Food producers and novice gardeners flock to garden centers

Spring has arrived and empty store shelves in the aftermath of coronavirus closings appear to have spurred gardeners’ desire to build their own food stores as local nurseries brace for a high demand for fruit and vegetable starters and seeds. .

Ara Lynn, owner of Amazing Flower Farm in New Ipswich, said on Tuesday that their opening weekend of business this Saturday saw almost as many customers as a traditional opening day – and many more new customers than usually.

Amazing Flower Farm is handing out loyalty cards to its customers, Lynn said, and 26% of the cards given out so far are going to first-time buyers. It’s unusually high, she says.

Many of these first-time buyers are looking to start producing gardens.

Lynn said she and her staff anticipated the increase in demand as early as March – as other nurseries may have, too, because when she went to her stock suppliers there had already been a run. on vegetable seeds, so much so that his two main suppliers had only a few left and one of them had announced that he was only taking commercial orders because of demand.

“I was pretty shocked. It’s never happened before, ”Lynn said.

Prepare for demand

Beth Coll of Coll’s Garden Center and Florist in Jaffrey said they have reached out to their growers and added additional fruit orders, in addition to the orders they have pre-booked, and said they are ready to cope. expected increase in demand. .

Maureen Vaillancourt, owner of Mason Brook Nursery in Mason, said the mature fruit trees and berry shrubs at the nursery are in high demand right now and that she is also seeing many gardeners for the first time.

“Business on this side will be better than normal,” said Vaillancourt. “I think people always want to be able to feed their families. It is a point of interest for people.

Vaillancourt said she plans her summer plantings with this in mind and overall plants less, especially when it comes to decorative plants such as flowers.

Coll said she, too, would be cautious about her flower orders. The Garden Center expects to receive its first delivery of perennial flowers next week, she said, and it doesn’t yet know what the demand will be, so it’s being cautious in its estimates.

“I take it day by day. I’ll be careful about it, ”said Coll. “I think we’ll have to take it slow and be careful about planning non-essentials. We’ll just have to see how the economy is doing.

Coll’s also provides cut flowers, she said, and while there have been major successes in the spring business with the cancellation of proms, weddings and soon graduation ceremonies, Coll has said the daily cut flower sales are rapid, with many people sending flowers to boost the spirits of friends and family.

Mardi Poliquin, of Daffodils Flowers & Gifts in Jaffrey, said she also has lots of daily activities.

“We are so busy. Everyone sends flowers because they can’t be near their people, ”Poliquin said. “Flowers mean a lot to people. ”

Poliquin said she still receives orders for events like weddings and funerals, although these are smaller bouquets as events shrink.

“There’s a cut there,” she said.

But while there weren’t the usual big Easter celebrations, Poliquin said the store still sees plenty of holiday orders as families who normally get together send flowers instead. The store is already receiving orders for Mother’s Day, which is another big day for sending flowers.

“I think Mother’s Day this year is going to be busier than ever because some people can’t be with their mom,” Poliquin said. But they still want to show they care, and flowers are one way they can send that message.

Poliquin said she was unsure how cancellations of events like prom and graduation would impact her springtime, but said people might find their own way to celebrate. The advent of baby showers behind the wheel, where individuals drop gifts and say hello rather than attending a rally, means she still receives orders for these types of events, she said. Something similar may evolve as high school and high school students become clear about what the end of their school year looks like.

“I just have to take it day to day,” Poliquin said. “I can’t say what the next vacation will be like. It’s just a weird time.

Others have said they are cautious about their flower offerings, expecting less demand this year.

“A lot of people are on a budget,” said Vaillancourt. “And they may not be willing to spend on flowers when they are willing to spend on vegetables.”

But Abby MacFarland, owner of Wilton’s House by the Side of the Road, said her business, which doesn’t close during the winter months, is booming and customers come looking for all kinds of plants.

“We saw a lot of people for everything,” she said. “It’s been incredibly busy. We would be very busy on the weekends, but now it seems like every day is like the weekend.

MacFarland said its seed shelves are constantly emptying, but people are also buying houseplants and shrubs.

“A woman bought several houseplants and said, ‘My room is going to be a jungle after this, but I don’t care.’ People want life right now, and there are all kinds of lives, ”said MacFarland.

Shrubs and hedges are also in great demand, MacFarland noted, with some people looking to separate from their neighbors.

Lots of beginners

“We see a lot of people who haven’t cultivated gardens, or not for years. They see the value in it, when they worry that they won’t be able to depend on stores for what they need, ”said Coll.

MacFarland said she has seen gardening books climb to the top of Amazon sales over the past few weeks and knows she is going to be getting a lot of newbies.

This can lead to first-time mistakes, she said, as people are a little overzealous with their seed purchases.

“I don’t think they know how many cucumbers they’re going to get out of a bundle,” she said. “But it’s a learning process. Everything will be alright.

Lynn said educating people about the plants she sells is just part of the business, and something she always has done. She had to educate clients about certain growth cycles, such as the fact that it is far too early to plant subsequent crops such as cucumber and squash seeds.

Vaillancourt said that with the new gardeners there was a lot of demand for compost and potting soil, and she expects, like fruit and vegetable starters, they will be in high demand this spring.

Vaillancourt said she was just happy that customers are walking in the door and that she hopes demand remains high across the board, but said that with the demand trend towards food products, garden centers should make less profit than usual. There is simply less profit margin on them than flowers or high end items such as shrubs or decorative trees.

“All you can do is hope that people will come and want other things as well,” she said.

Sharing with the community

The demand for seeds has spilled over beyond the commercial realm. The Jaffrey Public Library has operated a “seed library” for four years, according to library director Julie Perrin. When the library was functioning normally, the seed library lived in an old card catalog, and people could choose for themselves up to five seed packets to help them create a garden.

Demand for this service has not diminished, according to Perrin. The library just found a new way to fill it.

“With the [library’s] closure, we were faced with this dilemma. People were asking for seeds, and more importantly, we had seeds.

The library had previously received grants to support the program and had ordered bulk seed envelopes, which library staff and volunteers from the Conant High School Interact Club helped break up into smaller packages.

This year, the seed library program received more grants and donations than in the other three years the library hosted it. And received more requests than ever.

“With the threat of food security, for all kinds of reasons, it seemed important to let people know about them,” Perrin said.

In April, the library sent around 800 seed packets to 90 of its patrons. Residents filled out an online order form to request seeds. They can select specific seed varieties, but could indicate the type of garden they are growing, such as container or field gardens, to ensure that the selected seeds could work for their installation.