Having written about why you should buy houseplants it seems worth looking at a few places you can buy houseplants and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option. I haven’t tried all the options, some will depend on your geographic location of what you will have access to.
Garden centres and nurseries
Within most garden centres there is almost always a section dedicated to indoor plants. The variety varies massively from garden centre to garden centre. You may only find a handful of succulents, an orchid and a spider plant. These days you will probably find a bit more. If you look around your local garden centres you’ll find one that probably has more choice. Within my locality one has more bonsai, while another has a good orchid range. Generally, garden centres will look after the houseplants well, with the exception of a few specialist plants with more particular needs. The price is usually reasonable for a good quality plant. You can see the plants condition and take it out of the pot to see if it’s pot bound or infested with any pests.
Alternatively you may be fortunate to have a specialist nursery. These may offer you a better range. The advantage of a specialist nursery is that the plants will probably be a passion of the owner and at there best. Most of our plants including houseplants come from Holland, but you may be lucky and have a source closer to hand. Attending local plant fairs can put you in touch with local sources.
You may also have small greenhouse businesses. Near my in laws is a sign outside a driveway that takes you to a specialist cacti greenhouse. The money raised goes to help children in the third world. Plant sources like this often don’t advertise. You just need to keep your eyes peeled as walking and driving through areas.
Supermarkets and high street shops
It has become the norm now that supermarkets stock a number of houseplants as gifts. The variety is often limited to succulents and orchids, but it gives a cheap source of windowsill plants. The little Tesco succulents currently sell for £1.50, but they quickly establish and grow giving you a decent plant. The supermarkets vary in quality. Many of the plants will be left to die slow painful deaths with no one assigned to look after them. So it’s worth keeping an eye on supermarkets for when new deliveries come in. Alternatively, watch for when the plants have been taken to the point of death and have been reduced. I’m a sucker for a rescue project. Much of the lavender in the garden started as bargain rescue plants. Succulents will usually recover with a small amount of care. Even if they don’t you’ve got a spare pot for dividing plants.
As said supermarket plants are often over or under cared for leaving them in bad states. They are also often filled too heavily with the particular plant. Calla lilies and sansevierias are prime candidates for this in the supermarket. They can then be divided to give you multiple plants. Supermarket plants tend to be potted in coconut coir, whether it’s appropriate or not, so often good to re-pot in the correct compost.
In my experience Morrison’s seems to look after their plants the best. They appear to have people assigned to look after and give them the occasional water. Tesco and Asda offer about the same level of care. The plants are delivered and put on a trolley. If you get them on delivery day the plant will be in a good condition. If it’s been a week or more into its stay it will be looking the worse for it. The succulents often suffer from being picked over by customers and losing leaves. Aldi and Lidl offer quite reasonable plants, particularly ferns, but suffer from just being labelled foliage plant. Waitrose and Marks and Spencer’s have the highest price tags, as expected, but are, ultimately, the same plants in a nicer pot.
High street shops such as Next and homeware shops such as IKEA have also got on the houseplant wagon and are currently stocking quite good varieties. The last trip to Next saw a better range than many of the local garden centres. However, many of these did come with high price tags. That said, the plants did look healthy. But, if you’re paying top money for a lifestyle accessory it should look good to start with. I imagine many will not look as good after a few weeks in their wannabe designer homes when people realise they need care.
The internet opens up more range to plant buyers. While people can be stung by buying online there are a lot of reputable sellers. But even the best seller will occasionally have delivery issues with plants getting delayed fatally in the mail. However, for the range of choice, the risk seems worth taking. Be careful when buying to check postage. While the plant may be a reasonable price, with a pot the weight goes up and the price of postage goes up.
A cheaper option online is to buy cuttings. eBay has many cuttings available. Buying on ebay has risks, but you can leave negative reviews if and paypal offers some protection if you get poor service. Many houseplants grow well from cuttings giving you a cheaper option for postage. I’ve only grown succulents bought this way, but it is rewarding. The care you put in initially means the plant means more to you and is more likely to be looked after than the quick easy store option.
