When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.
— Minnie Aumonier
Nurseries are among the few local businesses that have blossomed this spring. While fear of the pandemic may have ravaged the mind, it was planting that revitalized the soul.
Roadside gardening shops and nurseries were at first nervous that they may have overplanted. That was not the case.
“It’s been a busy spring,” said Becky Murphy, the daughter of Jim and Sue Boice, who own the multi-generational Boice’s Farm in Saugerties. In fact, nursery workers were so busy they had to answer questions while guiding customers to various plants and shrubs for which they were looking.
“But in March, we didn’t even know if we would be able to open, if people would be able to come out,” said Murphy “We placed a self-serve table outside with cold-weather vegetables, herbs and pansies for two to or three weeks, and then in April we were open and busy.”
All the nurseries have afety protocols in place, with masks being used and social-distancing signs posted. They also have all been selling vegetables as though people had been preparing for the Last Supper.
“We’ve sold so many vegetables seeds and plants,” said Gary Taylor, who owns Taylor’s Greenhouses, a small mom-and-pop nursery out of his house on North Ohioville Road in New Paltz. “All of a sudden people became very concerned about where their food was coming from. They came here and asked how to go about planting vegetables and growing their own garden, and we were here to help and answer questions. I always say that a person eats 21 meals per week on average, and if a plant eats just twice a week, they’ll be very happy and healthy. You have to feed your plants.”
Victoria Coyne, owner of Victoria Gardens nursery and landscaping business in Rosendale, concurred. “We had some health issues, and so we closed the store in March and self-isolated,” she said. “When we opened back up, it was just me here working, mostly, and I could not believe how many vegetable seed packets and seedlings we were selling. People were frightened and wanted to grow their own food.”
People are nesting
Coyne has been in business since 1986. “In the beginning, when we first opened back up, I almost cried when I would sell someone a tree,” she remembered. “I was emotional. I thought it was such a beautiful human response to this situation, to want to plant something and put your hands in the dirt.”
Coyne said that sales in every department are up 60 percent from the last year. “I’ve never sold so many fruit trees in my life! People are nesting; they’re building their little sanctuaries. I can’t wait to see these gardens people have created or added onto in three years. The third year of a garden is when it really peaks.”
Murphy said that vegetables and herbs were the first things to fly out of the nursery. “There was a lot of fear, and I think that people would rather buy parsley in a pot from a local farm like ours than risk going into a grocery store,” she said. “When we saw how many vegetables and herbs we were selling, we realized we had to do a second planting of things like tomatoes and peppers.”
“We’ve seen a lot of new faces,” said Taylor. “I hope we see them again next year. I’m hopeful that this is something that makes them realize how important it is to support your local businesses. They couldn’t even get seeds at the big-box stores like Lowe’s. That supply chain was all backed up, but we had fresh, organic seeds and vegetables grown right here.”
Gardening provides joy
Beyond local residents’ immediate desire to be more self-sufficient with growing their own food and their trust in locally known and established farms and nurseries, there was also a second wave of longing: to beautify the place where they lived. People were asked to shelter in place. Some were furloughed or lost their jobs. Others have been working from home. There’s a new emphasis on making indoor and outdoor living spaces more functional, beautiful and comfortable.
“People began to really look at their homes and spend time in them and wanted to create their own little sanctuaries,” explained Coyne. “I think we’re all going to spend more time reflecting on what ‘home’ means to us. The great thing about gardening is that you can do it in a pot or in a lawn. Whatever space you have, you can find a way to grow something. Potting soil is what’s really hard to come by now. It’s the new toilet paper!”
The local nurseries are looking to the future. They hope the present trends are here to stay. “We are definitely seeing a lot of traffic and new faces and people who are just starting out,” said Murphy. “We try and help people and answer as many questions as they have, and give them whatever advice we can. There will always be struggles and setbacks with gardens, but there is also so much joy. We want people to be successful and to love learning about gardening, because that means they’ll keep coming back.”