Heathrow euphorbias
Beautifying Britain's roads

Buying clematis by mail order (US style)

Clematis plants from Donahue's Greenhouse. Image ©GardenPhotos.comNot long before I came over to England, I decided to order some clematis. We don’t have all that many and I thought it was high time we added some more. Local nurseries have a very limited selection, and they’re not cheap, so I looked at some mail order suppliers.

I wanted small plants – I prefer not to pay to ship big pots full of soil across the country; if I order smaller plants, much lighter in weight, I can have plants more for the money. OK, I know that what I’m actually paying for when I buy large plants is time, maturity. But they’ll probably have to be cut back to fit in the box anyway.

So, I had a look at some recommended mail order clematis suppliers. One nursery sells two year old plants at $22 each, with 20% minimum shipping: so five plants would cost $132 (£82). That seemed too much, I’d rather have smaller plants. Another mail order specialist I looked at does not give a shipping cost until they ship the plants – so you have no idea how much the shipping will actually be when you order. Two clematis nursery websites I looked at had searches that didn’t work properly.

So I asked Linda Beutler, a fellow Timber Press author who wrote Gardening with Clematis, for advice. And as well as some I’d already tried, she suggested Donahue’s Greenhouse. They don't immediately sound like a clematis nursery, but I’m glad she told me about them.

Donahue’s Greenhouse supply younger plants, in 31/2in pots, all at $10.50 each. Input your zip code and the shipping cost is calculated as you go along – it came to $12 for ten plants. So a grand total of $117.00 (£73). I thought that was great value. Another good thing I sported: Donahue’s Greenhouse absorb the royalty charge levied on some new varieties so both old and new cost the same.

The plants arrived in a USPS Priority Large Flat Rate Box (for UK readers: same charge whatever the weight). They were packed tight – the only way to be sure they don’t move about and damage each other in transit. Each plant was still in its pot, in a protective plastic sleeve, and each plant tied to a short cane. All were well rooted plants, damp but not wet. The soil was a little loose in a few, but they’d travelled over 1100 miles so it’s hardly surprising. They took two just days to get here.

Problems? Not really. They even emailed to ask if their proposed shipping date was OK. True, the website is a little old-fashioned and could do with a new look, but it functions perfectly well. They also need to improve their seaarch engine rankings, when I searched on "buy clematis" they were not in the first 300 results.

So. A day or two to let the plants recover, a little liquid feed for each one, and then into the garden. Some will be flowering later this year.