Need a navigation system for online mail-order nurseries?
Until my experience with one last Christmas, navigation systems (picture from ehow) were just another car option I didn't see a need for. We had flown to the lovely state of North Carolina and were making a drive to Florida. No, we had never made the drive before, but waterparks and heat are a powerful incentive for Alaskans in December. Our borrowed SUV had a navigation system with a calm, disembodied female voice that made random comments like: "In a quarter mile, take the next right turn." I felt like we were in a Star Trek episode. It was very convenient when it was accurate. We almost drove off a non-existent exit once and made at least one burning rubber-type acceleration and right turn to follow this voice. Convenience turned to dependance pretty quickly once we hit Florida. If I never drive through Jacksonville at night again, it will be too soon. Granted I'm from Alaska, pretty much hicksville when it comes to freeways, but that was an insane little drive. The nav system got a bug or something for a while in Tampa at night in a bad neighborhood and I was almost in tears. Begging, threatening, dispair, all levelled at "the voice" that wasn't working. When it kicked in again and we found a hotel (hallelujah!), I could have given that sales guy on TV (the bearded one that hawks detergent and is always shouting) a run for his money selling navigation options on cars.
Navigating the intricacies of mail order (I'm thinking of online ordering here, but the advice holds for "snail mail" orders, too) can be a bit like the Jacksonville freeways during rush hour: intimidating, and to some, not worth it. Never fear, your Alaskan mail-order nursery navigator is here! I have ordered from the good, the bad, and the really bad. Have you ever had too many choices and been overwhelmed? No worries about that with mail ordering in Alaska. So many companies won't even consider shipping to us, it really pares down the options. Not to say there aren't any. There are plenty of quality nurseries that will ship up here. And yes, contrary to popular opinion, Alaska is part of the United States....
The first place you should visit before you make a mail-order is Dave's Garden, so turn on the computer. There is a handy list of top-rated nurseries, followed by recent ratings from gardeners, and then a search feature. You can search for the nursery you have been hankering to order from and see how they have been rated by others. Experiences are rated positive, neutral, or negative. Some go into great detail as to why they rated a company a certain way. If a company has a lot of negative ratings, be leery about ordering. You can also search for a particular plant you want on the site and it will spew out what nurseries carry said beauty. Very convenient.
The second place you should visit before ordering, after you have determined the company is reputable, is the nursery's website, if they have one (Bluestem Nursery's site, pictured). Here they should have the most up-to-date information. I say should. Check to see that they do indeed ship to Alaska. This can usually be determined by searching under the "shipping" or "Frequently Asked Questions" or "Ordering Info" buttons. If they do not, it typically says something like, "We do not ship to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico (or wherever else)." Determine their shipping and handling costs and policies before making an order. I have been (unpleasantly) suprised on this. A nursery owner determined last minute, and with no notification, that shipping air would be better than ground (after I specifically requested and paid for ground shipping) and that increased my shipping costs by about 5 times.
The third place you should visit before ordering is your local nurseries (inside Suttons Greenhouse in Anchorage, pictured). You might be able to pick up that plant you have been craving for a fraction of the cost by getting it right here in good ol' AK. There are some nursuries that make an effort to have a nice selection of the "latest and greatest" as well as the reliable Alaskan standbys: Fritz Creek Nursery in Homer, Sutton's on Tudor, and Alaska Mill and Feed come to mind, and there are others.
The fourth place you should visit is your garden. Do you really need all those plants? I have "window shopped" by putting things in the online cart but not committed by buying. Often I will do this several times, observing the price fluctuations for my different wish lists. If I see certain plants cropping up again and again in my "fake" orders, those are usually the ones I really want. But take a gander at your yard or your notes and pictures to refresh your memory about what it was you wanted for the yard at different seasons. Discipline is good thing, right? You really don't want to take out a second mortgage for that order....
All this being said, ordering online is a very easy, practically painless thing to do. Many of my rare or unusual acquisitions were from nurseries out-of-state. So don't be afraid to get your feet wet with a web order if the plants you want aren't available locally. To get you started, here are a few of the nurseries that I have had good luck with (and that ship to Alaska).