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On Jan 2, 2012, Emma60 Grassy Creek, NC (Zone 6a) wrote:
Posted on January 2, 2012, updated January 2, 2012
I admit that Arrowhead Alpines does have an impressive plant list, but their plants are definitely hit and miss. I placed a large order last year (2010) - some plants were great; a few were not, and those died before I planted them. This fall I bought more, and when they arrived, some were in broken pots, some were out of their pots, and all were as dry as a bone. Some looked just plain dead - all brown and shriveled. They looked something that should be thrown away, not sold. I called the company, and the man who answered was not concerned - didn't apologize, didn't offer a refund - didn't offer advice. I was dumbfounded with his lack of response. I said I would email them photos of the plants. I did that and sent a follow-up email, and I received the rudest reply from the female owner I have ever received from anyone in my entire life. I was shocked. They must do a very good business to be able to alienate their customers this way. I asked them to remove me from their mailing list. Most of their plants can be found other places; those that cannot are probably not worth having anyway. I will not buy from this company again.
On January 2nd, 2012, Emma60 changed the rating from negative to neutral and added the following:
Thanks to the member who informed me that Bob Stewart, owner of Arrowhead Alpines, died in mid-December, I have amended my rating to neutral. This company's rudeness to me may very well have been because because of Mr. Stewart's illness. My condolences go out to the family.
Posted on July 9, 2005, updated January 2, 2012
Arrowhead Alpines is somewhat of an enigma to me. I think the basic problem is if you take most genera, there are only a few really representative species/good doers; the rest may be of horticultural interest only or similar to the representative species. Draba, Acantholimon, and many bulbous genera come to mind immediately. However, Arrowhead basically lists everything, never mind if it's a poor grower, undistinguished, or just like another species listed. This is especially true of the minor bulb section, where many of the offerings are not on the general market for a good reason... they are weak growers, not hardy in the north, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Speaking of hardiness, zones are not listed, which weakens the catalogue and just reinforces the fact that the plants are grown in cool greenhouses, and thus may acclimate poorly to the garden. Most of the South African material is very dubiously hardy in an eastern zone 5-7, and there are even a few houseplants thrown in!! Heat hardiness is extremely important as well, and this topic is rarely broached. Arrowhead seems to believe if it's rare/rarely offered/monotypic it has to be good. Well, that is simply not true. Many rare plants are about as boring as watching paint dry...at least Arrowhead is honest about its "monotype fetish". I don't know what is so fascinating about a monotypic species myself, but there are certainly remote ones here for the taking, again never mind if they are any good. From my last order, Ipomea leptophylla promptly shriveled up (cool winds of May? it was grown in a greenhouse!), Indigofera pendula fried in the first minor dry spell (usually Indigoferas don't need a whole lot of water!) and Dionysia aretoides "Gravetye" browned up on a freak 98 degree day in June. I'm not saying that any of this is directly Arrowhead's fault, just pointing out how difficult it is to reestablish plants that have been grown "soft" in greenhouses. Certainly Arrowhead is not the only nursery to do this, but it is hard to make informed, intelligent decisions about plants when they haven't been truly hardiness tested. The species lilies they sent, by the way, were the smallest I've ever seen...no exaggeration to say they were about an inch high. Two of the stems had broken off at the base due to a large, heavy Yucca baccata being placed directly on top of them. In all fairness, these were replaced in my next order, with a note saying the broken ones would regenerate from the root. (guess what...they haven't) Even the new lilies are in suspended animation, and recently have begun to yellow, getting to a grand height of 2 inches their first year. I have no problem when seedling lily bulbs are offered, IF they are marked as such. The particularly lilies I ordered were quite expensive, and for the price I paid I would expect well established, blooming sized bulbs. What was sent to me wasn't even close to blooming size, and my guess is will take a few years to bloom...we shall see.
I think I would respect Arrowhead Alpines so much more if they utilized the "three year rule" before selling any plant....three years in the open garden with no protection or pampering in a cool greenhouse to see if the offering is a good doer or a weak species/hybrid not worth growing. I don't think it's asking too much to request that a nursery do its homework, rather than let the buyer "experiment" at his own cost. Look at the horticultural disasters that have infiltrated the market in the last 10 years...Coreopsis "Limerock Ruby", advertised as hardy to zone 5 yet a zone 7b plant!, Delosperma floribunda "Starburst", totally intolerant of a cold, wet, winter, yet incredulously advertised as hardy to zone 4! Arrowhead's catalogue contains a lot of weak growers, including many Saxifragas that would never in a million years do well in anything but a cool shady greenhouse with a lot of misting. If you have such a setting, go for it, but to try those very same Saxifragas in the "open garden" is tantamount to putting them directly on the compost pile. And so it is with rare Daphnes, some hardy orchids, etc. They are extremely fussy and have very exacting cultural requirements.
