Plants at the push of a button

EVEN the most computer illiterate of us will have heard of the internet, where you can buy virtually anything - plants included.But are internet auctions and websites the best place to go for a bargain plant or for an unusual species not stocked in your local nursery or garden centre?

By Hannah Stephenson

EVEN the most computer illiterate of us will have heard of the internet, where you can buy virtually anything - plants included.

But are internet auctions and websites the best place to go for a bargain plant or for an unusual species not stocked in your local nursery or garden centre? And are you really likely to bag good plants for a fraction of the price you'd pay at a regular outlet?

Well, it may be the place to go if you want an unusual specimen, but you need to look at prices carefully before you bid and compare them where you can, according to the latest edition of Gardening Which?, the Consumers' Association magazine, which recently spent a day shopping on the site, both bidding for items and buying them as well.


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Researchers found that you'll probably pick up a plant for a reasonable price, rather than a bargain basement one, but that you need to check carefully because some nurseries and garden centres selling on eBay set a reserve price on their plants but if you go to their websites the same plants may be cheaper.

For instance, one researcher bid on a banana, Musa basjoo (20-30cm tall in a 9cm pot) with a starting bid of £3.75 from Easy Tropicals. The plant eventually sold for £15.22 at auction, yet seemingly identical plants were on sale direct from the seller's website, www.easytropicals.co.uk, for £5.99. It shows you that bidders can get carried away.

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Also beware of the extra cost of postage, because you may think you've picked up a bargain until you get another fiver slapped on for postage, which may be more than the cost of the original plant.

Gardening Which? found a number of common perennials in 9cm pots for £1, but with delivery costs of £2.50 it bumped up the price. Another seller charged more postage for tiny plug plants than a neighbouring seller did for a heavy box ball.

Many plant traders use the internet, including nurseries, garden centres and amateurs and on the whole the plants bought by Gardening Which? arrived promptly, well packaged and in good condition, with quality much the same as traditional mail order suppliers.

You can check out your sellers to a point, by looking at their feedback comments - steer clear of those with negative feedback and be careful if buying from newly registered sellers. Don't be afraid to ask the seller a question, which you can do via email on eBay.

If it all goes wrong and you receive a plant in poor condition, contact the seller first. They don't want negative feedback from you and issues can often be resolved quickly.

If not, internet sites have an official disputes process and, in certain circumstances will award compensation.

My advice is don't get carried away. Consider what you think the plant is worth, taking into account postage and packing, and stick to that figure even if it means you might be outbid.

Otherwise you may find that you could have bought that prize specimen cheaper at your local garden centre.

BEST OF THE BUNCH - Sunflower (Helianthus)

They're bold, colourful and so easy to grow that it's worth starting your kids off on them if you want to encourage them to become gardeners. At this time of year they should have reached their maximum height, some of which are more than 10ft tall, with huge yellow or orange flowers, spanning 38cm (15in).

As their name suggests, sunflowers should be placed in the sun, in any reasonable garden soil. Sow two or three seeds in spring in its planting position, thinning to one. They can also be used as a support for peas and beans, but will need regular watering.

Good tall varieties which will need staking include 'Russian Giant' and 'Tall Single', while more compact branching varieties which are ideal for patio pots include the new bi-coloured 'Ring of Fire', which has dark red petals at the base and golden yellow tips.

GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT - Coriander

It's one of my favourite herbs, to add to Thai curries, summer salsas and perfect in fish dishes with lime and chilli. The seeds can also be used in curry dishes.

You need to make successional sowings in summer as when you cut it, it doesn't regrow. Coriander likes to be placed in full sun and kept quite dry. It is likely to bolt if transplanted, so sow seeds straight out after all danger of frost has passed.

Seeds should be covered thinly with fine soil and seedlings thinned when big enough to handle.

Coriander may need staking and you can stop them from self-seeding by pulling up the plants when the seeds are almost ripe. coriander should be planted away from dill and fennel, as they will cross pollinate.

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK

:: Sow Brompton stocks for flowering under glass.

:: Propagate roses from semi-ripe cuttings taken from shoots which have not carried flower.

:: Shorten back stems of Jerusalem artichokes to around 30cm ( 12in) to reduce the risk of them being blown over.

:: Support new growth of dahlias, which can be damaged in strong winds.

:: Keep wisteria well watered during dry periods and feed established plants with a high potash liquid feed regularly to encourage flowering.

:: Continue to apply mulches of compost over the soil to prevent the germination of annual weed seedlings.

:: Summer prune gooseberries and red and white currants.

:: Pick courgettes before they become marrows.

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