HIS spectacular garden has amazed competition judges and rivals for years.

Michael Brooks has scooped the coveted Test Valley in Bloom front garden award, south section, for a staggering five years on the trot.

But now he fears the title could fall into the hands of a competitor - all because of the crisis in the Royal Mail's postal service.

Delays in deliveries mean plants destined for his garden in West Lane, North Baddesley, keep arriving dead.

Blooms from Thompson and Morgan plant catalogue, based in Guernsey, have been hanging around for so long in sorting offices that they have dried up by the time they arrive on his doorstep.

Mr Brooks, 70, has spent £185 on plants during the 2004 competition build-up - and £85 worth has already gone straight in the bin.

"Four parcels came the other day that were a week late," he said. "They can survive two or three days in the post, but not that long. I had to throw them out.

"It could affect my chances of winning again this year - the busy Lizzies were supposed to be planted in March but I'm still waiting for the replacements to be sent."

Royal Mail has been plunged into crisis since bosses introduced a massive belt-tightening exercise, scrapping the second post to save money.

Scores of readers have contacted the Daily Echo to tell similar stories of missing mail and late deliveries.

Postmen have threatened to quit the service and union bosses have dubbed the biggest shake-up for years a shambles.

A Royal Mail spokeman urged Mr Brooks to contact the customer helpline on 08457 740740.

She added: "We don't know how long we have had the plants or whether they were sent to us in that state. We will investigate this incident fully to try to find out what has happened."

Bosses have denied that post is arriving late. The changes mean it will arrive later in the day, but Royal Mail insists it is being delivered on the correct day.

What do you think of the post? Tell the Daily Echo by ringing Claire Moriarty on 023 8042 4495 or e-mailing claire.moriarty@soton-echo.co.uk.