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Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden?


An anonymous visitor to Your Small Kitchen Garden raised concerns about Summerstone Nursery. In my last post (Pear Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden), I explained that I chose Summerstone from among more than a dozen web sites, and I explained my selection process. Admittedly, in researching these nurseries I made a classic blunder: I failed to research what customers of the businesses had to say about them.

I’m flabbergasted at the oversight as I’ve been shopping on line since the 1990s and I approach I thought I approached all information on the internet with a kind of “Oh, Yeah?” attitude. Not this time.

Problems with Summerstone?

Will I be one of the disgruntled few, or will I be happy with the vendor from whom I ordered pear trees? I may not be able to answer until next summer (and I don’t expect homegrown fruit for three or four years). In the meantime, I have visions of large, beautiful pears that are just out of reach.

So, a day late and about $36 short, I’ve read some consumer reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. The reviews aren’t all rosy (they’re also not all bad). I probably wouldn’t have bought from Summerstone had I read the reviews first… but I’m not sure. I also did belated due diligence on Willis Orchards, Raintree Nursery, and Nature Hills—the other on-line suppliers I mentioned in my last post. It would be wrong to say that any impress… though, perhaps, Raintree has the best ratio of positive to negative reviews… Summerstone’s ratio is the worst.

I’m not Thrilled…

When reading reviews, I always remind myself: If things go OK, I don’t go out of my way to tell the world about it. I expect things to go OK, so why bother reporting OK to a consumer watch organization? Businesses such as eBay make customer and seller reviews central to the basic sales strategy: you leave good review, I leave good review, we’re good eBay citizens… but a customer can really mess up a seller’s business by leaving a bad review. The dynamics encourage everyone to leave reviews whether good or bad.

For sales web sites, you can predict the behavior of customers: when things go well, they move on. When things go poorly, they complain. So, I’m sure you see mostly negative reviews of vendors who don’t participate in shopping communities or web 2.0 networking—even when the vast majority of shopping experiences with the vendors are neutral or positive.

Do I Feel Better Now?

Rationalization complete, I’m still bothered by the negative reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. It occurs to me that if left to their own devices, people are more likely to complain than to compliment (or simply move on), then a compliment on an independent consumer watchdog web site must carry substantially more weight than does a negative review. Sigh!

Well, I’m an optimist and I’m very patient. So, while I’m still not recommending a particular on-line nursery, I’m not denouncing any either. I’ll stay the course, and continue to report as the pear tree saga unfolds.

I feel I’ve learned what I thought I already knew: get your hair cut where the barber goes for a haircut; buy donuts where cops buy donuts; eat at the crowded restaurants… You know: seek other people’s recommendations before making a purchase.

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10 Responses to “Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden?”

  • wishing you luck! We had a bad experience with a vendor through eBay a couple of years back. It made us refocus on buying local. I hope your purchase goes well and you can add a positive review to the site.

  • Launa:

    Just a note on Summerstone. The most disturbing part about the negative comments is that people are receiving the wrong plants – you would never know this until a season or two later of course, when dealing with dormant plants. The reviews that talk about the appearance of the plants – these I take with a grain of salt, because dormant plants usually do look dead.

    I recently placed an order from Summerstone and looked over the tags without unwrapping the root systems. It looked as though one plant I ordered (qty 5) was missing, so I called Summerstone. The lady was nice and asked me to unwrap the roots and count the plants to make sure – when I did, they were all there. I asked her about the condition of the plants. She said all their plants are shipped dormant and will not have good leaf systems. She asked if I had soaked them – and I said that there were no instructions telling me to do this. She said they don’t pack instructions, but that you should always soak dormant root systems in water 24 hours before planting. She also said that their phone service hours are 8:30 – 4:30 central (she actually doesn’t answer until 9 or 9:30); and she said that all plants they ship are dormant – i guess most plants would not survive shipping in their active cycle.

    The plants I received were packed in a very moist wrapping and I fully expect them to do well. My only qualm is, are they the right plants? :) This remains to be seen. Thanks for your article.


  • admin:

    Launa: Thank you for adding to the story. As I explained in a later post (Update on Fruit Trees…, I received a shipping notice. It has been nearly two weeks and my trees haven’t arrived. Unfortunately, the shipping notice did not include tracking information.

    Both the slow delivery and the lack of tracking info are unusual for any carrier in this day-and-age. Especially a company doing business via the Internet is generally slicker than this. Still, I’m enthusiastic. I hope to have my trees planted soon, and that’ll give them a head-start in the spring.

    What fruits will I actually be growing? Well… it’ll be a learning experience. Thanks again!

  • James Olds:

    I ordered a number of seed packets from Summerstone and a Moonglow pear, a Sunburst Locust and a Lobloly Pine. The trees were billed as 2 to 4 foot trees. I just received the trees and they are short of 2 feet even including the roots. The pear tree appears to be a sucker that was cut off but has two or three hair roots on it. I planted it, but I don’t expect it to live. I still have not received the seed packets although the order was placed about 6 weeks ago. I don’t anticipate ever patronizing Summerstone again.

  • [...] one of my posts about the fruit tree saga, I explained that I first ordered trees, and then looked for customer reviews of the vendor from [...]

  • Judy:

    I feel like the biggest idiot-spending nearly $200 receving less than expected by far/shipment was delivered in a timely matter;however, most plants were dead…missing roots/ dried & dead.I have no idea what these pathetic twigs and sprigs really are…but, labored, babied and watered…now praying. Feeling like a fool. What recourse is there? E=mails return/not accepted. I figure I will give it about a mon or 2…then report to the Better Business Beauro.

  • John:

    hope it works out for you Judy! I have ordered from Summerstone Nursery a couple times. Fortunately the first shipment was as ordered with surviving plants! The second order had 2 dead plants. Called Summerstone Nursery and they don’t offer refunds, but will replace them at no cost. Other Nurseries i have researched don’t offer a mb guarantee either. I guess that’s the nature of the business when selling something that can die in transit. anyway, my replacement order arrived and all is well. I bet a lot of folks selling plants online receive a ton of criticism. I can’t say i recommend buying plants online, but you will save money if you can endure the minor headache!

  • I have to apologize , I just got an email today the 11/17 that my plants
    were shipped . Will pray they are in
    good shape and the right ones. can you
    delete my complaint???

  • ooops I looked at the wrong month they
    were shipped today. 11/12

  • admin:

    Virginia: At your request, I deleted your comment about your frustration with Summerstone Nursery. I’m relieved on your behalf that things seem to be working out. Still, it’s informative that you were frustrated enough to search for evaluations of the nursery, and then leave a comment. As I explained: I’m a patient person, and Summerstone treated me just fine. My fruit trees grew vigorously this season, though my pecan trees died after being pruned severely by a woodchuck. Based on my experience, I’d be a repeat customer. Still: I will always buy locally before going on-line to shop for ive plants.

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