First, the acrylic sheet for the greenhouse roof. My order from Midland Plastics never arrived, and since their site has now vanished from the web I presume they went bust. They wasted quite a lot of my time and ratcheted up our phone bill first in numerous calls to try and establish what was going on. The sheet was allegedly broken twice in transit by the couriers, and as the bad online reviews started to appear I began to suspect that they were in trouble. It was particularly disappointing as we'd used them twice before and they were fine, on the strength of which I'd ordered two sheets so as to have one in stock for when another pane of glass broke. The good news is that PayPal refunded my account in full within a couple of weeks of my lodging a complaint.
After the bad experience with the acrylic I was understandably jumpy when my auricula pots took ages to arrive. I ordered them from Littlethorpe Potteries up in Yorkshire back in the first half of August. I was awfully pleased to have finally tracked down somebody making traditional straight sided auricula pots, and liked some of the other designs on their website as well. Whichford, who used to be my go-to supplier for proper frost proof pots, seem to have largely given up on plain flowerpots in favour of more highly decorated and correspondingly expensive designs.
Littlethorpe are halfway to full online retailing, which is to say that you can choose what you want on their website, but somebody will then contact you with the full price once they've worked out the carriage costs. They don't use PayPal, and you have to send them a cheque which they promise not to cash until the order is ready to be dispatched. It turned out when they did contact me that the auricula pots I wanted were out of stock, and I would have to wait until they made the next batch in around four weeks. On the basis that the website looked genuine I decided to go ahead, and took some comfort from the fact that as the weeks went by the cheque still hadn't been cashed. It was a disappointment to return from holiday and find the pots still hadn't turned up, and became mildly stressful after I'd emailed them for an expected delivery date which came and then went. A further email produced the apologetic reply that they'd had the sickness bug and not packed any orders that week, I explained about the acrylic, they promised the pots really were on the way now, the cheque still hadn't been cashed, and yesterday the pots arrived.
They look pretty good. The finish is rougher than I'd expect from Whichford, on the other hand they were three pounds each versus £7.50 from Whichford, and Whichford's pots are slightly smaller than I want and not the classic long tom shape. The only way to find out whether they are truly frost proof is to leave them outside all winter and see what happens. I was not utterly delighted by the whole experience, in that I'd have liked to have them a month ago as originally promised, so that I could have repotted the auriculas earlier in the autumn. As it was I dithered about whether to do it now and risk letting them sit in excess unused wet compost over the winter. On the other hand, they have barely started back into growth after the hot weather, and it could stay mild for another month yet, so they should make some new roots. I decided to risk it. They are in the rain shadow of the house and the back wall of the conservatory, and if we get a very wet spell and they get rained on too much I can move the pots into the porch. As long as I don't let them sit wet they should be fine (fingers crossed. The auricula project is still at the experimental stage). I would use Littlethorpe again next year, assuming the pots come through the winter OK.
Some online research also brought me a replacement pump for the lead trough in the conservatory only one working day after ordering. I can't say if it works yet, because it was supplied without a plug (sort of fair enough given I'll need to thread the flex through the hole in the back of the trough so I didn't want a plug already fitted). B&Q no longer sell plugs, or at least the Systems Administrator couldn't find them, so I will have to pay a visit to Screwfix in Clacton. The firm who sold me the pump did have a number for me to ring for help when neither of us could work out how to get the back off the pump to clear dirt from the impeller, or even which end of the pump was supposed to unclip. It came with instructions, but no diagram. Provisional high marks to the pump supplier, but only if the pump works.
Some more ferreting about online brought me some Geum 'Totally Tangerine' and some Selinum wallichianum which I want to bulk up existing displays. The Chatto gardens don't list the former and were out of stock of the latter. While I was at it I bought three scented pink violets for the planned extension to the ditch bed (necessary to accommodate the spreading girth of one of the trees along the ditch) and a hairy leaved Begonia ciliata, which I've liked the sound of for years and was smitten by at the open garden in Lavenham I visited in August. It is supposed to be happy in shade, and I shall keep it in a pot as part of the exotic foliage planting at the back of the conservatory, moving it outside for the summer to consort with the potted ferns and huge overarching leaves of the Tetrapanax. The supplier of all these nice things was Dorset Perennials, the plants came very quickly, look extremely healthy, were very reasonably priced, and because I bumped my order up to £35 shipping was free. Dorset Perennials' list seemed really sound, not offering dozens of forms of everything but including varieties and species I know from experience or by repute to be good garden plants, and I'm sure I'll be using them again. They used to be wholesalers, but are branching out into direct selling partly courtesy of the net. As are Marcel Floyd with his clematis and Trevor White with his roses. This could be a trend.
On balance mail order is great for gardeners. OK, you get the odd stressful experience, but most of the time it works. I don't believe an out and out scammer would ever bother to build a full blown nursery website, and on the whole I don't worry about buying plants unseen. Anybody persistently sending out poor stock will soon pick up negative reviews, and you can tell quite a lot about a small nursery from which plant fairs they are invited to attend. I've had a couple of disappointments with too many substitutes, but overall I've enjoyed a wider choice and saved a whole lot of running around compared to trying to source everything from my local garden centres and nurseries.