The one thing that has stopped me previously from ordering live plants from the internet was that I was afraid that they would not fare well being for days in a package. Particularly the idea ordering from abroad with the longer delivery times made me uncomfortable. The following review of ordering plants with postal delivery from an online shop in Germany shows that there is no need to be too concerned.
I ordered via their website http://www.zauberstaude.de, ordering six potted perennials (coloured helleborus, aster alpinum and a specific eryngium) and about ten different bags of spring bulbs (tulips, crocuses etc.).
The website is available in German and English. The key elements of the website are available in English (product descriptions, terms and conditions for delivery abroad, shopping cart, check-out), although some parts, for example the category names for browsing plants are not translated. The site supports searching for latin plant names, Google will help you to translate the names you know into latin. The shopping cart will keep the plants you select only for as long as the session does not time out (it will not remember your selected plants until next evening, that is…). There is also a notepad feature that may help keeping track of potential buys avoiding the loss of the shopping cart, but I have not used it.
A huge list of perennials are on offer and an indicator whether the plant is in stock for each product. Compared to my local nursery, which has a good selection of perennials, this site plays in a different league all-together. For example, my nursery offers one sort of helleborus, the usual greenish-white, Zauberstaude.de offers 41 different kind of helleborus in all sorts of colours, size and shape.
The price is usually a third of the Finnish price level, beating the Finnish prices even during autumn sales. Bulbs where slightly cheaper compared to local supermarket prices for Dutch bulbs, zauberstaude.de has clearly more choice. For example, try to get autumn-flowering crocuses anywhere in Finland. The quality of the bulbs is in my experience better than that of bulbs from the local supermarkets.
The postage fee to Finland for my order amounted to €22,50 – money easily saved from the cheap prices of the plants. The site clearly states the international postage fees here.
The site accepts international credit cards via PayPal payments, all went as expected.
Shipment: I posted my order early in September, and as I had ordered bulbs, and the site had clearly stated that bulbs will be sent out end of September, I do not know how quickly orders are fulfilled. On German review sites I have read that the goods arrive in Germany usually three working days after posting the order. Directly after ordering I received an order confirmation, and as expected, my order was sent out end of September and I got an email in English to notify me.
I was emailed a tracking reference link and was able to track the shipment (email in German, click on the “Sendungsverfolgung” link):
I received the package after it had been six days in the post, including one weekend.
Packaging: When I received the package, it looked like this:
And when I opened it, all was wrapped in a large plastic bag to retain the moisture and to keep the cardboard dry:
The bulb packages were placed on top, and the potted plants were at the bottom, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and carefully arranged to ensure the stems and leaves are not damaged during transport.
I carefully unwrapped the newspaper from the potted plants. All plants had well developed rootballs but where not pot-bound and the compost and roots where moist. As is to be expected in autumn, leaves and stems where past their peak, but all stems and leaves were undamaged. In summary, I unpacked quality perennials that are very likely to establish well and perform in years to come.
The bulbs were packed either in the usual airy plastic bags with shiny card label or in brown paper bags, carefully hand-labelled. None of them were mouldy, all in all good quality. The moisture of the potted plants did not effect the bulbs at all.
In summary I can say that zauberstaude.de knows how to pack and ship their plants. For large enough offers (15+ mid-priced perennials?) zauberstaude.de is cheaper than buying locally in Finland and the choice is easily ten-fold massively extending my choice what to grow in my garden.
I have not tried other German websites (yet) for ordering plants, but I have researched about ten, none of which has an English language web-site and none of which provides quotes for shipment to Finland without contacting them first. I have ordered from some UK web-sites and tried from others, alas, most of the main players do not deliver living plants outside the UK.
For best results with plants delivered by post, it is probably best to order plants before or after the main growing season (that is early spring or autumn) so that whatever happens due to packaging and transport is not getting in the way of the plant establishing in the garden. I would check the weather forecast, however, to avoid the shipment going through -10°C and colder, you never know whether the package is kept warm by the transport companies.
As always with plants, it is not about how they flower on the shelf in the shop, but how they will perform over time in our gardens.