Maddening Mailorder


by Guest Blogger Ilene Sternberg

On my local post office wall is an ad cosponsored by Ebay
and the USPS,Styrofoam2 showing a few Styrofoam peanuts scattered on a floor with the
caption, “Eight gallons of packing material around a pair of shoes is a kind of

Really? Personally, I’d love to take the Styrogenius who invented those
peanuts and bury him under bucketloads of his pesky pellets. I’d like to watch
him struggle to suck those babies into his beleaguered vacuum and witness his
utterances when the little @^&*#%!s cling to his clothes, his
fingers, his Dirt Devil, his dog, and his wife. I’d like to see him chase those
flyaway freaks all over his lawn and incur his neighbors’ curses as they
fortuitously get to share that “kind of love.” I’d like to see the love on the
faces of environmentalists spending their life’s work trying to figure out if
and how long it will be before the earth finds a way to absorb and assimilate
Styrofoam bits. And will I live to see Styrofoam peanuts eventually germinate in
landfills, supplying us with enough Styrofoam peanut butter to feed generations
of humanoids sprouting peanut-shaped Styrozits on their poly-ridden bodies? My
Sty-rancor is equally harsh for Styrochips, molded Styro-whatsis, all other
polystyrene shapes and, especially, those teeny-tiny round mini-beads. (I once
had a traumatic encounter with the contents of a beanbag chair from which I’ve
yet to recover.)

Forgive my Styrotirade, but I’ve been opening mailorder plants for weeks
now, comparing the many bizarre ways people pack them and other items for

As usual, I went overboard this year, whiling away winter buying
amaryllis on Ebay. Later, I couldn’t resist some of the great “bargains” I came
across on outdoor plants, primarily clematis. And, although I find little
difference between conventional mailorder nursery shopping and buying plants on
Ebay—(I wish I had thought up the brilliant idea of combining
shopping and gambling)—people who ship plants, be it from nurseries large and
small or their own backyards, can use a lesson in sensible sending.

One seller, for instance, wrapped bareroot clematis in aluminum foil,
guaranteeing fried roots had the mail carrier left the package in the sun.
(Actually, the mailman attached the package to my garage door handle, so that
when I came up the driveway and hit the remote, the package disappeared into the
garage roof until I rescued it after several minutes of frantic clicking and
pulling.) To boot, the 3 tiny aluminum-shrouded plants were taped into odd
corners of a 3-foot-long triangular postal container (talk about overkill) which
was almost impossible to open, even with tools. It was a wild guess as to where
in the box I’d find the plants.

Another person bent and stuffed bareroot clematis callously into sealed
plastic sandwich bags. Plant abuse, pure and simple! I’m considering starting a
chapter of SPCP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants.)

Most irritating is opening anything packed in those peanuts. It may be
nice and cushiony for the plants, but it’s a disaster for the unsuspecting
recipient. I got the double whammy the other day when I extricated another
unlabeled bareroot assortment from a box of Styrofoam interspersed with wood
shavings and shredded paper.

The best method for wrapping and shipping plants is to
pot them, seal dirt into pots with plastic or tape, and place them in a
box—head-to-head, if necessary, using long sticks inserted in the soil to keep
pots immobile and apart, with wadded newspaper used as cushioning. This way the
plant’s roots are protected, soil doesn’t spill out, and the packing material is
biodegradable and easy to remove and dispose of without mess. Besides, you can
read the newspaper and find out what’s happening in other cities! Bareroot
plants can be wrapped in wet sponge or newspaper.

This year’s buying fest was a lesson for me.
Hereafter, not only will I ask what size plants people are sending, or if
they’re sending them bareroot (it’s a pain having to pot up everything that
arrives for safekeeping until planting time), but how plants are being packed.
No more Styrophobia when I see a new box heading up my driveway.


  1. I’ve personally ‘ranted’ in my head when opening those boxes with multiple gross of styrofoam peanuts. Especially in a warm house where they stick to your clothing and you end up looking like The Michelin Woman! Then, they do blow across the yard and into the woods….

    I’m with you on this!

  2. Excellent rant. I have two trashbags full of packing peanuts from plant orders, just waiting in the garage to be ‘recycled’ at the UPS Store for the next unsuspecting mail-order recipient (hopefully giving them to an over the counter operation like the UPS store will get them out of the gardening stream, though). By far the worst thing is picking the peanuts out of the plant’s foliage.

    I’ve opened boxes full of wood shavings, styrofoam, and cardboard ‘protective’ collars that literally beheaded the plants, and I agree — the best packing method is to tie plastic bags around the pots and pad the space with crumpled newspaper.

  3. I have never found the allure of purchasing plants via mail.
    I tried it once and was terribly disappointed.
    I received small anemic plants and paid way too much for them and the shipping and handling.
    I suppose if I lived in an area where there was an absence of good nurseries I might resort to mail order , but then again, I would probably hop in the car and drive a couple hours just to avoid the expensive disappointment and all those horrid packing peanuts.

  4. Omigosh – the last mail order plants I received were in the most bizarre packages! Special little plastic pots with backs that almost forced me to mutilate the plant to get it out of the container! Packaging is the bane of my everyday existence anyway – and this proves to be no exception!

  5. I know I’m ecologically incorrect, but I happen to love styrofoam packing in almost any form. I haven’t tried the new, biodegradeable peanuts yet, but I love broken up styrofoam (or I expect the peanuts would be better yet) as the bottom 6 inches or so of very large planter pots — makes moving them so much lighter and easier, and still gives me enough soil to get healthy plants.

  6. Hear, hear! And don’t forget how dangerous those peanuts are to pets. I have to confine my kitties in a room whenever I open anything with styrafoam. That way I can chase the peanuts all over the house and get them cleaned up before they become “toys” for my unsuspecting cats.

    PS – glad to hear that I’m not the only one who reads the newspapers used to wrap mailorder goodies!

  7. Yeah, those styrofoam peanuts are awful. Whatever happened to the cornstarch imposter peanuts? I used to get merchandise packed in those, several years ago. They were actually edible — though admittedly not tasty.

  8. Hilarious post! Personally, I’m convinced “bareroot clematis” are a myth. I’ve never planted one that didn’t kick the bucket. I’ve never met the person who’s planted a bareroot clematis and gotten a living plant out of the endeavor.

  9. I discovered Almost Eden plants on the web. They have sent me stuff that is packed Phenomenally! I give them 4 stars. And they have unique plants too, I was looking for a Night Blooming Cereus… that’s how I found them.

    ps what is a web site url?

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