COVID-19 pandemic produces a bumper crop of novice gardeners

Whether it was growing their own food or beautifying the yard, gardening was hot in 2020

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Greenhouses, garden centres and nurseries experienced a year like no other in 2020 as first-time gardeners took up trowels and hoes in unprecedented numbers.

“Even if people had never planted before, they wanted to grow a garden,” said Tammy Meinecke, manager of Dunvegan Gardens in Grande Prairie. “Everybody was out planting seeds and trying to grow their own food.”

Many seemed almost in a panic situation at the beginning of the growing season, with Meinecke fielding a host of questions on how to garden, what to grow, and the basics of soil and watering.

“Any question you can think of, they asked,” she said.

Dunvegan Gardens completely sold out of all its gardening books, and it was hard to keep the store stocked with essentials.

“I was ordering all summer,” she said. “Usually, I order every couple of months because I get enough stock in, in the spring to last me, but I had to order every week. I was ordering seeds for my seed rack every week. I just couldn’t keep any seeds in stock.”

The greenhouse business was also booming.

“Even if people had never planted before, they wanted to grow a garden.” – Tammy Meinecke.
photo: Supplied

“People wanted their flowers this year because they were stuck at home so they wanted their house to look pretty,” said Meinecke. “Our greenhouse was empty by the end of June. It usually takes until August or September for it to be empty.”

Supply chain shortages made it very difficult to source fertilizer and chemicals over the summer, she added.

People wanted to plant their own food crops and even fruit and berry trees were hot sellers this past year, said Shelley Batdorf, owner of Pots ’n’ Pansies Greenhouses and Garden Centre in Barrhead.

Even apartment dwellers were getting in on the trend by growing food in hanging baskets on their decks and patios.

“We had quite a few who tried that,” said Batdorf. “There were quite a few also doing potatoes and carrots in pots. It was pretty cool. We sold a lot of salad stuff in hanging baskets.”

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There were more people coming out into the store this year, and Batdorf extended her season.

“Usually we’re done by mid-July and we just closed near the end of December,” she said.

Pots ’n’ Pansies started selling craft kits that people could pick up and do at home, such as wooden snowman craft kits.

“We’re out in the country, but we’re on 12.7 acres. People can come out and they have lots of room to themselves, and they can just come and enjoy themselves.”

Batdorf expects 2021 to be a busy year as well.

“A lot of seed companies have told us we should be putting in orders for our seed and usually we don’t do that until January/February,” she said last month. “Seed companies are expecting shortages of a lot of garden seeds. Our garden seeds are ordered already.”

The arrival of COVID-19 caused a lot of uncertainty, said Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens near Bon Accord.

The pandemic’s arrival was initially a financial blow but then it produced a boom in business, said Tam Andersen, owner of Prairie Gardens.
photo: Supplied

“We grow flowers for restaurant patios as part of our core business, and every order was cancelled within a week,” said Andersen. “We found ourselves wondering what on earth we were going to do.”

Things changed for the better when May came around and Prairie Gardens was allowed to open.

“We found — as all other greenhouses did — that people were staying home and gardening for the first time in their lives in some cases. We were busier this spring than we had been in the past 10 years.”

People were looking to the backyard garden as a source of both food and activity, she said.

Like Pots ’n’ Pansies, Prairie Gardens is also a tree nursery, and people began looking at fruiting trees and flowering shrubs for their backyards.

“They were rejuvenating their landscapes and turning them into landscapes that produced food,” said Andersen.

Prairie Gardens has been selling orchard packages online, which it has never done in the past.

“We’ve tried to build a nice repertoire of nice hardy fruit trees for growing in Alberta,” she said.

Customers depend a lot on the expertise of Andersen and her staff, and it’s a joy to coach new gardeners, she said.

“This is what we love to do. We’re not just a garden centre and greenhouse, we have 25 acres of market gardens. We grow so many different things and have so much experience that we’re able to give a lot of really good recommendations to people on what kind of cabbage they should plant, or how they should plant leeks or onions; all those crops they usually don’t mess around with.”

One thing in particular has changed during the COVID-19 era, said Andersen.

“People are looking to come and be outdoors and visit the farm. More than any other year, the experiences that we can offer people out at the greenhouse and at the farm are things they want and appreciate and want to share with their children.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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