Gardening in Lockdown

2020 has been an unusual year and as a consequence of  the Covid-19 situation the need to be creative has flourished and many people have seen their possibilities in their gardens. But to practice Gardening in Lockdown, might not always be as easy as you think, it has been a challenge in itself. I this article, Gardenize guest blogger Caroline gives her views on Gardening in Lockdown.
Gardening in Lockdown

In March it is nearly a year since the United Kingdom went into national lockdown in order to limit the further spread of the COVID—19 pandemic. After 11th May 2020 the rules changed not only in each constituent part of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), but also in different regions of England with the introduction of a tier system according to the areas which were most severely affected. However, we’re now in a situation again where lockdown applies to the whole country – but this time a national programme of vaccination has been set up which will, it is hoped, help to reduce the number of COVID cases and eventually eliminate them.

Lockdown = time to garden

The effect of lockdown on the population has been huge. Suddenly people were not able to go out to work or go out at all, apart from undertaking essential journeys. This has meant, for many, spending much more time at home. As a consequence, those people who had gardens began to spend more time in them and looking after the garden became increasingly important during lockdown.

Gardening in Lockdown

Problems and solutions

Many people already had an interest in gardening before lockdown. Others developed a new interest in gardening which not only provided healthy outdoor exercise, but also mental therapy during what was, a stressful time which isolated them from other people.

Spring 2020 was warm and sunny and therefore a good time to be outside. Suddenly there was a huge demand for seeds and plants – and, unfortunately, this was at a time when garden centers were closed because they were not deemed to be an “essential service”. Supermarkets, which were an essential service, were able to supply some plants and seeds, but even these soon ran out. This situation lasted until 11th May when garden centers were allowed to re-open.

New business opportunities arise

For nurseries this time of year is usually a particularly busy time with many plants ready to be shipped to garden centres in time for Spring planting. Suddenly there was nowhere to send them, and, as one grower put it: “My car dealer down the road is shut. However painful that will be – they will still have all their vehicles.” This did not, of course, apply to plants, which could not be kept indefinitely, and many thousands of them had to be thrown away because of cancelled orders.

Doorstep deliveries

One enterprising company (Lockdown Gardener.co.uk, now Doorstep Gardener) started a business sourcing plants directly from suppliers in Sussex and delivering them to gardeners in the London area. Other companies started doorstep deliveries or kerbside collections, and many moved online to deliver their plants.

Mail orders

A lot of the larger nurseries and suppliers already sold through mail order but, even for them, demand often outstripped supply and there were delays in fulfilling orders. Sometimes because their own staff were self-isolating because of the pandemic.

Rose arches

Lockdown also affected professional gardeners who were unable to carry out their normal jobs. However, some resorted to other projects such as the person who supplied us with one of the rose arches he’d been making to earn some money during lockdown.

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Virtual garden tours

In line with Government restrictions banning mass gatherings, the lockdown restrictions also affected gardens open to the public such as those run by the National Trust. The National Gardens Scheme, which normally opens members’ gardens to the public for charity, had to advise them not to do so in 2020. However, it was not long before it was possible to take virtual tours of National Trust gardens and, for a small fee (which was donated to charity) of various NGS gardens.

New season for garden shows

For the first time since the Second World War the RHS annual garden shows were cancelled and, instead, the RHS joined forces with the BBC to produce “My Chelsea Garden’, where people were asked to ‘grow and show’ with a virtual iteration of the popular event where viewers could share images of their gardens in the search for the nation’s best. There were four categories to enter: front garden, back garden, indoor garden (including windowsills, balconies and houseplants) and kids’ corner garden. This year, assuming that COVID cases go down sufficiently and the vaccination programme is successful, the Chelsea Garden Show will take place in September which will considerably change the timetable for growers and garden centers who have to have their plants at peak perfection in time for the show.

Silver Lining?

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say, -so did anything positive come out of lockdown?

As an article elsewhere on Gardenize reports (?link), the RHS carried out a survey of 2000 adults which revealed that 7 out of 10 considered that having a garden helped with mental health, with 60% of respondents feeling that their physical health had also benefited from the opportunity to garden. The majority of people surveyed also said that they valued their gardens more now than prior to lockdown and that they would value their gardens more in future. People also felt that a garden would be an important factor when they considered buying a new house in the future.

