From the Ground Up
Putting down roots
As COVID’s restrictions curtailed activities last year, people looked to new and familiar hobbies to enrich their lives. One hobby that many turned to was gardening. New and experienced gardeners found that digging into the soil and nursing plants into bloom engendered a sense of calm, made their home and temporary workspace more inviting, and gave them a way to let loved ones and friends they couldn’t see in person know they were thinking of them.
“The pandemic has increased the interest of current gardeners and plant hobbyists and jumpstarted a newfound appreciation for gardening in those that are doing it for the first time,” says EMILY KRUEGER, owner of Reggie’s Veggies and Plants. “The pandemic allowed people who normally didn’t have time to garden to finally start that garden they dreamed of.”
Though it looks like things are returning to a more normal state, gardening is still flourishing. And, the trend appears to be crossing generational lines. It’s not just the middle-aged or elderly who are tenderly tending their plants. Millennials and zoomers are just as likely to be planting and checking plants for new growth as their elders.
TIPS FROM THE GROWER: PLAYING IN THE DIRT
“My advice for those wanting to grow plants would be to prepare your garden soil areas first and observe your lighting throughout the day, even in different seasons. Growing takes lots of patience, time, and care, but it’s so worth the time invested. Seeing growth, change, and a happy plant is worth the effort. … When growing plants in shady areas, it’s important to get your soil right and to choose the correct plant for the space.
Some plants require full shade, while some may like part shade and need just a couple hours of morning sun. Good draining soil is key as without sun, the soil dries out not as quickly. Hostas, hydrangeas, heuchera, and fatsia, elephant ears (Colocasia and Alocasia) are all great shade/part-shade perennials. … Plants that require little maintenance are ornamental grasses, shrubs, and flowering perennials such as salvia. Portulaca are great flowering annuals that don’t require constant watering in our hot summers.”
-Emily Krueger, Reggie’s Veggies and Plants owner
While plenty of these gardeners are planting vegetable and flower gardens, Krueger says indoor gardening is the most popular.
All types of plants are in demand, but indoor plants such as cacti, monsteras, and rare philodendrons are the most sought after, adds SARAH MERTZ, owner of Plant Outpost. Requests for cut flowers are also up, says ASHLEY JOHNSON, owner of Foxhound Flower Farm.
To get their plants, gardeners buy online as well as frequent retail stores and nurseries. Johnson, for example, has seen a significant increase in those using her flower subscription service. Mertz adds that gardeners often shop online to find flowers they can’t get locally.
“I have tons of friends who are into more rare plants, and they are getting them shipped from overseas, from Indonesia and places like that,” she says.
The high interest in gardening is accompanied by a high need for information. While some gardeners choose to learn from experience, many have a lot of questions and want to make the most informed choices for their plant investments, says Krueger. Those gardeners are flocking to in-person and online workshops as well as checking out websites such as the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Facebook gardening groups.
“People are constantly reaching out and asking questions or advice,” Mertz says. “With the web, people have access to gardening information at all times.”
Another trend, which affects those who are growing outside gardens, is sustainable gardening, according to Krueger.
These gardeners are looking for organic composts and flowers that bring pollinators; organic options to prevent disease; and bug sprays that won’t hurt the bees, butterflies, or environment.
TIPS FROM THE GROWER: KNOW YOUR LIGHT
“Indoor plants that can tolerate low light: sansevieria (snake plants), Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant), Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), or calatheas. Better for bright-light areas of the house: cacti, aloe, jade, and palms.”
– Sarah Mertz, Plant Outpost owner
Outside gardeners are also buying actual predatory bugs such as ladybugs and praying mantises to release into the garden to ward off the bad bugs such as aphids, Krueger adds.
The downside to the high interest in gardening is that plants and flowers are more difficult to come by these days. Demand is one reason for the shortage. Johnson says she could have grown five more greenhouses to meet the current need for flowers.
The call for plants and flowers is also at a peak level because people are holding events they canceled last year. As an example, florists are supplying flowers for two or three weddings a weekend. Adding to the problem is the fact that some plant farms have shut down.
Transportation, or its lack, also contributes to the flower and plant deficit. Some suppliers have the plants, but trucks are booked for two weeks, so it’s difficult to get their plants to customers, Mertz says.
However, if you want to give gardening a try, don’t let the plant shortage stop you. There are thousands of plants, and experts can guide you to plants you will like.
Mertz recommends that new gardeners start small, with one or two plants they have researched, and make sure they have the right lighting in their home for the plants.
Also, while beginning gardeners will want to look for easy-to-care-for but beautiful plants, experienced gardeners will want to add some unique and hard-to-find plants to their current collections, advises Krueger. Advanced gardeners can also experiment with landscaping, adding stones to their gardens and expanding their garden in other unique ways.
Finally, Johnson says no one should be afraid of gardening.
“Flowers and plants only need a little tender loving care to thrive,” she says. “They are hardy.
TIPS FROM THE GROWER: CUTTING GARDEN
“If you want to create your own flower garden that blooms throughout the seasons and provides you with a variety of plants that you can snip from to bring in your home and enjoy, the first thing I would recommend is to have a good mix of perennials and annuals.
Blooming perennials like viburnum and columbine are a good backbone to any flowering garden and fill in the gaps between the productive annuals like snapdragons and zinnias. One trick to having a beautiful spring flower garden in our climate is to plant cold hardy annuals in the fall rather than spring.
Spring staples on our farm like snapdragons, nigella, larkspur, and orlaya are cold tolerant and actually like the cooler weather to get established. In late spring as these annuals start to fade in your garden, you can easily replace them with heat lovers like zinnias, cosmos, and nicotania – a favorite of mine and the pollinators. Johnny’s Seeds is a great source for high-quality seeds and unique flower varieties. They also provide all the growing info you need on the back of each seed packet – this is important to read!”
-Ashley Johnson, Foxhound Flower Farm owner
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
To view more of photographer Aris Harding’s work, go to arisharding.com.
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