Restaurants, stores and other businesses lost customers and money and even closed permanently during the pandemic, but local garden centers have been growing their business.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 20 million Americans planted a vegetable garden for the first time, according to a survey by Alabama-based Bonnie Plants, a national supplier of vegetable and herb plants.
Others planted their first flower gardens and trees.
The result has been a home gardening boom.
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“That’s probably the biggest understatement of the last couple years,” said Josh Skarzenski, owner of Stan’s Garden Center, with locations on Buffalo Road and West Ridge Road. “Last year was the biggest year in our history.”
The business was founded in 1954.
“And it’s not just here but industry-wide. A number of owners have paid off their debt or been able to retire early,” Skarzenski said.
Garden center owners are optimistic for another good year this year.
“From an owner’s perspective, I put it all out there, as if I were playing cards at a casino,” Skarzenski said. “I bet the farm on this year with more production by double-digit percentages than we have ever put out there before.”
And the indications are that the gamble will pay off.
“A lot of people walking through and window shopping makes me think that when the weather turns, it will be another banner year,” Skarzenski said.
Growing food, flowers and peace of mind
Gardening is helping people cope with the stresses and anxieties of the pandemic, according to “Gardening DuringCOVID-19: Experiences from Gardeners Around the World,” a survey by the University of California-Davis with responses from more than 3,700 gardeners in the United States, Germany and Australia.
More than half of those gardeners said they felt isolated, anxious and depressed during the early days of the pandemic and that working in their gardens helped them relax.
“Connection to nature, relaxation and stress relief were by far the biggest reasons cited” for gardening, said Allessandro Ossola, an assistant professor of plant sciences at UCD.
Others planted gardens to grow vegetables, berries and other foods that might not always be available at grocery stores due to supply chain issues during the pandemic. Eighty-one percent of gardeners had concerns about food access, according to the survey.
And people working at home, minus commutes, simply had more time to garden.
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Grow-and-sell business is blooming
Locally owned garden centers grow most of what they sell, and so have been immune to major supply chain issues during the pandemic. Only soil, packing and protective materials have been harder to get or more expensive through the pandemic and have increased some consumer costs. But even soaring shipping prices haven’t stunted the industry’s growth.
It’s been hard to keep up with sales, said Colyn Johnston, of Johnston Evergreen Nursery and Garden Center on Wales Road. The business was founded in 1953.
“We’ve been a lot more busy, primarily because more people are home, want to be more self-sufficient and maybe want to block off their neighbors a little,” Johnston said.
“Normally our stock lasts through spring and summer, but the last couple years we’ve been selling out early, months before a lot of people get out to grow things,” he said.
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Sales at Scotland Yards Greenhouse on Fry Road in Edinboro have been up at least 30% through the pandemic, said owner Julie Marchese.
“We were busy every day, and plant materials sold out really quickly,” Marcese said.
Edibles, including more unusual berries, also have been in demand.
“People are getting more into elderberries, currants and black raspberries, things that aren’t just same old,” Marchese said. “I’m guessing it’s because people not only are home more but are doing a lot more reading about gardening.”
Scotland Yards has been in business since 1990.
Even hanging baskets of flowers have been in demand, maybe just to dispel pandemic gloom.
“We have about 20,000 hanging baskets to sell each year, and never before in our history sold out of every one on the property, but we did that in 2020,” Skarzenski said.
Growers have not been entirely immune to pandemic
The pandemic has taken some toll on the gardening industry, primarily in material and shipping costs.
“Soil prices, believe it or not, are driven by the oil market, so that cost has gone up,” Skarzenski said. “Plastic prices are up double-digits, and for a lot of tree material that we get from other states, the freight cost is almost unfathomable.”
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Plastic pots and poly film used on greenhouse roofs in fall and winter not only are more expensive but have to be ordered months earlier than normal for timely delivery, growers said.
And some staples just are too costly or not available.
“Normally we have different colored pots for plants in different price ranges, but we just can’t do that this year,” Marchese said. “Handles for hanging baskets have also been hard to get.”
Still, business has been good and may keep on blooming as newbie gardeners continue to plant and as others join their ranks.
“Someone told me 20 or 30 years ago that flowers and candy are recession-proof, that even during the recession they made it work. And I think that’s true,” Marchese said.