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You don't have to send off for a paper catalogue in advance of placing an order, while the nurseries don't have the costs of printing, handline and distribution. Plus, they can update the online catalogue (well, let's hope they do) as items go out of stock and new lines come in. In contrast, a printed publication which is issued, for example, once per season and would have to be finalised well in advance and availability may have changed even before it arrives in your hands.
Whether the catalogue is paper or electronic, this sales model allows niche businesses to offer unusual or rare plants because they can garner customers over a broad geographic area while operating from cheap locations with low overheads.
A potential downside of buying from a nursery located far away from where you live is the catalogue photos and descriptions might tempt you into purchasing plants unsuited to your local conditions. A problem here in SEQ is that plants described as liking heat and/or dry conditions might not necessarily cope with our summer humidity or cyclonic summer rainfall. A good local garden should (ideally) supply plants that will grow locally. A good nursery should be able to provide some guidance regarding the climatic requirements for their plants, but do your own research if you're not sure.
Of course, there are the same problems with any online purchases with respect to fulfilment of the order and timely delivery, except plants are especially susceptible to damage (and perhaps death) if shipped in poor condition or inadequately packed.
For ease of packing and to keep postage costs down, plants sent through the mail are likely to be smaller than you'd typically buy in a garden centre. Or, they come bare-rooted with a subsequent recovery period. So,they're not a first choice for landscaping in a hurry.
However, many metropolitan garden centres and landscape supply yards that have a regular "bricks and mortar" presence, now offer online ordering of goods for delivery to your door. This could be a convenient means or organising a lot of plants or materials for a big garden makeover, especially if you're short on time or transportation.
Online shopping is also improving the home gardener's access to bulk buys, tubestocks and advanced trees - all of which are difficult to obtain via retail garden centres and "big box" garden departments.
UK gardeners getting online
In 2009 The Horticultural Trades Association in the United Kingdom released a report on the use of the internet by British gardeners. "Gardeners Online" suggests that this has indeed been increasing. The HTA provide an overview here: New HTA Garden Industry Monitor reports on 'Gardeners Online' and 'Green Gardening'.
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