about all this. 

3. Check the courier

Many houseplant sellers fall down not because of anything they have done wrong, but because the delivery company they employ to get your plants to you is unreliable. Check what company your seller uses, and investigate their reputation online. Steer clear of couriers who have poor reviews that talk of parcels being flung over fences. When buying multiple plants, make sure you know whether you'll pay a flat delivery fee for all of them, or an individual fee per plant - this can add considerably to your bill! 

4. Be extra-cautious when buying from overseas

Sometimes the only place to get hold of more choice varieties is a supplier outside your home country, but think carefully before proceeding on this one. Delivery costs can be sky-high, delivery slow, and there can be unexpected roadblocks like phytosanitary certificates and customs charges. Always choose a seller that has lots of experience selling overseas.

5. Reward great service with a five-star review

The best plant sellers build their reputation on excellent customer service, so if you have had a good experience with a particular company, spread the word online and offline. 

And what about online plant swaps?

There are many groups on Facebook and elsewhere that are forums for those who want to swap houseplants, and it's a great way to expand your collection at low cost. That said, you have to have something to swap in the first place, so it can be hard before your collection really gets going. Bear in mind that not all swaps will be a good 'fit', so if someone doesn't want what you are offering, don't get grouchy, just find someone who does! 

Once a deal has been agreed, keep your communications timely, polite and clear - let the other person know how and when their plant will be dispatched and hopefully you'll get the same information from you. If things do go wrong, try to resolve things calmly rather than going off the deep end - bear in mind that delivery services are not always reliable, and sometimes life gets in the way of plants! If you have an issue with a swapper, get in touch with the admin on the relevant group. Personally I'd avoid 'naming and shaming' posts as I just don't think they are helpful.

We're discussing online plant buying and swapping etiquette and tips over on the Houseplant fans of On The Ledge Facebook group - please do join if you haven't already and add your thoughts! 

And finally, if you've got a plant seller you think deserves a mention in my houseplant buying guides for the UK and the US, please let me know in the comments below, or drop me a line to ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com

Question of the week 

Audrey has a problem with a poorly Syngonium, aka goosefoot plant with browning leaves. This could be a symptom of many things, but if the leaf tips and edges are browning it's probably a sign of dry air. Syngoniums are, after all, close relatives of the Philodendron, that lover of moist air. I suggest popping the plant in a clear plastic bag for a few days to help pep it up. 

Want to ask me a question? Tweet @janeperrone, leave a message on my Facebook page or email ontheledgepodcast@gmail.com

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On The Ledge talks, live show and houseplant chats 

I'll be making an appearance at Gardeners' World Live in Birmingham this month. The show is on for four days (June 14 to 17) but I am *only* appearing next Thursday - June 14 - on the Blooming Interiors stage - check out the schedule here. I will, with any luck, be wearing my brand new On The Ledge t shirt so I should be easy to spot the OTL logo!

I am also going to be at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show on the afternoon of July 4 giving talks on houseplants in the roses theatre - do join me if you can. And on the evening of Friday October 26 I'll be bringing a live show of On The Ledge to the RHS London Urban Garden show, with special guests including Alys Fowler and all kinds of leafy fun! Put those dates in your diary NOW!

Credits

This week's show featured Roll Jordan Roll by the Joy DropsHot Lips by Bill Brown and HIs Brownies, An Instrument the Boy Called Happy Day Gokarna by Samuel Corwin, and Overthrown by Josh Woodward, all licensed under Creative Commons.

Jane Perrone