Scent

One thing I haven’t really paid much attention to in the past is scent. We have some flowers in our garden which are scented, like the Goumi (elaeagnus multiflora), or the roses, but they weren’t chosen for that reason. This is probably it takes quite a strong scent for me to notice, but my wife has a much better sense of smell and does notice when nearby plants make an effort to be fragrant. Late last year I decided to stock up on more strongly scented plants for her to enjoy, and they’re not all either planted or at least in pots ready to go.

Finding reliable information about scent is actually quite hard without visiting a lot of gardens at the right time of year and smelling for yourself. The quality of scents are very personal and hard to describe to someone else, which makes it hard to know whether you’ll like anything you buy or not until too late, and lists of strongly scented plants always seem to over-shoot. If you filter for scented plants on any supplier’s website you’ll be presented with hundreds of options, many of which are useless unless you actually stick your nose into the flower. This wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted plants which you can smell coming, which give bang for your buck.

Plant Choices

After much short-listing, the selected species were boiled down to the list below. I’ve indicated the claimed flowering times from the suppliers’ websites, but they may be optimistic and continuous flowering over several months may not happen.

Scented shrub flowering times

Scented shrub flowering times

I’ve mentioned the new climbing roses in a previous post. They play strongly into my plant for scent from January to December to the front, the area which gets the most foot traffic. They’re complemented with a winter flowering honeysuckle, a viburnum, and a Korean lilac. All of these have small, pale, strongly scented flowers, which suggest moth pollinators to me. This is a typical description of a moth pollinated flower:

Most ‘moth flowers’ are white or pale coloured, so that moths can see them at dusk. They are usually scented, and often the scent becomes stronger in the evening. And the flowers often have long tubes, to accommodate the moths’ long tongues and exclude other insects. If you plant these flowers you will certainly help to feed adult moths in your garden.

This makes intuitive sense – scent is more useful when other ways of attracting attention such as vision are less useful, and moths are typically nocturnal. Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find information about the typical pollinator for many species by Googling.

For the back garden coverage of the year is less even (there’s a big gap in autumn), although that’s partly compensated for by the large number of flowering and aromatic plants and herbs chosen for other reasons. To those existing plants I’ve added two more shrubs with small, pale flowers: sweet box, widely known for its scent, and a deutzia, where I’ll just have to wait and see. Finally, I have a couple of philadelphus / mock orange plants, which everyone agrees can fill entire gardens with an orange-blossom scent.

Supplier Issues

Unfortunately there were some mail order supplier issues again. I’m starting to get very nervous whenever a plant delivery is due, because it seems like something always goes wrong. At this stage, if I could get hold of everything locally I’d go for it even for a significant premium, but it just isn’t possible.

In this case, the issue was Suttons. I ordered in late November, with the website suggesting delivery within 2 – 3 weeks. I called and was told they were still awaiting stock. No updates were forthcoming. The week before Christmas, still nothing. I called and was told that they would dispatch immediately so we’d have the plants before we went away to visit relatives. Still nothing. I called again and was told the delivery had now been delayed and would definitely be in January after we got back. The next day, the plants arrived.

Don’t get me wrong. The plants are decent sized and of good quality. It’s just that there was no useful feedback at all regarding when they might arrive, and Sutton’s own staff apparently didn’t know that they’d dispatched them when I talked to them the afternoon before they arrived.

Why is running a reliable mail-order nursery and/or delivery business such an impossible thing for a customer to ask for?

4 thoughts on “Scent

  1. “Why is running a reliable mail-order nursery and/or delivery business such an impossible thing for a customer to ask for?”

    I’m not sure that it is impossible. I have found in recent years that the big companies, the big names and brands have lost ground to all the small entrepreneurs, selling on the likes of ebay, both on price and service. I now make a point of buying seeds from the no names on ebay. I choose based upon the number of sales and feedback scores, and also read a lot of their feedback reviews. Often I pay half price, sometimes less, and the stuff arrives remarkably quickly.

    I have never had to chase to find out when a delivery will be and have never been disappointed when seeds arrive. Often things arrive in a small plastic bag, poorly printed or even hand written, but the seeds themselves work, as intended. I recently ordered 3 rhubarb crowns, 4 arrived, 80 garlic cloves (red and white) and I got 100 etc etc.

