As we enter year three with COVID-19 and its variants raging around us, it appears that most garden centers have made the necessary adaptations to stay open.
Initially there was much confusion, and rightly so because we have never been in a situation like this. Many garden centers were temporarily closed to make the necessary adjustments that would allow them to legally 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.
Some garden events and meetings are becoming physical events 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 involves people being in such close proximity to one another, social distancing seemed to be impossible to achieve. 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. After that, the Clackamas County Master Gardeners’ Spring Garden Fair in Canby will be held April 30 and May 1.
Buying habits have changed, too
Whether we like it or not, it seems that we have all made the necessary changes. 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. As we enter 2022, these are some of the expectations that are predicted.
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 because 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 surge should continue.
There also has been an increase in the demand for roses. 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.
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. This provides the garden center with some early season income, while allowing the customer to be assured of getting the rose that they want.
Eating up the edibles
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, the following year and there is no sign that it is diminishing. 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.
Not only were vegetable seeds a popular item, but vegetable starts were equally high in demand. Not everyone has the patience to start seeds, especially those that need to be started indoors, such as tomatoes. It was often difficult to keep 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 varieties were also popular, especially those developed by Oregon State University (OSU) because they were 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 provided a bright spot in these challenging times. Garden centers soon learned 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 and having an instant display of color is just what is needed.
Plants to attract wildlife were also sought after. The wildlife is usually what I call the “3-Bs”: birds (especially hummingbirds), bees, and butterflies. Purchases of these plants often need the assistance of a salesperson to be sure the customer is getting the right mix of plants for their particular area. However, these plants are easy to sell and will usually provide the customers with their desired results fairly quickly.
For example, salvia is often in bud or bloom at the time of purchase, and the flowers will readily attract hummingbirds and bees, indicating to the customers that they have made the right selection.
Garden centers can start this year on a very optimistic note. It has been noted that plants provide individuals with a purpose and can often be a stress reliever. Many individuals have found that tending to a garden of any type, big or small, definitely provides physical and mental relief. Thus, individuals are excited to get back to gardening, and/or bringing plants inside to adorn their home.
This means that garden centers have carte blanche to go ahead and create attractive, inventive displays that will invite, stimulate, excite and lure customers to come in to visit.