Plug Review 2016

As regulars will know, I grow a lot (a hell of a lot) of annual bedding plants from plugs each year. I don’t have the hassle of germinating seeds and as the plugs arrive just as things are getting warmer I save a bomb on heating costs in the greenhouse. This has been the first winter of my new glass thing in the garden and the first time I’ve used gas rather than paraffin to keep things warm. I’ve been experimenting and have worked out that if all I want is frost protection, a single gas cannister, costing around £27, will do for about 5 months, coupled with a bit of insulation. To get things up to the sort of temperatures that seeds seem to want before they pop their little cotyledons out of the cosy compost and thereafter to keep the seedlings growing nicely, would easily take a tank a month during the December-March period. Getting close to £125 per winter isn’t economic so next winter the greenhouse will simply provide protection; I won’t be growing anything in it.

Anyhow, back to plug plants.

In the past I’ve had variable experiences with different suppliers. One, with which I was totally happy and to which I would have happily given the bulk of my orders last year, went belly-up, dammit. Based on experience, places from which I didn’t order any bedding plugs this year were:

  • Hayloft – now don’t get me wrong! For unusual plants, Hayloft can’t be beaten on the price-v-quality equation. But for basic, not-unusual, common-or-garden annual bedding plants they tend to be pricey. So no bedding from them, though I have ordered lots of perennials.
  • Sarah Raven – for what you get she’s expensive. Probably has to charge high prices to cover the overdose of junk mail she sends out. I think this year I’ve received a catalogue for every single little plug plant I bought last year. For the prices paid, quality is unexceptional, IMO.
  • Bakker – Great for unusual bulbs. Used to be very good value but now seem more expensive than other places. And if I discount bulbs, I don’t consider their plants to be that high quality. And the damned free gifts you get that probably cost them more than the value of the order and which have found their way to (hopefully) a recycling skip before the plants have made it into the ground!!!!!!!

The companies I did order from, and my experiences, were:

  • Dobies – part of the Suttons empire. They always get a large order for Begonia semperflorens and I’ve never been anything other than totally satisfied with the plants I’ve received. So this year I ordered just over 400 begonia plugs. They sent the wrong variety, the difference being that the one I’d ordered had a mix of green and bronze foliage whereas the one they’d sent was all green. Makes a difference until the flowers appear. But the plant quality was great so I kept them, though drawing attention to the error. I thought they might give me a voucher or something by way of apology but no; they said thanks for accepting the wrong product. If they make the same mistake in future, they’ll get the plants back! I used to, but no longer, order garden ready plugs from Dobies as they’re too unreliable when it comes to delivery. If I have most of the plants ready to go into baskets and wall planters, there comes a point where I can’t wait yet another week for those coming from Dobies.
  • Jersey Plants – I’ve learned from experience which plants coming from Jersey Plants carry a damage in transit risk. Their trays of 70 plants (they sell as 50 + 20 free), have usually arrived intact but anything else is a gamble. I no longer order packs of fuchsias from them, for example, as it’s clear that they are not well-packed to begin with. This year they’ve been experimenting with different couriers and have decided to switch from Hermes to Yodel. Now I know that in different areas, experiences are different. Assuming the pack of plants is well-packed to begin with (and you can tell when that’s not the case), Hermes always deliver here carefully. Yodel, on the other hand, are problematic. I’ve received parcels of clothes, not in airtight packs, that I’ve sent back because they stank of cigarette smoke. And every pack of plants delivered by Yodel this year has arrived damaged. So I’m not risking the future. Sorry JP, I’m taking my custom elsewhere.
Jersey Plants plants clearly left wing!
Jersey Plants plants clearly left wing!
  • You Garden – I’ll include Blooming Direct here as they’re the same company. I picked up by chance an offer on trailing petunias and bought some to try. Within a day of receiving them I’d ordered a lot more, plus some cosmos and fuchsias. All fantastic quality. I usually don’t bother growing petunias as they can be a fuss, needing space and also lots of pinching out. This year changed that. I worked out that the cost of buying and growing on the petunias compared to the cost of buying large plants from the local garden centre meant I’d saved about £60. So I’m very happy. You Garden will certainly get orders from me next year.
  • Thompson & Morgan – I’ve had some bad experiences in the past and haven’t ordered from T&M for several years. This year I decided I’d dip a toe in the water, particularly for the garden-ready plugs I used to order from Dobies. I have to say that, overall, I’m extremely impressed with the quality and value. Their Customer Services team has also undergone some miraculous transformation. Everything I’ve ordered has been delivered when they said it would be; nothing late, nothing damaged in transit and everything has romped away. Indeed, I didn’t paddle for long, I was soon swimming happily and, ultimately, the value of orders I placed with T&M came to more than all other sources combined.
Luvverly. I'm not complaining that one out of 72 little plugs wasn't worth potting on.
Luvverly. I’m not complaining that one out of 72 little plugs wasn’t worth potting on.

Now to sit back a bit and enjoy a garden full of colour.

4 thoughts on “Plug Review 2016

  1. For dahlias & tulips I use Peter Nyssen. Great stuff with the most exceptional service you can find. Love them. For seeds I use Mr Higgledy. Great service and fresh seed.

    1. I’ve not used Nyssen but then I’ve moved on from Dahlias (apart from bedding types) and tulips (which never do more than a year in my heavy clay). Now good old Ben Higgledy does the best seeds in the business. And the viability of seeds in years 2 and 3 is impressive. Don’t buy seeds anywhere else now.

      I was evicted from Cantonian High in 1972 after making a decent show with my A-levels. Were we compatriots (or whatever the word is) I wonder!

  2. Glad to heat T&M did not let you down this time. Still like their plants but supply problems /not supplied plants is still a bugbear with me. l

    1. Thanks for chipping in Nigel.

      The issues I had with T&M were mainly packaging – when they started sending plants out as “flat” plugs they encased them in two sides of plastic and what arrived was way too wet and droopy. Now they use the plastic on only one side – the other is the cardboard outer which allows the plants to breathe in transit but still holds them securely in place.

      What drove me away, though, was a conviction that they introduced impatiens downy mildew into my garden. Others had a similar experience – a particular variety of walleriana seemed to be the culprit as the disease appeared in clumps of that variety and spread out from it. There was not even a hint of regret (I wasn’t expecting an admission!) but they sent me a redacted version of an RHS advisory note from which they’d removed references to the possibility of disease being spread at the seedling (plug) stage and even in seeds. People who’d bought the same variety, and in several cases, lived miles away from the nearest neighbour, also questioned how the disease had arrived in their gardens.

      But this year I have to admit (not having bought wallerianas of course) that everything I’ve ordered from them (451 plants in total) has arrived on time and in great condition. I’m particularly impressed with their 30-packs of garden ready plants.

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