Better health

The therapeutic effects of garden on mental and physical health have been well-known for some time, but during lockdown gardening became even more important as a means of escape and as a way of beating the isolation that many people have felt as a result of not being able to go out. It was also a way of connecting with nature and the task of caring for plants and cultivating the garden has given people a much needed routine and purpose in their lives

To quote the RHS article again, in response to the survey Monty Don said
“We garden to nurture our little corner of nature but, just as importantly, to nourish our souls and more and more people are tapping into [gardening’s] healing power.”

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When garden centres finally did re-open in May, there was a huge surge in spending. Research by American Express revealed that between the beginning of lockdown and August 2020 British people spent £3.7 million on their gardens, with outdoor plants being the most popular purchase, followed closely by compost, link.

According to a survey by carried out by the market research company Global Data in May 2020, gardening became the most popular lockdown activity after watching television, ahead of cooking, reading and exercising.

There was plenty of advice for experienced and would-be gardeners on the types of things that could be done in gardens from straightforward planting to major garden makeovers. Another article elsewhere on Gardenize (?link) offers advice which includes such things as making a new garden plan, creating a compost heap and cleaning off and sharpening tools.

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House plants

House plants, too, have become very important, especially to people who do not have gardens, but still want to maintain and care for plants. Apparently Patch, an online retailer, noticed a 500% increase in the sale of house plants during lockdown.

People even turned sunny windowsills into indoor gardens, growing crops like tomatoes, chillies and aubergines and herbs, which are not only edible, but also ornamental.

Catherine Horwood, writing in “The Telegraph” (3 October 2020) suggested that bringing greenery into the house was one way of making it look “zoom-ready”!

And, in recognition of the popularity of house plants, the RHS has introduced a category “House Plants Studio” to the Chelsea Flower Show.

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Will it go on?

The question now is whether this enthusiasm for gardening will carry on after lockdown once people return to their places of work and have less time to tend to their plants and gardens. There are so many benefits to gardening that it’s hard to believe that people will simply give it up. Perhaps there will even be a demand for more spaces to garden, such as allotments and community gardens, especially now that people have discovered the benefits of growing their own fruit and vegetables.

But, on the other hand, gardening does require commitment, and people may not be able to give that commitment once they stop working at home. It’s an unknown factor at the moment and too soon to tell.

Learnings from Spanish flu

Monty Don, in the March issue of “Gardeners’ World” writes that, after the austerity of the First World War and the terrible Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, people felt a desire to spend money and enjoy themselves. He suggests that, after lockdown, “we will crave fun and brightness and playfulness as a counterpoint to the undercurrent of real alarm and retreat that the past year has bought”. He suspects that show gardens will “become less worthily imbued with environmental correctness and devote themselves to colour, light and the garden as the stage set for wonderful parties on an idyllic summer’s evening”. The garden “will emerge as a place where we can play and enjoy each other’s company with drama and fantasy, rather than as a nature-rich retreat”. However, he warns against losing the new awareness of gardens “as the door to the natural world”, which is a pleasure in itself.

Maybe we can have both. Maybe we can emerge from lockdown with a new appreciation of the importance of looking after a garden and the peace and harmony that this provides, but also of the garden as a place of entertainment, where we can meet our friends and enjoy ourselves. Gardening is so important and in so many ways. We need to learn the lessons of lockdown and make sure that we derive some benefits from the past year which we can carry on enjoying in a COVID-free future- which can’t come soon enough!

Caroline Bowman

About the Author

Caroline Bowman has been hooked on gardening ever since she grew some thyme from seed and planted it in a window box when she lived in a flat in London. Fifty years later she is still hooked on gardening, but now she lives in Lincolnshire in England where they have quite a big suburban garden as well as an allotment, where they grow fruit and vegetables. Caroline loves flowering plants, in particular herbaceous perennials and she likes finding out about the more unusual varieties that will do well in the English climate and soil.

Caroline is writing for Gardenize and you can read her article about “To Do in March” here.

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