We knew pandemic gardening was going to be big, as garden seeds flew off the racks faster than toilet paper evaporating from shelves at the local Walmart. The pandemic’s early stages coincided with spring, causing a planting frenzy unseen for generations.
Will the gardening trend continue?
Gardening made history this spring, evidenced by Burpee Seed Co. selling more seed in March than any time in their 144-year history. Johnny’s Selected Seed noted a 270% increase in normal spring sales. Stokes Seed Co. sold four times its normal quantity of gardening products.
The coronavirus set off a global gardening boom that’s been compared to the Victory Gardens of World Wars I and II, in which American and British citizens grew food to support the war effort and to feed their families. As this year’s pandemic caused localized shortages of food and fresh produce, even though temporary, more people desired to have greater control over their food supply through gardening.
This year saw greater participation in community gardening, the rise of boulevard and vacant lot gardens, and gardens planted for the sole purpose of donating to others in need.
Better control of one’s food supply wasn’t the only reason for this year’s gardening rush. People have frequently turned to the soil in times of trouble. As COVID-19 caused a need for social distancing, gardening provided contact with something real. The smell of soil and flowers, the taste of herbs and fresh produce, and the feel of warm sunshine provided stability in an otherwise unreal world.
Attending virtual online sessions does not immerse us in reality the way gardening does. Rutgers University professor Joel Flagler described the situation well. “There are certain very stabilizing forces in gardening that can ground us when we are feeling shaky, uncertain and terrified. It’s these predictable outcomes and predictable rhythms of the garden that are very comforting right now.”
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Nursery Management Magazine’s December issue shared results of research conducted by Minneapolis-based Axiom Marketing. The survey indicated that half of those who gardened this year did so as a way to get out of the house, relieve stress, provide security and for something to do while sticking close to home. Overwhelmingly, most were also gardening to add beauty to their surroundings. Balcony gardening and houseplant popularity also surged.
With increased popularity came an increased demand for gardening information and education. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported a 50% increase in viewership to its long-running “Backyard Farmer” gardening show. The University of Minnesota’s Master Gardener program saw double to triple the usual number of people reaching out with questions.
Closer to the Fargo area, once the spring pandemic began, my own North Dakota State University Extension-Cass County office fielded triple the number of gardening calls and emails compared to the same time period the previous year.
Success stories were plentiful, and gardeners shared what they grew. For example, NDSU Extension’s Cass County Master Gardener initiative, Veggies for the Pantry, collected and donated over 14,000 pounds of fresh produce to local food pantries — double the amount of the previous year.
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Will the gardening trend continue? Axiom's research reported that 80% of those surveyed felt they were successful in this year’s gardening efforts. In the 19-40 age group, 80% indicated they would plant even more next year. Of those 40-55, 64% plan to increase plantings.
At least in the near future, prospects look good for continued gardening activity, especially as a younger age group became involved in gardening, many for the first time. Of gardeners aged 19-29 in Axiom’s reporting, 49% said they were planning to spend even more time gardening in future seasons.
Through pandemics and past wars, we've needed all the help we can get — and gardening continues to serve as a trusty friend.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.