Gardening boom as people have time on their hands

Liz Bell

DESPITE the gloom of business closures amidst the COVID-19 crisis, nurseries and garden centres around Gippsland are experiencing a boom in trade as residents seek a connection to nature and turn to more holistic hobbies such as gardening.

Food security might be at the forefront of the minds of some new gardeners, but others are simply making the most of more time on their hands and an opportunity to get the kids out into the fresh air.

Mitch Smith and Cath McInnes from Woolenook Native Plant Nursery have been working overtime to keep up with demand, as a run on stock outstrips supply.

Mr Smith said the gardening craze began with people just buying shrubs and small plants to improve their home gardens, but now farmers with time on their hands were getting their windbreaks completed and revegetation projects underway. Vegetable seedlings and seeds were also hot property, with people involving the kids in gardening projects and outdoor education experiences.

“In the last few days we’ve sold 600 to 700 trees, mainly gum trees and wattle, as farmers find they’ve got time to do things they don’t usually get around to,” he said.

Of course, due to social distancing requirements phone orders are preferred and customers are able to stay in their cars to collect purchases.

Mr Smith said vegetables and ‘bush tucker’ plants were now selling like crazy, as people worried about food security and fresh produce.

“We’ve been selling 25 trays of 10, so 250 punnets a week compared to our usual 25 punnets a week,” he said.

“It was a bit tricky at first because we were not geared up for this, but we have a great local supplier and have increased our orders,” he said.

Zara Kent from Loch Sport Hardware and Garden Centre said people had been buying “absolutely everything” and using the time to redo driveways, garden paths and undertake large outdoor renovations.

“It has been so busy we have had trouble keeping up with our stock,” she said.

“We are generally a holiday spot, but these past few weeks have been as busy as our holiday sales – it has been incredible.”

Ms Kent said she would have had trouble enforcing social distancing requirements inside the small store, so a temporary set up for purchases had been installed outside.

Michael Van Berkel from Grow Master, Sale, said it had been one of the busiest seasons in the centre’s decades-long history, with vegetable stock sold out by the end of most days.

“We are buying in massive amounts of plants and seedlings, but they just go, every week,” Mr Van Berkel said.

“It hasn’t slowed down since it started a few weeks ago – people are telling us they have time to be outside so they want to get out in the garden and grow food.”

It seems the trend to garden in times of food insecurity and hardship has a long history, with research showing it is similar to World War 2 and “victory gardening”, when people grew food at home to support the war effort.