One of the good vendors
I just got my Lily Garden catalog—very early for them—and I’ve also been receiving the White Flower Farms, Van Engelens/John Scheepers, Brent and Becky’s, McClure Zimmerman, and Old House Gardens offerings for Fall 2006. Like many, I mail order a lot of bulbs at this time of year. I don’t like the selection at the big boxes. Although I’ve had fairly good experiences with many vendors, I thought I’d pass along some words of semi-wisdom from someone who does a lot of mail ordering. (This won’t be needed by many of you.)
You must check out the quality and reliability of vendors from as many third party sources as you can before you order anything. Dave’s Garden maintains a service called the Garden Watchdog, which rates vendors on the amount of favorable comments they receive. Sometimes, the negatives are unfair, but my experience matches up pretty neatly with the Garden Watchdog assessments. There are certain companies that just suck and people should never order from them, and before anyone orders from any catalog, they should first find out what they can. I believe the Garden Web forums often host such discussions and I am sure a question posed in a blog entry would receive some responses.
Even the relatively good vendors have their quirks. Here is my experience:
Van Engelens/Scheepers: They sometimes send the wrong variety, but the bulbs are great.
Brent and Becky’s: Same thing.
McClure Zimmerman: They often send the wrong thing. I don’t order from them any more.
The Lily Garden: I have had great luck with their offerings.
Old House Gardens: I’ve heard nothing but praise for this company. The few things I’ve ordered have been great. They have some rarities and old-fashioned varieties, and are one of the few places to get good species lilies. (Even Lily Garden offers fewer and fewer.)
White Flower farms: They are overpriced, though their plants are fine.
Bluestone: Their perennials are terrific, the best.
Colorblends: They’re kind of wacky, and shame on them for not giving all the cultivar names, but the bulbs are inexpensive and they always come up.
I have heard good things about B & D Lilies, but I don’t like their prices and they give the cultivars different names than you see elsewhere, which is confusing. But then Scheepers does that too.
Of course, my opinion on tulips is relatively worthless. I order new bulbs each year, except for the species. For me, trying to perennialize hybrid tulips is a big waste of time, so I change mine each year. No wonder everyone likes to send me catalogs!