Weeding Through My Catalogs, Part 2

Ordering, Delivery, and Planting

Confused by the multiplicity of mail order options, and finding the online reviews of different suppliers somewhat contradictory, this year I decided to do an experiment of sorts with my spring planting.  I ordered similar stock from four different companies, and would compare them on different levels.   I hope to be able to see if it is worth it to pay a little more for something, and if any company associated with Burgess Seed merits the near universal condemnation it receives by the online gardening community.  To back up a bit, I tend to only order tubers and bulbs online, preferring to obtain my living plants from nurseries.  That makes things a bit easier in theory, as an unsprouted root is easier to package and ship than a green thing (at least I assume it is).  For this experiment, I chose four relatively well known companies, and ordered two relatively easy types plants to grow. On April 22nd, I ordered casablanca lilies and dinner plate dahlias from each of the following companies, Whiteflower Farm, Van Bourgondien, Dutch Gardens and Brecks.  I placed all of my orders online.  All of the companies websites were easy to use, and I was able to place my orders with few complications.  Here is how they stacked up against each other in different areas.

 Post-order Communication

 All of the companies sent me an order confirmation via email with an hour or two of my placing an order.  All but one (Brecks) included a recap of the cost.  Brecks, VanBourgondien and White Flower Farm all sent me emails to alert me when my order was shipping.  Brecks also sent me an alert that one of my items (a dinner plate dahlia) was put on backorder.  On May 14th, 22nd and 29th I received the same notification from them that the dahlia was actually out of stock and that the shipping charges would be credited to my card.  I found the repeated emails a bit confusing, and wasn’t sure what the credit would be as there was no easy way to look it up. 


 On April 29th, I found this note in in my mailbox from Betty, my intrepid post person.  

She likes to leave packages for me in different places around my house, but always lets me know where.  I suppose it adds variety to her job.  The first order to arrive was from White Flower Farm.  At $14.95 for shipping, it was the least that I had expected.  I went away on April 30th and not certain when the others arrived, but they were all home when I returned on May 8th.  The shipping charges from Brecks ($9.95), Dutch Gardens ($8.95), and van Bourgondein ($7.95), well all substantially cheaper, and since we weren’t dealing with particularly delicate plant material, a better value for the money.   


All of the companies boxes appeared to have held up well under the rigors of the US Mail service, and the plants themselves all seemed relatively well padded and protected inside, although White Flower Farm’s stock did appear the most pampered and protected, so they win on this one.

Plant Condition

In terms of the casablanca lilies, White Flower Farm’s stock stood out, healthy looking and raring to go.  They were already sprouting, and begged to be planted. 

casablanca lily bulbs: left to right Dutch Gardens (3 for 14.99), VanBourgondien (3 for $9.99), White Flower Farm (12 for $29.00), and Brecks (3 for $9.99)The only issue I had was that the sprouting of two bulbs broke off while planting, which worried me a little.  The rest of the companies looked fairly similar to each other.  Dutch Garden’s bulbs had some mold on them, but I learned (from the White Flower Farm packaging) that this is common and nothing to worry about.  The Dahlias were a different story. Realizing that each company sent me a different variety, it would be unfair to assume that the tubers should all look identical.  

from left to right (Dutch Gardens (Mrs. Eileen $7.99, center Van Bourgondien (emory Paul and Lilac time $4.00 each) and WhiteFlower farm (Otto's Thrill $9.99)I hope that theory is correct, as there was very little similarity in appearance between the different varieties.

Ancillary Materials

I always assumed that garden companies would have an eco-friendly and green approach to the amount of printed materials they produce.  Between three of the companies, I shudder to think of the number of trees killed to print all of their special offers, early fall planting sales, last minute specials,, etc., etc.  Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do upon receipt of my plants was weed through another round of catalogs, pamphlets and brochures.  White Flower Farm won my appreciation in this category for NOT inundating me with special offers.  Van Bourgondien wins an honorable mention by utilizing an image adorable of a kid on the cover of its sale catalog.  If the little tyke in the photo had been holding a kitten, it might have won.


Planting/Care Instructions

I can’t remember if White Flower Farm did not enclose a planting instructions booklet, or I lost it.   Either way they lose some points in this department (it is my experiment, after all).  Van Bourgondien, with its propensity for child models, had a picture of another cute kid watering plants on the cover of their’s. 

My concern over child labor laws aside, I found the booklet contained almost too much information.  I like my instruction booklets (as well as many other things in life) to be simple, dry, and to the point.  The Dutch Gardens booklet was more to my taste, easy to read and follow.  The fault I had with it was that it only listed plants by their latin names.  Try as I might, I could not find planting instructions for the casablanca lily they sent me!  The winner in this category was Brecks.  The booklet was not only simply laid out and easy to use, but any illustrations where relevant and useful to the task at hand.

The real test, however, will be the final results of the plants being buried in the dirt, which I duly did (according to instructions). 

I labeled where I planted each bulb or tuber with a marked popsicle stick, and eagerly wait my findings!

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April Recap: Daffodil gaps and cracked fountains