The floribunda rose ‘Lavaglut’ is considered to be a disease resistant rose. Photo by Rich Baer.

Gardeners, stores and events emerge with confidence

As we enter year three with COVID-19 and its variants raging around us, garden centers have made the necessary adaptations to serve customers.

When the pandemic first hit, there was much confusion, and rightly so because we have never been in a situation like this. Many garden centers closed their doors temporarily so they could make the necessary adjustments and legally be open for business. Customers also had to change the way in which they shopped due to social distancing, masks, and in many cases, reduced business hours.

The gardening community is also recuperating. Gardening events and meetings are beginning to become live once more. While the majority are still on Zoom, it is refreshing to see live meetings and events occurring. The Portland Rose Society has returned to having in-person meetings at Oaks Park, and the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival in Seattle is scheduled for February, along with the Portland Home & Garden Show at the end of the month. All of these events are indoors, and there are certain protocols to be followed, but they are resuming.

Sadly, Plant Nerd Night has been canceled for the second straight year. Since it is held indoors and people are in such close proximity to one another, it seemed impossible to achieve the desirable degree of social distancing Hopefully, the 20th anniversary of Plant Nerd Night can happen next year.

Two large outdoor events are still scheduled; Hortlandia, the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon’s plant and garden art sale, is scheduled for April 1 and  2 at the Hillsboro Westside Commons, formerly known as Washington County Fairgrounds. What’s more, the Clackamas County Master Gardeners’ Spring Garden Fair in Canby will be held April 30 and May 1.

Buying habits have changed, too
For the most part, garden centers are open for regular hours and customers — with social distancing requirements — can browse as they normally would. What has changed, and sometimes in a phenomenal way, are the categories of plants that have risen in popularity.

Here’s what I expect to see as we head into the spring of 2022:

  • House plants will continue to be a high-demand commodity. Many garden center personnel have told me that when they thought the demand had peaked, they were wrong —it continued upward. Even high prices for specialty specimens were not a deterrent. With more people working from home and continuing to do so, the house plant demand should continue.
  • The demand for roses will continue to rise. Perhaps gardeners are remembering gardens from their past, and in most cases, there were always roses present. Another factor in the demand for roses is that many of the newer introductions have been developed for disease resistance. Roses lost some of their luster with their tendency to develop diseases, and now that issue has been diminished.
  • Some people are ordering roses in advance. To encourage early sales and to provide an extra customer service bonus, some garden centers are displaying on their websites the roses they will be offering and allowing customers to order ahead, so they can be assured of getting the rose that they want.
  • Vegetable seeds continue to be in high demand. When COVID-19 and the lockdown first appeared, the increased sales of vegetable seeds took us all by surprise. This continued even more so in 2021, and there is no sign that it is diminishing for 2022. Gardeners, and even non-gardeners, are concerned about the food supply because there is no sign that is getting better. For many, this was their first time with a vegetable garden, and even with some failures, the process was usually positive.
  • Vegetable starts will also remain very popular. Not everyone has the patience to start seeds, especially those that need to be started indoors, such as tomatoes. Stores have had difficulty keeping tomato starts in stock because of the high demand. Heirloom tomato plants were sought after, and it was almost as though the word “heirloom” would take people back in time to less stressful periods.
  • New plant varieties also look to stay popular, especially those developed by Oregon State University (OSU). These are perceived, and often rightly so, to be developed for our climate and would thus thrive here. Signage is very helpful in letting customers know which plants were created by OSU, because it adds extra confidence to their selection for being successful in their gardening experience.

Color, wildlife and stress relief

Plants with color provide a bright spot in these challenging times. Garden centers have found that instead of just having display pots of color to show off the plants, many customers wanted to buy the display “as is.” It was easier to buy the complete pot with plants rather than to make it up themselves. With apartment and condominium dwellers, space is often limited. Having an instant display of color is practical and desirable.

Plants to attract wildlife are also popular. The wildlife is usually what I call the “3-Bs”: birds (especially hummingbirds), bees, and butterflies. I recommend gardeners seek out the assistance of a salesperson to be sure they are getting the right mix of plants for their particular area. However, these plants often give gardeners the desired results fairly quickly. For example, salvia is often in bud or bloom at the time of purchase, and the flowers will readily (and visibly) attract hummingbirds and bees to the garden.

There are so many reasons to visit your local garden center. Plants provide individuals with a purpose and can often be a stress reliever. Many people find that tending to a garden of any type, big or small, definitely provides physical and mental relief.

I love to see people get excited about gardening again, whether outside or inside their home. Garden centers are great places to find attractive, inventive displays that will invite, stimulate, and excite your passion for gardening.

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