A Garden in the Plague Era

Spring strawberry patch

In the last year we’ve seen many changes, few of which could be considered unequivocally good. But there is at least one real benefit of 2020 — many more people took up gardening in the last twelve months. Gardening is hard to track because it’s rather a broad category heading. It can refer equally to growing a potted petunia on your balcony or plowing under the back forty for market production. There are gardeners who grow nothing but a few prized roses for their own pleasure and gardeners who grow thirty kinds of squash with which to plague the neighbors. (Or that’s my assumption on their motives anyway.) Gardeners can be backyard weekend warriors and allotment curators or dedicated daily stewards of a green empire. Gardeners can also be keepers of small, quiet spaces for a chair, a few tea herbs or bee plants, and perhaps a tomato vine. Most gardeners have at least some human food in production, but all gardens nourish life in many other ways. So it is wonderful that folks have turned to gardening in the plague era — and there is evidence that many people have.

Mike Sutterer, President and CEO of Bonnie Plants, the leading brand in the US for live plants, estimates that 20 million novice gardeners took up the trowel in 2020, swelling the ranks of home gardeners to over 60 million. That is, 30% more people began gardening in the last year. Truly a growth industry! Sutterer also is on record saying that most of these newbies are young men (under 35) which might indicate that gardening will continue to be a growth industry for many years. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

One measure of gardening trends is sales of seed and plant starts, and those have ballooned in the last twelve months. Some of my favorite suppliers were sold out of many popular varieties by April last year. This year many of them increased production. Even so, it’s already hard to get sunflower seeds in large volume this year, and many producers have completely sold out of veg plant starts — well before any of them could go in the ground across most of the country. Another growing supply trend is pre-planned gardens. Producers have seen huge increases in sales of these garden-in-a-box packages. Most are perennial gardens that benefit wildlife while providing the gardener with flowers, herbs and even fiber and dye plants. So there is wide variety in new gardening, but the main focus is on utility — especially food.

This new interest in dirt is largely a reaction to quarantine. Gardening is one of the few activities we can still do together. It’s better exercise than going to the gym even in non-plague years. It’s more relaxing than yoga, as long as you don’t get too bothered by production quotas. You can easily stay distanced but within reach of your friends and neighbors while working in the garden. And — most importantly — you get out of the house! 

But the other impetus behind the new garden interest — specifically in response to the pandemic — is the realization that food supplies are not guaranteed. Even in wealthy countries, even in wealthy neighborhoods of wealthy countries, there have been empty shelves in the supermarkets. Arguably, it was not the garden produce that was hardest hit by supply chain woes. But most of us can’t grow and process our own flour nor make our own cleaners or paper products, and we have no control at all over big things like refrigerators and cars — just to name a few of the things that are more difficult to buy in the plague era. But the garden gives us agency. With a little expense and a bit more sweat, we can augment the larder! 

Spring veg garden

©Elizabeth Anker 2021


Bauder, Penny. 11 March 2021. “Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Mike Sutterer of Bonnie Plants Is Helping To Change Our World”. Authority Magazine. Accessed at Medium (https://medium.com/authority-magazine/social-impact-heroes-why-how-mike-sutterer-of-bonnie-plants-is-helping-to-change-our-world-13977ffbacd9) on 6 April 2021 at 5pm EST.

Munts, Pat. 31 December 2020. “Gardening: 20 million novices took up hobby in 2020”. The Spokesman-Review. Accessed at https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/dec/31/gardening-20-million-novices-took-up-hobby-in-2020/ on 6 April 2021 at 4:30pm EST.

Wednesday Discourse

There are many reasons why a growing interest in gardening is a good trend. I’m going to talk more about this on Friday. But today, I’d like to ask if any of you have taken up gardening in the last year. If so, what did you grow? Do you plan to continue? What are your successes? What do you never want to do again? Do you already have new ideas for this year? If you already had a garden, did you do anything different in 2020? Will you be doing that this year as well? And, most importantly, why? Why, of all the ways to fill up the plague year hours, did you turn to the garden? I think you’ll find that this is not an inconsequential question!

1 thought on “A Garden in the Plague Era”

  1. I’ve been gardening for a very long time and last year both me and my husband were home because of lockdown. He was furloughed and I was working from home and between the two of us we had the most leisurely spring and early summer in the garden ever. It was glorious to not have to try and squeeze in big projects on the weekend and weeding a few minutes here and there, or to rush to get seeds in the ground. We were able to do everything in its own time. I wish that’s how it could be every year! But this year both he and I are back at our respective workplaces and even though it is still too early here to plant seeds, it’s already starting to feel like there is so much to do and not enough time to do it in. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

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