    While I haven’t had any problems with seeds or plants (flowers / veg or trees) I buy a lot of the other household things. 450 items on ebay. 3 of which failed, or just bad, and in all 3 cases (one just today) I quick ebay message and they replaced the item, no charge, no sending back the faulty one. I compare this to the last big brand electronic item, a NAS (network storage disk) from Netgear, I had trouble with it, customer service referred me to online Q and A and then after that I got a live chat. Turned out it was faulty. The 3 weeks I spent trying to sort the problem with their customer services took me over the warranty period, so I bought a new hard disk and it fixed the problem. The last ebay item I bought was a pedometer, one day I owned it before my son broke it (plugged into charger wrong way around – bad design), one email later and they agreed to replace it in broken English, I owned up to it being our fault but their poor design or bad instructions, then I fired off another email to confirm that I didn’t need to return item and they replied within the hour saying that I don’t need to do anything as they had already posted a new one out. Within 24hrs I had owned, broke and they had put in the post a replacement – I’d like to see that service duplicated from a top brand.

    I don’t think it matters what the product is, the big companies have poor service, the little or new kids on the block, are right up to speed with customer service and delivery times. This has been the case with our electricity supplier, a no name as well.

    Obviously I expect some failures with paying less, from unknowns, but as of yet no problems and even if I did, having paid less it will hurt and annoy me less when a problem arises. Quality wise, often the big brands are better (electronics etc) but customer service wise – no comparison.

    You’ve only got to look at the big companies and brands and see the profit they make to realise that dissatisfied customers don’t matter to them, and why should it when they are raking in the money. Little or new companies are often out to impress you and do a far better job, they need your money.

    Try buying from non big brands if you want service. I have been impressed with them all in all.

    • I do use smaller companies as well, although maybe not e-bay seller small. I buy a lot of my trees from the Agroforestry Research Trust, Keepers, … and seeds from Real Seeds, Chiltern Seeds etc. These are all relatively high volume, but in terms of turn-over and employees I suspect they’re tiny compared to the Suttons and Thompson & Morgans of the world. 90% of the time the problem with these medium-sized suppliers is that the delivery companies they use (e.g. TNT) aren’t reliable and don’t do what it says on the tin (don’t get me started on ‘next day delivery’!), although occasionally it is the supplier’s fault directly.

      Outside of plants I agree completely with your advice. If I want a new gate or shed or my boiler serviced, someone small and local is the way to go. I’ve struggled more applying the very small supplier model to plants. At least one local specialist plant supplier regularly let me down with poor labelling, and others lack plants that I want because of my niche interests (permaculture, wild edibles, …).

      One issue with very small mail-order companies is that they often don’t have more than 1 thing you want. This isn’t so bad for seeds if they can be sent in a standard envelope, but if you have to pay postage for every plant you order it can easily double the cost compared to ordering from one place. I usually try to source all my plants from one to two suppliers at a time to minimise the extra post and packing costs.

  2. Yes, delivery can be an issue. I have had problems in the past when the drivers didn’t know the area and couldn’t find us but in the last year or 2 I keep seeing the same delivery people. A new development is that companies have setup so that many couriers send to one of the local shops and a local person picks them up to deliver the last mile.

    One of the delivery guys showed me that he saved our position, and description on to a google map shared between drivers, with notes saying things like “if no answer look in garden” and “gets on well with neighbours, leave there”.

    I have had the old “delivered but you weren’t in, (white front door)” written on the delivery companies system when really he didn’t come around and we have a black door. But this was Parcel force.

    Obviously nothing is perfect but I feel small companies edge the larger ones in most areas.

    The range of stock and postage isn’t an issue for me as I don’t look at the company, so much as seeing it all come from ebay. Postage is normally free on most items, although 1 off quantities of seeds do tend to have postage but even with that it is still half price compared to Suttons et al.

    Perhaps I’ve just been lucky though with non brands, and couriers

  3. Once we saw a delivery driver walk up, shove a ‘missed you while you were out’ message in the door, and walk away without even knocking or ringing the doorbell. Since luckily we saw him through the bay window we ran out and caught him, but he obviously wanted to be somewhere else more than he wanted to do the job properly.

    I think partly it’s the amount of pressure the drivers are under from the companies. It’s the usual story of being more efficient translating into cutting the number of people and trying to squeeze more work for the same wage from the people you have left.

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