What was timeless is new again.

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This article was published 1/5/2020 (628 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What was timeless is new again.

Warm spring weather and sunny skies have convinced a new generation of people — suddenly with more time on their hands and nowhere to spend it except at home — to take up an activity as old as humanity: putting seeds in soil and waiting for them to grow into food.

Garden centre business blooming

Jarrett Davidson, president of T&T Seeds, says he sees orders from across Canada.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jarrett Davidson, president of T&T Seeds, says he sees orders from across Canada.

While vegetable seeds, bedding plants, garden tools and landscaping equipment haven’t been snapped up like toilet paper and hand sanitizer has during the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitoba greenhouses say this spring is as busy as ever.

T&T Seeds, which has a garden centre and greenhouse on Roblin Boulevard just outside Winnipeg’s city limits, has seen its seeds business skyrocket, as gardeners across Canada, not to mention Manitoba, are looking for productive ways to spend all their extra time at home.

The company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020, received an unprecedented number of orders for vegetable seed, shrubs and fruit trees, and on its website advises customers that online orders will ship in seven to 14 days.

While vegetable seeds, bedding plants, garden tools and landscaping equipment haven’t been snapped up like toilet paper and hand sanitizer has during the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitoba greenhouses say this spring is as busy as ever.

T&T Seeds, which has a garden centre and greenhouse on Roblin Boulevard just outside Winnipeg’s city limits, has seen its seeds business skyrocket, as gardeners across Canada, not to mention Manitoba, are looking for productive ways to spend all their extra time at home.

The company, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020, received an unprecedented number of orders for vegetable seed, shrubs and fruit trees, and on its website advises customers that online orders will ship in seven to 14 days.

The demand for seed — and adapting T&T’s garden-centre showroom to fall in line with social-distancing guidelines — has led to hiring 25 more people, adding to its usual spring complement of around 50 employees.

“We’re making sure we have the right signage so customers enjoy the shopping experience,” Davidson says of T&T’s plans, which include one-way aisle traffic similar to some Winnipeg grocery stores. “We know it’s going to be a lot different this year.”

How different? In March, Winnipeg’s garden centres feared for the worst, says Nicole Bent, co-owner of Shelmerdine.

Money had already been spent on plants, gardening equipment, landscaping goods and all the usual goods greenhouses sell in the spring. If garden centres and greenhouses were forced to close for May and June, owing to the pandemic, it would have been a major financial blow. Sixty per cent of Shelmerdine’s annual sales take place in a six-week period between Mother’s Day (May 10 this year) and Father’s Day (June 21), and much of what the garden centre sells — bedding plants, for instance — is perishable.

“It feels really good to be open again,” Bent says, remembering the uncertainty of March.

Shelmerdine already had an extensive online store and delivery, and added curbside pickup to ensure its products could find Winnipeg’s green thumbs. Like T&T, it also modified its garden centre to follow social-distancing regulations, turning its garden centre into four different pods that must be visited separately instead of being able to wander from area to area like past years.

“I think we’re going to have to keep this under control rather than throw it up for a free-for-all,” Bent says.

— Alan Small

That’s right. Gardening is having a growth spurt.

More people are taking up the pastime this spring for the all-too familar reasons: the COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home directives public health officials and governments have recommended to prevent the virus’s spread.

One of those new gardeners is Rachel Andrushuk, 28, who along with her partner, Danny Hacking, bought a house in the West End last October. One of the home’s selling points was its spacious backyard.

"I was planning on starting a garden before this all happened, and now I have more time to focus on it," says Andrushuk, who works with Creative Manitoba and is doing her job from home during the pandemic.

Last fall, Andrushuk’s idea to garden was focused on environmentalism as much as growing her own vegetables. She has plans to grow wildflowers to create a small habitat for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, and says it’s a privilege to work on a garden this year.

"I have always believed that we should be more mindful of what we eat and how we grow food. The pandemic is sort of a wake-up call for us to be stewards of the Earth," Andrushuk says. "I’ve been reading (the nature-writing book) Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and I hope to continue learning about the sacred relationship between humans and the Earth."

Rachel Andrushuk says the pandemic is a wake up call for people to be stewards of the Earth.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rachel Andrushuk says the pandemic is a wake up call for people to be stewards of the Earth.

Gardening skills are often passed down from generation to generation. The problem for new gardeners in 2020 is that isolation and social distancing are preventing that traditional way of showing youngsters the ropes.

