January 27, 2009

Review of Mail/Internet Nurseries

My garden soil may be frozen, but now is a great time for the gardening chore (delight!) of studying catalogs, pondering choices and ordering new plants and seeds for the coming season.
Here are my reviews of some mail-order nurseries that sell a wide range of perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees. I plan to do a post on several specialty nurseries later.

Bluestone Perennials
This nursery has one of the top ratings on the Garden Watchdog website. Garden Watchdog allows gardeners to rate mail-order nurseries and includes over 6,000 companies. Bluestone Perennials has a huge selection of - you guessed it - perennials, as well as some shrubs, bulbs and clematis. Many of their perennials come in 3-packs. Each plant is quite small, but the price for 3 plants is very reasonable (and most perennials DO grow quickly). Their catalog is informative and includes pictures but isn't as artfully laid out as some others. Last year I ordered columbine, liriope and two types of heuchera from them and was pleased when they all arrived in good condition.

As the most highly-rated company on Garden Watchdog, Forestfarm is a sure bet when ordering trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. Forestfarm's catalog is thick like a paperback book and costs $5 (though they've sent 2 free catalogs to me since my order). Pictures aren't included in the catalog, but you can find images on their website. They have an astoundingly large selection of plants. Last year I ordered two wisterias, a limelight hydrangea and a lilac shrub. They arrived in a giant box - almost as tall as me - in perfect condition. The plants had nice height but were lacking in horizontal branches, which was perfect for the vines but a little strange for the shrubs. They'll probably fill out this year. And most mail-order shrubs are narrow AND short, so I was very happy with Forestfarm's offerings.

High Country Gardens
A new catalog for me this year came from High Country Gardens. I like their focus on low-water gardening, which is especially appropriate for much of the western US. I learned quite a bit by reading their catalog. Garden Watchdog rates them highly, so I placed an order with them and expect to be pleased.

White Flower Farm
Years ago my landscape design professor named this as his favorite mail-order nursery. Recently I was disappointed to find mixed reviews about WWF from Garden Watchdog. One of the main complaints is that their plants aren't large enough to justify their high-end pricing. Regardless, they would win my 'Prettiest Catalog Award.' Their catalog is very informative, and their exquisite pot combinations are worth studying. Usually there is a $5 charge to order the catalog, but I just checked their site and was able to order one for free. This catalog is worth having even if you don't place an order.

I was going to list a few of the other companies from whom I ordered last year, but was disappointed when I checked out their overall ratings on Garden Watchdog. If you're looking for a good mail-order nursery, perhaps the best advice is to just check out the Watchdog Top 30 list. These companies are obviously doing a good job. However, I think ratings do have to be taken with a grain of salt. Angry people often look harder for a way to express their opinions than contented people. The business of growing and shipping live plants is very challenging, and mishaps are going to occur. A good company will politely find a way to make it right. If you are pleased about your experience with a mail-order company, the nicest thing you can do for them is write a positive review at Garden Watchdog.


  1. Hi VW,

    I thoroughly enjoy all the catalogs you mentioned. I think the white flower catalog still does the best displays of offered plants ...I will check out the list. gail

  2. That is great information. I've really never ordered anything besides seeds from a catalog, mostly because I wasn't sure what I'd get. Thanks!

  3. Hi VW, Thanks for this post. I think garden catalogs are really interesting in their own right. My favourite is called Diggers Club, they have articles as well as plant lists. And everything we can do to support the nursery industry is good, especially small businesses since they are really struggling - here, anyway.

  4. I am familiar with all of these and have purchased plants from Bluestone and used a gift card at WWF. All plants were fine. I thought the WWF plants (asclepias 'Gay Butterflies') were too tiny at first, but they were raging a year later, so i ended up impressed.

    Bluestone has great customer service. I ordered blue nepeta, got pink. Too late to replace that season, a year later, they sent me blue... that turned out to be pink, so they replaced again and I really got blue! They told me to keep all of the plants and were greatly apologetic.


  5. I ordered two red yuccas from High Country Gardens last summer; they were very helpful about when they would ship them and they arrived well-packed.

  6. Last year was my first for ordering from Bluestone
    Perennials, and I was very happy with the plants. One of my purchases was Helenium 'Mardi Gras', featured on this years cover....love it!

  7. I have ordered from many many places over the years, though not Bluestone, and found the ones you have listed to be good ones. The problem with nearly all mail order is the size of the plants, but like you say, most grow quickly. For the hard to find stuff, I recommend Forestfarm, particularly shrubs. A good way to use these catalogs is to make that wish list, then when you are out traveling and see one of the plants on your list in real life, you can pick it up and get a larger size from a nursery, but know much more about the plant.

  8. I haven't held any of these catalogs in my hands, but I've found the sites interesting and informative. Thanks for posting your experience with them.

  9. Hi VW, I'm sorry I missed this post earlier, but, it is very helpful for me now. I am just learning about seeds and the various companies that sell them. This list will be very helpful to me, so I'll be back with pen in hand.


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