Pros: Wonderful quality; amazing customer service; great products
Cons: Web site a little tough to navigate; prices a bit higher to pay for that customer service
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
We moved into a house with a large yard three years ago, and of course we had to start a garden. We swiftly discovered that there were many products to think about, particularly with soil as poor as much of ours is: fertilizers, mulches, compost, soil additives of all types, pest control products, and on and on.
One of the decisions we quickly came to is that we wanted, where possible, to stick with organic gardening products. We didn’t want to track chemical pesticides or fertilizers to where our cats would eat them (one of our cats has a propensity for eating dust bunnies–or anything else she can find), and we didn’t want chemicals on the foods we were going to harvest and eat. To that end, we discovered Gardens Alive! and their web site. Later we discovered that our neighbor, who is also heavily into organic gardening and knows a LOT more than we do, also orders from them.
The web site isn’t amazingly well organized. A handful of popular products shows up on the front page, and you click on the button below the picture to get more information and ordering info. There’s a list of categories such as “beneficial insects,” “composting,” and “pest control.” You can search for what you want, which I sometimes find more helpful than browsing. The “library” (including an extensive section on plant pests and diseases) has quite a few articles, and those articles show up as well when you do a search. Although the navigation isn’t amazing, I’ve certainly seen worse. I’ve always been able to find the products I was looking for before I ran out of patience.
There’s a free email newsletter with specials and such, and you can sign up for their “gardening club”, which gives you a discount on all purchases–since organic gardening products can get a bit expensive, this can be very handy. I can also log into my account and check all of my orders, including what was in them, what they cost me, when they were ordered, and when they shipped.
I swear by GA!’s compost boosters, as well as their vegetable fertilizer and acid-loving-bush fertilizer. Organic fertilizers tend to encourage the insects and microorganisms in your backyard to work with you instead of against you. If you want, you can even send in soil samples and they’ll custom-blend a fertilizer for your particular patch of land. The organic pest controls are similarly handy, killing the harmful bugs while generally leaving the good ones alone.
My Customer Service Story
But what has really sold me on GA! is the customer service. I’ve found that customer service in the gardening industry is very hit or miss, and it usually is a case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. I’ve had one company just not bother to tell me when they ran out of three separate items I’d ordered. Other companies send replies that don’t even answer the complaints they were sent. When you buy those ultra-cheap deals from basement-price bargain sellers, it’s usually for a reason–they have to cut costs somewhere, and it often seems like customer service is the first thing to go. GA!, however, has amazing customer service.
Last Fall they had an end-of-season special on compost boosters and vegetable fertilizer, two things I find useful. So I ordered both and put them on a shelf for the Spring planting. Last week I opened them up to use them, and was very surprised to find that they were infested. (The little buggers were even eating the cornstarch packing peanuts!) Out of a handful of orders, this is the first product I’ve ever had a problem with. And although I’ve never seen bugs quite like this up here, and hadn’t stored the items in an area where there should have been problems, I can’t be sure that the items actually came infested, particularly since it had been months since the delivery of the items.
Still, I figured it was worth approaching the company. I went to their web site to submit a customer service inquiry. I explained the problem, including the fact that I’d had the package since September and couldn’t exactly return it due to the infestation. I even said that I’d understand if they couldn’t replace the items given the time frame and the uncertainty as to whether they’d come infested, but that I’d thought it was worth asking. Their reply pretty much boiled down to, “okay, we’re shipping you a replacement.” (Except politer. And nicer.) Now that’s the kind of customer service it’s hard to get these days.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Their customer service is wonderful in other ways. You can actually get people who know what they’re doing on the phone to talk to you. We were having a problem with rose chafer and masked chafer beetles. Although the description on the web site for Pyola, an organic pesticide, mentioned that it worked on a variety of beetles, those two weren’t specifically mentioned in the list. I called the company, and they very quickly got someone on the phone who could tell me that yes, in fact, the product would work on my pests.
So yes, Gardens Alive! carries comparatively expensive products. That’s because you’re paying for more than just fertilizer or mulch or insecticide, however; you’re paying for the excellent, friendly customer service that will back up every order you make, and the very high quality of their products. Even though I don’t have much money to spend on the garden this year, I consider certain GA! products to be a necessary expense. See past the not-entirely-amazing navigation of the web site, and instead make use of all the fantastic information there. Read the articles. See that most of the products come with in-depth descriptions rather than your typical one-line summary. And enjoy the wonderful harvest you’ll get after using their products!
(This review sponsored by the ridiculously huge squash plants we grew last year.)