Gardens on the rise due to COVID-19

The grass is green, birds are chirping, temperatures are rising and it is hard to resist putting on some gardening gloves and digging a spade into the soil to plant a seed. The COVID-19 pandemic is here, but so is spring and it has been turning thumbs green left and right.

George Ball, chairman and owner of the Burpee Seed Company, the only garden seed company that is dominant in retail seeds in stores and direct marketing to consumers, said he has been astounded by the number of people who have started gardening in the midst of the global health situation.

“If there was ever something that motivates people to garden, it’s the combination of a lot of time on your hands and springtime,” he said. “When people were furloughed or in some cases, let go, they went home and suddenly they’re living with their yard in a way they’ve never lived with it before. The days started getting longer on the 19th of March, it couldn’t have been better timing. So suddenly people are seeing their yard and they’re seeing it come to life, and that motivates people to garden. It just fell into the lap, gardening, you might say.”

Ball said the sudden desire to garden and plant seeds was so extreme, the 139-year-old company ran low on packaged seed. It had to suspend incoming sales and stop receiving new orders for five business days the week of Easter in order to package new seed.

“We’ve seen a massive increase in orders, and I know that there are a large percentage of these people who are going to remain gardeners,” Ball explained. “I’ve seen increases in phone calls by 75%—it’s just unbelievable. Gardening has an emotional side, and it’s more emotional than I’ve ever seen it before. And if these people are getting to the extent where they’re calling us or emailing us, I know they’re committed emotionally to starting a garden and getting into it and we try to give them as much coaching as we can to make them successful.”


Why gardening?

Several ingredients came together to start this onslaught of gardening; as Ball mentioned, springtime arrived, people were all of a sudden stuck at home, but gardening is also a therapeutic, relaxing and useful hobby. Some people have mentioned starting a garden out of motivation for food security during the run on grocery stores, however, Ball said that is a relatively small reason people have been so into gardening lately.

“The overwhelming reason is this benefit of gardening rather than a safety of gardening,” Ball said. “I don’t think there’s any question that it’s the pleasure and the comfort—part of the comfort might be security—but the deep satisfaction of gardening is a group of benefits and virtues. When you’re reading, listening, seeing all this stuff about people dying, this is something that creates a psychological negative effect, and there is nothing like the beauty of the garden to make you forget all that. I call it a green, leafy lining.”

Ball said money also enters into the equation for people who have been let go.

“One of the reasons people often tell me that they garden is to save money. It actually does, because the quality of the vegetables is so much better, that your children will eat one vegetable entirely and you don’t buy so much. There really is no comparison between the quality of homegrown vegetables versus the best store-bought vegetables. When kids are eating out of the garden, it’s amazing how motivated they are to take another bite of a vegetable. The garden just radiates benefits.”

Although the pandemic has, undoubtedly, been a tragedy that will not soon be forgotten, perhaps some newcomers to gardening will gain an enlightening from their newfound hobby, and become life-long gardeners.

“For those people who have been raised in urban environments, this is absolutely going to familiarize them with precisely where food comes from,” Ball said. “A lot of people don’t know that a seed is alive. It’s an extraordinary thing, but they don’t understand that seeds in packets are just dormant. We can open up a whole new dimension of life, and for kids or adults, if you don’t know that, it’s one of the greatest things to learn.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or [email protected].