Organised events to physically swap plants do also take place. Obviously, certain plants that are readily available will turn up in abundance, while rarer plants will be snapped up fast. In my local area plant and cuttings, swaps do take place as part of a number of the plant fairs, but it’s mainly garden plants rather than indoor plants. The Instagram indoor plant trend not having had any major impact on sleepy North East seaside towns. But if you are in bigger cities I imagine these may be an option for you.
I have however ended up with cuttings through open gardens. Open gardens are good events in general for seeing what will work in your area in your gardens. But they also put me in touch with a number of local gardeners with wonderful knowledge. From the front of their houses, I wouldn’t have known the wonders existing behind.
Friends and family are also options for taking cuttings. My mum donates lots of cuttings and seedlings for my garden. In return, I have given her a few seedlings and chicks off my sempervivums. Always ask first though before cutting or they may not remain friends with you.
Florists and boutiques
As well as your high street shops selling houseplants florists and boutique shops often stock a limited range of houseplants. I’ve found this to be one of the most expensive routes. The florists usually stock a limited number of houseplants ready as gifts. The boutiques usually stock for gifts and for the designer houses. The plants I’ve bought in this way have usually been good quality, but amongst the most expensive I’ve bought for what they were. Annoyingly, many will have no labels either of exactly what they are. For cacti or succulents this is an irritation, but for other plants, this may prevent you from looking up the proper care they need. This is a common issue with the supermarket purchases as well. My local florists do normally have them nicely displayed though, so you get an idea how they may look at home.
As with garden plants, there is the option to grow your houseplants from seed. Growing the window box of herbs from seed has been a popular choice for a long time. Aldi has recently offered a cacti seed mix as a project for children. Although I can’t say I’m convinced by the combination of children and spikes. Growing fruit from pips is a nice windowsill project. Avocado’s seem to be a popular choice at the moment (RHS podcast). Many seed companies offer seed mixes for a number of house plants. Sutton has a good range of indoor seeds, although many are flowering and like foliage for indoors more than flowers.
While it might seem an odd concept buying plants by subscriptions, but there are quite a few companies offering just this. My Facebook and twitter adverts clearly feel I need these in my life as they come up regularly. Geo-Fleur offer a plant subscription service where you relieve a plant and pot and details of the care the plant need. They also offer a subscription to receive cuttings of larger plants. Bloombox offer the option to have a plant every 3 months so you can slowly build a collection. Or replace plants as they die, which might be the case for many people. They also offer a cheaper subscription for plants with no pots, but their pot choices do look good. I’d be tempted with the more expensive option. Sprout London offer an interesting option to have coffee and a plant delivered. However, as a coffee hater, I’m glad to see there is an option to subscribe for the plants without coffee.
While some people will like the surprise of getting a plant with no choice for some people this will just be impractical. All of the three I’ve listed do sell the plants separately giving you the freedom to choose exactly what you want.
It seems a good time to do a shout out for geo-fleur. Geo-fleur is a subscription company mentioned above. They have started a kickstarter campaign. For those of you who don’t know kickstarter, it is a website where people fund money to help projects. It has become a popular format for funding game development and gadgets. People pledge money and if the campaign is successful they gain rewards. The company sets a target of how much money they need for their project. If they get enough pledges they receive the money. If they don’t get pledges up to the target you don’t pay anything and the rewards don’t go ahead.
Geo-fleur are looking to expand the business. They are looking in invest in a larger greenhouse and develop a collection of rarer plants. In exchange for funding these improvements, you can choose from a number of rewards. There are a number of lovely looking handmade pots up for grabs. There is also a reduced price available for you to get a plant subscription. So if the concept interests you it’s a chance to buy in cheaper. Make your pledge if interested and share on your social media of choice.
Check it out on kickstarter
While not one for scaremongering, it seems worth noting we have no idea how Brexit will run its course. But seeing as the majority of our houseplants come from Holland it seems a good time to buy that plant you’ve been pondering or become more familiar with UK sellers who may be able to put their prices up.
Hope you’ve found this weeks blog useful. While writing this blog I found Jane Perrone’s blog on the same subject. She’s covered almost exactly the same material I had planned. Worth a read here for some extra links. Also, keep an eye out for Gardener’s World magazine feature on houseplants next month.
Leave a comment if there is anywhere you’ve found useful for houseplants.