Home gardening has seen an amazing surge of interest in these demanding times, and the horticultural industry is rising to meet the challenges. Hartley greenhouses are now back into production after a month’s hiatus; mail-order nurseries are hustling to keep up with orders; and local garden centers are figuring out how to safely serve their customers’ needs. Here are some strategies to help you enjoy the peace and calm gardening can bring in the face of uncertainty—whether you take care of a few houseplants, tend some vegetables on a sunny balcony, or garden several acres.
Online catalog companies were in a good position to meet the rising demands. Orders have seen an uptick, says Becky Heath, CEO of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia. With the changing times, she tells me that everything has been done to keep their employees healthy in terms of distancing and cleaning. “We’re diligent, or we won’t be in business,” she says.
Sometimes the surge can be overwhelming. Oregon’s Territorial Seed Company had to take time off to catch up with the avalanche of orders and has now reopened. Seeds are available from many sources—some may have shortages, but now is the time for experimentation and discovery. Even if you prefer to personally touch your prospective plants, give mail-order a try.
Speaking of not touching, throughout the U.S., independent garden centers are pivoting to offer curbside pickup when buyers can’t come in. The state of Michigan has just allowed garden center employees to return to work with strict guidelines for safety. In Pennsylvania, Froehlich’s Farm and Garden has had an excellent website for no-contact pickups. Soon, they will be open for in-house customers too.
In Oregon, Greg Clift, co-owner with his wife Tamara, of McKenzie River Nursery offered phone-order with curbside pickup as soon as their business opened at the end of March. It’s been very successful. “For one thing, we grow our own vegetable starts, so we had a good supply. And we know our product well enough that it made it easy to pull plants.” Plus, they’ve been in business since 1968, so they know what their customers want.
The take away—call your independent growers near you, and even if they haven’t got a website up, they may be able to take phone orders. Some could have a minimum order rule—it’s hard to spend a lot of employee time pulling seed packets that add up to less than five dollars, so understand that curbside pickup does carry a cost. And perhaps, by the time you read this, more states will allow in-person shopping in the fresh air with appropriate social distancing.
Gardening is about resiliency—and that’s reflected in the business of horticulture. As Becky Heath says, “Every morning when I open my eyes, and everything is still functioning, I’m happy and grateful.”
That’s how we all want to feel right now.