GARDENING / Cuttings: Mail-order misery

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THERE was a varied (though universally splenetic) response to my request for mail-order horror stories. Plants arriving late, not arriving at all, not true to type, badly packed, without roots - every disaster scenario was covered in your letters. We will be running a series of them in this column.

Jennifer Lennard of Keighley had a double dose of disaster. 'I ordered some herbaceous perennials from Blom's spring catalogue,' she writes. 'Their reputation in the supply of bulbs led me to believe that plants supplied by them would be of a similar quality. The plants arrived in very sophisticated packaging, but on unpacking it was clear they were undersized, with poor root systems. I planted them out but they did not thrive and I am sorry to say they had all died by autumn. It did not occur to me to complain to Blom's' If she had complained, Blom's says it would, of course, have replaced the whole lot free of charge.

'In May 1992, I ordered a selection of plants for tubs/hanging baskets from J Parker Dutch Bulbs (Wholesale) Ltd. I had ordered bulbs from them and had always been pleased with those supplied. However, the ordering of small herbaceous plants from a bulb specialist was clearly the triumph of hope over experience. The plants were very small with almost non-existent root systems. To add to the plants' obvious distress was the atrocious packing: the plants had been rattling about in a box with barely a sheet of newspaper to protect them.

'On this occasion I complained and received a prompt (standard) reply with cheque. I have come to the conclusion that these problems have stemmed from specialist bulb firms diversifying.

'I have ordered plants by post for many years and cannot praise too highly the nurseries of Elizabeth MacGregor, Brian Hiley and Blooms of Bressingham, all of whom supply high-quality plants, extremely well packed.'

Parkers concedes that it had problems with some of its packaging last year. This year, the company's plants will be sent out in redesigned blister packs, which it hopes will protect delicate plants more successfully. It has also included more instructions on aftercare. The young plants it sends out - 'plugs' - are small and need to be grown on before being planted in the garden.