Bid for your begonias: Instead of paying through the nose for plants from a nursery, eBay offers them at bargain prices

I have a confession to make: I have a weakness for plants.

No matter how full my garden, there’s always room to squeeze in a few more plants, and if I’m let loose in a good nursery I can swiftly spend enough to buy several Mulberry bags.

Recently, however, I’ve managed to cut down on my garden expenditure while still satisfying my craving for new plants. 

Cutting expenditure: There's just one problem with buying plants on eBay ¿ it¿s simply too addictive

Cutting expenditure: There's just one problem with buying plants on eBay ¿ it¿s simply too addictive

My secret weapon is eBay, the online auction site where you can buy anything from a pack of paperclips to a car.

Increasingly, gardening enthusiasts who used to sell surplus plants at car boot sales or local markets are starting to list their products on eBay, giving gardeners all over the country access to a great range of plants, many at knockdown prices.

Although I’ve bought plenty of clothes, CDs and household gadgets on eBay, it had never occurred to me to buy plants from the site until last autumn.

While having lunch at the rooftop restaurant of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, I was transfixed by the large troughs of gorgeous Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’, and I simply had to have some.

Back home, I went straight to my computer to source them. Most nurseries were listing ‘Purple Emperor’ at around £7.50 a plant; on eBay, I noticed, it was available at £3.45. I plunged in and ordered some, and was delighted with the plants I received.

Since then my purchases have included 30 seedlings of the ornamental grass Stipa tenuissima for £9, 18 plug plants of the deep-red Lobelia ‘Queen Victoria’ for £9, and 30 plug plants of Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ for a bargain £9.25.


  • Read the description carefully. It’s easy to buy seeds when what you really wanted were plug plants.
  • Always check out the seller’s feedbackand read the most recent comments. Don’t buy from someone who has a pattern of negative feedback.
  • Don’t be too dazzled by the description. Many quite ordinary plants are cheekily described as ‘rare’. Do your homework!
  • Watch out for the postage costs, which can bump up the price. Some buyers include postage in the quoted price; others will do you a special rate if you buy more than one item.
  • If you have any doubts, email the seller with your questions before bidding.

I’ve also purchased heleniums and daylilies, and I found three plants of the lovely Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ for £14.50 – one of my favourite nurseries, Burncoose in Cornwall, charges almost double that.

All the plants have arrived promptly and in good condition. Instead of the environmentally unfriendly plastic packaging that big nurseries use, the plants are usually wrapped in newspaper (or even kitchen paper), and sent in Jiffy bags, often accompanied by friendly notes from the sellers.

Claire Folton, who lives in London and is head of the committee for her neighbourhood’s communal garden, is also an avid buyer of plants on eBay.

‘I discovered it last year when I wanted to get some achilleas for the communal garden and had hardly any money left,’ says Claire, 33.

‘I found what I wanted on eBay and after that I got hooked. I’ve saved a fortune, and if you have a problem you can contact the seller directly, rather than having to go through a soulless customer service centre.’

Michael Pateman, 47, who lives near Sittingbourne in Kent, has been selling plants on eBay for the past few months. ‘I started taking plants to car boot fairs 16 years ago, and then as I got better at growing and selling plants I started taking them to garden shows all over the south-east of England, as well as running a small nursery,’ he says.

‘Then I started noticing some really interesting plants listed on eBay, and I bought a few rudbeckias and monardas that I couldn’t find anywhere else. That encouraged me and my partner, Janette, who helps me with the business, to start selling on eBay.’

As soon as he started listing plants, Michael was taken aback by the response. ‘I had a hundred orders in the first week alone – it was amazing.

'Every morning when I switched on the computer there would be more orders.’

From Michael’s point of view, selling on eBay makes good commercial sense.

Although he pays eBay a commission of 10 per cent on each sale, and a small sum for each listing, he has no other overheads, which allows him to keep his costs low.

‘The great thing about eBay is that it gives you  access to a huge pool of people, without needing to advertise or even leave the house,’ he says. ‘I get orders from all over the place.’

When you’re dealing with small companies or even amateur growers, though, how can you be sure of the quality of the goods you’re getting? The beauty of eBay is the seller feedback – savvy eBay shoppers know you should avoid sellers whose satisfaction rating isn’t at, or very close to, 100 per cent.

If there is a problem, most sellers will bend over backwards to sort it out and avoid getting negative feedback. Michael, whose eBay name is jm363, is proud of his 100 per cent feedback rating and says he hasn’t yet had a difficult customer.

‘Everyone I’ve dealt with has been great,’ he says.

In fact, there’s just one problem with buying plants on eBay – it’s simply too addictive.

Now, where did I put my credit card?