Arrowhead would emerge as a much stronger nursery if they would pare down their offerings to AT MOST 1,000 species and get away from the "if it has chlorophyll we'll list it" mentality. More is certainly not better in the plant world, and the more you garden, the quicker you realize how few species are really fabulous/unique/worth growing. One would have thought that basic fact would have dawned on Arrowhead by now, but watch, next year's catalogue will have even more species to tempt the unsuspecting with...Caveat Empator!
On March 30th, 2008, dave12122 added the following:
I just placed a recent order with Arrowhead, hoping they have improved since my last order. Alas, my extensive earier comments have been further substantiated to such a degree I feel compelled to give a new report.
I ordered three forms of Cyclamen coum which the catalog descriptions were quick to point out were indeed quite different. What I received were two forms that were wholly indistinguishable, even to a Cyclamen expert, and a third that was a smidgin different (more green in the center of the leaf). Here, Arrowhead only needed to list one form...the other two would probably only be of interest to that hapless collector that has to have everything. And one could go through just about any genus listed and "slim down the pickins' with ease. Most of the Acantholimons listed are extremely close, being spiny cushions with pink flowers, the Primula allionis are virually indistinguishable when not in flower, and even the flowers on some hybrids are extremely close, etc.etc.
The color of the plants was that "greenhouse green", specimens that have obviously been grown in a soft, overfertilized manner. The soil appeared extremely rich and was entirely unsuitable for the Lewisia rediviva they sent, which only grows in sand beds in the East. The plants were very "ahead" of where they would be in the open ground, so it is going to be a real chore to acclimate them. Some may never recover from the shock of wind, rain, dew, and frost, in other words, the real world. In one case, a Roscoea humeana (?spelling), two of the dormant roots had rotted away and needed to be seperated from healthy tissue. Who knows if it will grow or not...time will tell.
I think any intelligent person gets the idea. Arrowhead lists far too many species that are similar to others, probably in an effort to get the die hard collector type to spend more money, gives the plants a very cushy life in a cool greenhouse, and practices very poor quality control. The person who wrote "the quality of Arrowheads offering is inconsistent" has my considerable respect, certainly more than a nursery that just wants to amass a laundry list of offerings, many of which are of dubious quality and poor doers in many gardens.On January 2nd, 2012, dave12122 added the following:
I regret to report that Bob Stewart passed away in mid December, 2011, after a courageous battle with stage 4 colon cancer. And while I still have misgivings about the garden worthiness and hit or miss quality of the plants Arrowhead Alpines sells, the fact of the matter is the man has died. I did not know him personally, and suppose it is unfair to judge him on a somewhat blunt phone personality alone. Those in the know have reported that Bob had a nice side and was an expert on the plants he wrote about, and I respect that. I can only offer my condolences to his wife Brigitta and son, Ender during this difficult time. Apparently, Brigitta is continuing the business, but there no longer will be a paper catalogue. Tony Avent wrote an excellent tribute to Bob as part of a recent Plant Delights Nursery newsletter which can be found elsewhere. RIP, Bob.
On Apr 17, 2008, ic_conifers Iowa City, IA (Zone 5a) wrote:
My order arrived today from Arrowhead Alpines. I saw the boxes on the porch this morning and assumed that it was camping supplies my husand ordered, so I left for work and he went to bring the boxes into the house. About four blocks away, he called and said, "It is your order from AA!" (We were both excited waiting for the order.) Hubby took the plants out of the box, took a few teaser pictures that he emailed to me when he got to work, and scanned the packing slip for me.
I placed my order in January and did not receive a confirmation. I sent a letter to change one item two weeks after I sent in the order form. I wanted to cancel that item and substitute in another because I did not do enough research on the first item and it probably would not have made it in my zone (5a). In the letter, I also named a few substitutes, which I did not do when I sent in the order form. Again, no confirmation received, but I didn't sweat it.