"(I’m) missing the guidance and helping hands of my friends and family. I do not have a green thumb, so it’s going to be a learning experience, for sure," Andrushuk says. "I called my grandma for some tips and she laughed while telling me multiple stories of my grandpa failing at keeping the bunnies away."

May is always a busy time of year for greenhouses and landscaping companies in and around Winnipeg, answering questions and giving advice and providing gardening solutions. The demand is even greater this year, says Nicole Bent, co-owner of Shelmerdine Garden Centre on Roblin Boulevard.

Young cherry tomato plants are a big seller at T&T Seeds gardening centre.</p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Young cherry tomato plants are a big seller at T&T Seeds gardening centre.

Her advice to rookies? Keep it simple.

"I just tell people to start with what they like and what they enjoy," she says. "Don’t bite the whole apple right away. Build toward a lifetime of gardening."

Gardening has become a lifetime passion for Jeannette Adams, who lives in East St. Paul. She grew up on a farm near Langenburg, Sask., and discovered her green thumb at an early age.

In 2005, after years of growing gardens and learning something new about plants every year, she decided to go back to school. After taking home-study classes and doing volunteer work focusing on helping other gardeners, she earned her master gardener certificate in 2007. She’s one of the experts who answer gardening and landscaping questions at mgmanitoba.com, the Manitoba Master Gardener Association’s website.

The questions they’ve received from new gardeners are encouraging, Adams says, whether they are about large projects or growing a few tomato plants in a container on a condo balcony.

"It’s nice to see a lot of younger people and young families taking up gardening. Even retirees who have missed out are trying it," she says.

Naturally, Adams was already removing straw cover from her perennials in the last week of April, tidying up the yard and checking up on her small cold-frame greenhouse and the potential of a real treat — fresh, Manitoba-grown lettuce in the middle of May that she planted last fall.

Jeannette Adams, a master gardener who lives in East St. Paul, carries a tray of seedlings in her vegetable garden.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jeannette Adams, a master gardener who lives in East St. Paul, carries a tray of seedlings in her vegetable garden.

Visiting garden centres is also one of her rites of spring, where she picks up new ideas, and is revitalized by all the greenery on display. This year, though, she’s thinking about cutting back a bit, because her age group is susceptible to the worst effects of the coronavirus.

‘I’m in the 70-and-over age, and so is my husband. We’re physically healthy, but why push our luck," she says, lamenting the cancellation of master gardener plant clinics, owing to COVID-19. "I’ll probably only go to a couple of my favourite greenhouses (later on)."

Garden-centre visits also inspire fond memories of her sister Mel, who died a few years ago.

"This was usually a big event. For years, I’d take my sister to garden centres in May. That was my birthday present to her," Adams says.

The master gardener advises newcomers to prepare garden beds but wait — wait! — before putting seeds and bedding plants in the ground. It might be sunny in the early days of May but Manitoba’s fickle spring weather has burned many an eager beaver.

Master gardener Adams waters the winter garlic (planted last fall).</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Master gardener Adams waters the winter garlic (planted last fall).

"The May long weekend is the perfect time. We’ve had some snow in May, for heaven’s sake, and the first thing you know, those (early-seeded plants) are fried," Adams says, adding that tomatoes can wait even until early June, as they are most susceptible to a sudden frost.

Like Adams, other longtime gardeners would love to plant more but property size, not the pandemic, prevents them from expanding.

"I’ve pretty much expanded in our yard as much as I can. Our yard is getting fuller and fuller each season," says Jaymi Derrett, 60, who works for the province and learned to garden when her family moved to an acreage near Stony Mountain when she was a kid.

"The May long weekend is the perfect time (for planting). We’ve had some snow in May, for heaven’s sake, and the first thing you know, those (early–seeded plants) are fried." – Jeannette Adams

"I love spring. It’s good to see all the perennials coming up. Even if it’s a little chilly out, it’s good to get a breath of fresh air," she says from her home in Charleswood.

She says people are turning to gardening as a healthy way to ease the stress of the isolation Manitobans have been under for the past couple of months.

"I think people are pretty anxious," Derrett says. "People want to get outside and enjoy the benefits of being outside.

"Gardening is so relaxing, getting your hands in the soil... If you’ve done it yourself, it’s so rewarding to see it growing."

 

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter:@AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.