On Dec 29, 2002, mainegardener Wiscasset, ME wrote:
I ordered 4 plants in February of 2002: cersis Avondale, daphne Briggs Moonlight, corylopsis Wintherthur, corylopsis pauciflora. Two plants arrived in late April. The c. Winterthur was in reasonable condition but the cercis was not at all acceptable. It was morethan 6 feet tall with no more than four 5 inch or less "branches" at the very top all of which were totally dessicated with dry brown leaves. I called and was advised to plant it anyway - I potted it carefully but within two days was obviously dead and would have never made a decent plant anyway. I wrote asking for a refund which did appear on my cedit card statement the next month. The two back ordered plants were promised for late May. Neither has ever arrived nor did the company contact me with any information. I called in late September and was told the daphne was not available but that the corylopsis would be sent within the next two weeks. This never happened and once again no explanation or contact of any kind.
There are too many excellent mailorder nurseries (Arborvillage, Fairweather, Roslyn to name just three) to bother with Carroll Gardens.
I have ordered by mail and by will-call from this nursery. Both are satisfactory. Catalog costs $3 (refunded with your order) and isn't published every year, but it in itself is a resource, with definitive descriptions of the plants and their preferences. Perennials lead in the catalog, with woodies, vines, roses, etc. respectably represented. Excellent selection! Few photos (you'll have to rely on books, other catalogs, and of course, the descriptions). I have had good luck with the plants that I have gotten from them. Bare-root shipments have taken well, but I really prefer the will-call method since you can specify getting them in pots.
When I came across Carroll Gardens' web site, I was excited to see such a huge selection in the Baltimore area. They were offering free shipping, but I decided I'd like to see the place, and e-mailed them about picking up my order in person. I received a prompt reply stating that my order would be picked and ready for pickup on the day I planned to visit. Perhaps Carroll Gardens deals primarily in mail-order rather than retail, but I was surprised at how incredibly unkempt the place was. I visited in early April, and I realize that most perennials and deciduous trees are still dormant, but the place appeared to have been totally neglected for years. Most of the conifers I saw were straggly and misshapen, and many showed poor color, as if suffering from malnutrition. I was interested in checking out a few additional items I had seen on the web site, and the young man who assisted me had difficulty locating these additional plants. I was looking for a Goldflame Honeysuckle, and when he finally found it, it was a single stem stuck in a 1-gallon pot. The price was $18.85. I went to Lowe's afterwards, and found the exact same variety, staked and much more robust-looking for $5.96! None of the additional stock looked appealing, so I asked to see the three items from my web order. The Metasequoia was dormant, but was very tall and had a large, healthy-looking root ball. $38.85 seemed a fair price. The Abies was another matter. It couldn't have been more than 6"" tall, had a sickly yellow color, and they wanted $28.85 for it. I told them I didn't want that one. The Buddleia was also very small, but appeared healthy. I thought $18.85 was too much for such a young plant, but I decided to go ahead and take it. The young man assisting me never offered any assistance in loading the plants. I don't remember anyone saying "thank you" the entire time, and he seemed a little insulted that I wouldn't pay outrageous sums for tiny, sickly-looking stock. All in all, the place looked as if it had been closed years ago and all the stock allowed to fend for itself.
My experience with this firm has been limited but positive. My reliance on their catalog is absolute! The information is complete and fairly candid for a vendor. When looking at other catalogs, I always refer back to Carroll Gardens' catalog for size, spacing, soil and light requirements, etc. The bare-root orders I've received have done well -- in one case, a bare-root Goldflame honeysuckle had, by the end of the season, outgrown a container-grown one purchased at local nursery and planted five weeks earlier. One year I placed a clematis order in February but had failed to indicate an arrival date, expecting April delivery. When I called in June to inquire why I hadn't yet received the plants, I was told that absence of a requested date meant that they would ship when they had a chance. June/July is just too late for bare-root clematis planting in Connecticut where I live, so I cancelled. This year I placed a will-call (containerized) order because I was visiting in Maryland and now, four months later, I am still pleased with the shrubs from that purchase.
I ordered a Golden Full Moon Maple over the phone two years ago. I specifically stated that it must be the Golden Full Moon. I was told they had one in stock. Arranged to pick the tree up. They are a two hour drive from my house. I got the tree. The label was removed when they rang me up, and never put back. I managed to hit a deer on the way home costing $1000 worth of damage. When the tree leafed out a few weeks later, it was only green. I called back to Carroll Gardens and explained the situation. I was then told that they never had the Golden cultivar. I know what I ordered, I had been looking for one for 5 years before I broke down and bought one. I had always heard they were so wonder to deal with. I won't go back. They misled me or were totally inept. Whichever it was is reason enough to leave them be.
I first ordered from them about 15 years ago and was very pleased. If I recall, I believe I ordered Astilbes. They were huge and in great condition. Since then, I have moved several times and always started a new garden. Over the years the plant sizes have shrunk and they have always had back-order problems. I still find them to be a reliable source of the unusual.
I have placed good-sized orders with this firm twice and have been extremely dissatisfied with their plant quality and service. Orders arrive late and incomplete, with no communication as to why certain plants weren't shipped. I ordered a Mahonia shrub from them which arrived as a bare stick - when I complained I was advised it was "good horticultural practice" to strip an evergreen of its leaves prior to shipping. The shrub never recovered. I've not encountered any other nursery that follows this practice. I've also received mislabeled plants from them. And, when I called to inquire about plants that were not received, I was treated rudely. They could provide no information about backordered plants - they told me plants MIGHT be available next year. I asked for a refund for the unshipped plants and they told me no one is available to issue checks. It took multiple requests for me to get my money back. They also told me that they don't use computers.That's too bad, because that means they can't see the comments that people are making about them on the Internet. It's unfortunate that a nursery with such an extensive catalog of plants doesn't have the infrastructure in place to run their business.