EVERYTHING (14 conifers) that arrived was exactly what I wanted! Hubby did not completely unpack everything, but I suspect it will all be pristene. This company really deserves a better rating and reputation. Specialized professionals are eccentric; that is par for the course. The owners are very busy - they do not have time to send out confirmations of every communication customers send to them. They don't have an email address. I've dealt with many of the "hand-holding" companies and found that most of them have merchandise that cannot hold a flag to what arrived today from Arrowhead Alpines.
My qualification is that I ordered only conifers so I cannot attest to other items that they carry. For the future, though, Arrowhead Alpines will be my main source for conifers!!! Thank you Bob and Brigitta!!!
On July 11th, 2008, ic_conifers changed the rating from positive to neutral and added the following:
Well, I was very excited when my order arrived, but I feel I have to change my rating from positive to neutral after everything that happened since then. One plant died within four days of arrival, all the needles just fell off. Shortly after that, I found a worm/larvae on one conifer - turns out it was infested. A week later, I found evidence on a second that it was also infested and so that one went. One failed to thrive at all, the new growth just shrivelled and the plant started to lose all needles, so I saved myself the misery of watching needle by needle fall off and pulled it. One week after that, another died suddenly. Over the course of two months, I lost about half of the order, around $300 worth of plants. The ones that have made it (and appear fine) were those that were advertised as "older". Only two of the newer grafts survived - thankfully they were the most expensive of my order! I wonder if the shipping time, just as new growth was pushing, had something to do with the high mortality rate. One conifer person suggested the roots systems were to blame. I don't know what happened or why. I do know that I placed orders from two other companies this year and have not lost a single plant from either of those companies. I changed my rating to neutral because the plants that survived are nice and I felt I got a pretty good value on the older plants, which takes away some of the financial zing.
On Jul 3, 2006, thistlepunk East Lansing, MI wrote:
I live nearby, relatively speaking, and was quite excited to visit. The selection of rock garden type plants is quite excellent, the rest is good for an independent nursery.
A man who seemed to work there, possibly, was quite belligerent, and yelled and scowled a lot. Eventually he started yelling at me from some distance away, I cannot imagine why, and I hesitated to take my plant to the register. Happily, a friendly woman took over the register, but I still left a bit disconcerted and have yet to return.
I have visited their location & bought plants there at least twice over several years. These visits followed review of their extensive catalog and were quite frustrating, as I feel their operation is primarily set up for mail order business, not in-person visits. While they are quite accomplished growers, I would not say people skills are Bob's forte. This place is most suited to the educated buyer who already knows the specifics about the particular plants she is interested in purchasing & deals with the company by mail. If you need company personnel to hold your hand while shopping for plants, you'd better go elsewhere or you'll very likely be disappointed.
On Oct 31, 2003, davidrt28 Columbia, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:
They have a mind boggling selection. Generally the quality of the plants is average-to-good for mail order. In a couple cases though, I received plants they were way to small to ship. Once I carefully prodded around in the pot to be sure, and is was obvious that what had been sent out was a seedling that could not have been more than a few months old. It needed another year on the bench.
The straw that finally broke this camel's back, however was ordering the long-sought Clematis X texensis 'Gravetye Beauty' which should be red, and getting a mislabeled pink variety, probably the more common Etoile Rose. Since they can't be emailed, and are hard to reach on their non-toll free number, it's just not worth the hassle of trying to arrange a replacement. In the future I will only order from this nursery if they have something I absolutely can't imagine finding somewhere else or being able to propagate myself.
Interesting catalog, but not for the novice; I downloaded it and spent weeks poring over it. All text, not many photos on the website either, but loaded with opinion and education. (Bob Stewart could be Tony Avent's long-lost brother). I ordered about $80 worth of plants, which arrived promptly at the requested time. Plants were pretty well-packed, not large but fairly healthy. I was interested to notice that the owner referred frequently to another Michigan nursery, which also has a website (H & H Botanicals), and which offers many of the same items. I will probably give them a try next year, too.
Would have to agree that Bob is not a people person and his wife should keep him locked in the house when the nursery is open to visitors. My husband got chastised for looking at their waterfall adjacent to the gardens. Many signs posted all over "keep out" and that type of thing. Yes, they have a nice selection of hard to find items. Things have been looking pretty dismal when we visited 3 times. Perhaps we expect the plants to look better than they do but then again, why not? Perhaps they should just be mail order and call it a day.
I ordered from Arrowhead for the first time this year. I was pretty pleased with the offerings in the extensive plant catalog. They sent good-sized plants and I have enjoyed having these, many of which were large enough to bloom this year. One Campanula is clearly not what it was labeled as, and I am in the process of contacting them to let them know.