Thursday, 25 May 2017

mistaken identity

I wandered down to the bottom of the garden this morning to see what it was doing.  As I stood contemplating the rather dry bog bed, a series of high thin squeaks behind me revealed the presence of Mr Cool.  He seemed pleased to see me, and as I stroked him a series of loud squawks announced the arrival of Our Ginger, followed by a black blur and a thud that were Mr Fluffy dropping out of a tree.  I hadn't noticed him up there, but he is a keen and agile climber.  Looking out of the greenhouse the other morning I saw him in the very top of the cut leaved elder in front of the oil tank, apparently hanging on to the thin branches with all four legs while the whole shrub swayed, like a cat in a cartoon.

Something in the scene was not right, however, apart from it raining cats.  There should not have been a string of five purple primula weaving through the orange ones.  I have never deliberately planted purple primula in the bog bed, whereas I did plant five more of what were purportedly the orange flowered Primula bulleyana earlier in the year.  I could only conclude that the firm I dealt with had sent me the wrong thing.

Mistakes will happen.  I know from experience in my own greenhouse and from working at the plant centre how difficult it can be to keep track of different batches of plants stood near each other.  In the early stages of cultivation you tend to rely on standing them in blocks of the same variety rather than go to all the labour of writing or printing a label for every pot and sticking it in.  So easy to muddle the blocks if you need to move them for any reason, or to pick pots out of the wrong block, because you are in a hurry and they look similar, or because even though they look wildly different you don't have the faintest idea what either of them are.  I was once sent a Berkheya instead of a Beschorneria yuccoides, the former being a prickly leaved grey herbaceous species from South Africa and the latter having rosettes of strap shaped leaves and hailing from Mexico.  When I rang to complain the person I spoke to initially suggested that maybe young plants looked different to mature ones, and when I explained that on the contrary the plant I'd been sent wasn't even a monocotyledon they insisted I sent a photo.  After that they congratulated me on my plant identification skills and agreed that it was indeed a Berkheya, and I got a replacement.

Being English I hate having to complain to shops.  I kept quiet about the twenty-five pink 'Little Beauty' tulips that should have been the orange 'Little Princess', partly because I see the vendor socially at gardening events and it would be embarrassing and partly because as I grow both varieties it didn't matter so much.  My protest when one entire third of a viola order two years ago turned out to be substitutes was confined to some weak whimpering down the phone when the nursery person's mother who had been roped in to call to say the order was being dispatched mentioned it.  I will not buy anything from either of them again, and they will never know the reason why, and that is the English way of doing things.  But I did not want five purple primulas.  I did not want them in absolute terms, because I wanted a big patch of apricot orange, not a mixture, and I did not want them anywhere near the orange ones because if they were what I suspected they were then they would hybridize and I would not get reliably apricot coloured seedlings in future, but a mixture of orange, purple and every colour in between.

So I managed to find the original confirmation email from the supplier that showed I had ordered Primula bulleyana, and sent off a reply explaining that I had been delighted with the plants and they were all doing very well, only the Primula bulleyana had all come out purple and must be something else, and they replied very promptly saying that in that case they must have been P. beesiana, which has identical leaves, and will cross with P. bulleyana.  That was what I had guessed they were and was why I didn't want them, quite apart from the fact that they were the wrong colour.  The supplier offered to send some more in a month's time when the next batch were ready, and I said that would be great and as I had been planning to buy some more from them maybe I could do that at the same time.  I felt mean that they would incur a second delivery cost on the replacements, but what can you do?  People who take themselves seriously as gardeners, and those who sell plants for a living, are apt to look down on the punters who are so shallow that they only buy plants from garden centres when they are in flower, but at least that way you know what you are getting.

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