I have placed good sized orders($100 to $200) with Carroll Gardens every year for the past 6 or so. My reasons are those given by previous writers. Wide selection, good descriptions, and good prices. On the whole I have been pleased. The plants have been healthy without exception, and reasonably large. I have received mislabeled plants on a couple of occasions, and back ordered plants have been disagreeably common. The problem there is that Carroll Gardens' inventory is still not computerized, so that the person taking the order does not know what is in stock. I have gotten in the habit of asking the order taker to either go check the inventory, or give me a call back if the plants are out of stock. This has worked pretty well.Recently, I have ordered a good many roses (maybe 30), and have been particularly pleased with these bare root plants. The roses are the heaviest I have received from any source, and have always done well. Though Carroll Gardens is not perfect by any means, their wide selection and decent prices bring me back year after year.
I have only ordered from Carroll Gardens once (Spring 1996). Their plants were well grown and good sized. I like the pronunciation guides in the listings. This has resolved many arguments among gardeners here. I notice that many of the complaints are regarding completeness of orders and long overdue backorders. Perhaps this is due to the fact that one has no way of knowing what may be in stock as their catalogs are good for several years running. Therefore a listing does not necessarily mean that the plant in question is available. I'm putting together an order for spring 1997 - guess I'd better cross my fingers. [Update Fall 1998] Hope I won't get tempted by this company again. They do have a wonderful selection and it will be difficult to resist the temptation. My spring 1998 experience with them was the last straw. They didn't ship until June - almost too late to plant around here. The plants were in terrible condition and several of them were label as being "dormant". Guess that means "dead" in Carroll Gardens lingo! The irises they sent came complete with borers. They did refund my money for the bad plants, but it's not worth the agony of dealing with them. Their catalog is now over two years old and they don't seem to be able to pull off printing and sending out a new one so this means that its even more unpredictable what it available. I was really amused when I called in the order. The person answering the phones seemed to have no horticultural knowledge and had to have me spell the word "hosta".
I too had a so-so experience. What came was healthy & is doing fine, but they do not notify you of delays in backorders, I called a half dozen times, and after several months, just cancelled. I do however keep their catalog as a good reference resource. Even without pictures, the text is invaluable.
I have not mail-ordered from Carroll Gardens, but I live nearby and buy from them occasionally. The nursery occupies maybe 3-4 acres. Because they do have such a large selection, they are best suited to working with smaller plants, such as perennials, which are generally very nice. Their shrubs and trees tend to be crowded, and therefore straggly and/or asymmetrical. The owner is quite knowledgeable and rather business-like. His crew of workers is mostly a skeleton crew, hard-working, but laborers more than gardeners. The nursery is certainly not weed-free. Last year I saw Arisaema Sikokianum in flower in one of their 10 polyhouses, which was not unpleasant. I have purchased golden hakone grass, Miscanthus, Calamagrostis, Hosta, Iberis, ivy, Echinops, Phlox, rosemary, etc., most of which are thriving. Again, I have not dealt with the mail order side of their business.
About five years ago I had a rather poor experience with them: the order (in excess of $200) came on time, plants looked ok, but several items were missing. They were backordered and the money (check) was not refunded. It took a year before the back orders were straightened out. Then a far worse surprise: several of the plants had been mislabeled. This was and remains EXTREMELY IRRITATING. Not only did I not have what I wanted (which was often very specific) but I never knew the names of the plants I did have, several of which were quite nice. Among the mislabeled plants were two Siberian irises, a blue spruce, a flowering crabapple, a platycodon, and more than a few daylilies. Negotiating with them proved difficult. They were very slow to get back to me, and no one seemed to want to take responsibility for what had happened. All in all, my advice is to stay away.
Carroll Gardens sends a nice catalog (again, no pictures), which lists a large number of perennials and shrubs. About 75% of the catalog is devoted to perennials. They claim that "no one else carries as large or varied a selection of perennials as we do."After seeing Forestfarm and some others, I'm not sure as to the veracity of that claim. However, it is an extensive list. The prices are good, excellent in some cases. I found plants there that I did not find in any other catalog.The descriptions were good, including hardiness and other growing requirements in brief detail. They received our third-largest order, behind Bluestone and Forestfarm. We ordered in March, specifying an April 15 ship date (as we did for all orders in March). The plants arrived on time.The plants that arrived, however, were not perfect. First, they wrapped the dirt plugsin paper and stuffed the plants into regular boxes for shipping. The most plant damage that we had came from them. Plants were small, but not tiny. All of them (aside from damage due to the leaves being crushed) looked healthy, save for three. We ordered three Crocosmia plants that arrived in one package as dead, brown stalks. Their plants were also the driest.Some plants were placed on backorder, which is not a problem for me. When I called to inquire about this, and to make the emergency one week order, the person on the phone was somewhat rude and surly (it was the busy season, you know). I ended up ordering only one shrub in the emergency order, which they promised to deliverwithin the week. Two weeks later, we still don't have it. To sum, I would call Carroll a mixed bag. Order from them, but be prepared to find separate sources.