Featured, Lifestyle

The popularity of gardening just keeps growing

Gordon Clark, certified UVM Extension master gardener and coordinator of Vermont Victory Gardens, poses near his garden before and after harvesting.

By Peg Bolgioni

The popularity of gardening has not waned in the past year. In fact, the demand for seeds, plants, and garden tools may well outpace 2020. No one knows how long the pandemic will continue so people have created outdoor havens populated with patio furniture, above ground swimming pools, and backyard gas fire pits. Many have also rushed to plant gardens in unprecedented numbers.

Paul Garland, owner of Garland’s Farm & Garden on 70 Park St. in Rutland, agreed that he has seen many first-time gardeners in his store since the onset of the pandemic.

“I believe what initially happened is that folks were going to the grocery store and could only find frozen peas. They thought we’d better grow own vegetables in our backyard because they didn’t know when the pandemic would end,” Garland said.

With the interest in gardening skyrocketing, materials were flying off the shelves. “We were beginning to see issues with our supply chains by the end of June 2020,” he explained. “One of our primary sources, Miracle Gro, became rapidly unavailable so we had nothing by the end of the summer. People were taking whatever they could get.”

He anticipated that items like potatoes and corn would be in high demand. “I called our growers in Maine and asked what they had for inventory. We were able to get two tons of seed potatoes shipped to us. Normally we get five tons, and everything sold out. This year we are still having difficulty getting hand tools of all types.”

Since Garland’s sold animal feed, they were designated an essential business and did not close down during the pandemic. They had done the proper planning and ordered enough for what they thought was a normal season. However, it was not a normal season. Garland’s did whatever they could to adapt; providing curbside service, and working longer hours.

“I don’t anticipate the gardening boom slowing down anytime soon,” he said. “It is important to buy seeds and plants early. The biggest trend I saw last year was raised garden beds, and I expect those who made the initial investment in them will continue with it. If this is your first time planting a garden I’d recommend talking with a neighbor or friend who is an experienced gardener and can provide guidance. Of course, we are always happy to talk with customers and answer their questions.”

His winter squash raised bed/vertical growing plot. Pictured right: his successful example of vertical growing in raised beds. Look at that yield of squash!

As Gordon Clark, certified University of Vermont Extension master gardener, explained, UVM’s master gardener training class doubled in size.

“Our numbers grew from typically 80-90 students annually to 190 this year,” Clark said. “The master gardener helpline is fielding many more questions. The pandemic has significantly raised interest in people growing their own food.”

UVM Extension has a Rutland chapter for master gardener, and you can find them on cFacebook @RutlandChapterExtensionMasterGardenersCommunity for more information.

Clark is also the coordinator of Vermont Victory Gardens, a project that is run through the UVM Extension master gardeners and in conjunction this year with the Vermont Garden Community Network. The Victory Gardens project was started last year in response to the pandemic. The name Victory Garden has a long history associated with it. Victory Gardens came about during World War I and World War II when Americans and British citizens grew food to support the war effort and to feed their families.

Prior to the pandemic, over 70,000 Vermonters were accessing the 3SquaresVT federal food assistance [food stamp] program. Within the past year those numbers are still surging and the need will increase in the coming months so the program will continue in 2021.

“Vermont Victory Gardens was an attempt to bring the expertise of the Extension master gardeners to help in some small way by aiding gardeners who were trying to grow food for people in need,” said Clark. “Our primary function is to combine expert master gardeners with gardeners trying to grow this food and provide them with technical assistance. In 2020, more than 25 existing, expanding, and new community gardens joined the Vermont Victory Gardens network statewide.”

Clark maintains the gardening trend will continue. Like Paul Garland, he recommends ordering supplies early due to high demand, particularly seeds. Clark asserts that if seeds are stored properly, they can last two, three, four, or even five years. The seeds need to be placed in airtight containers and stored in a cool, dry, place. According to Clark, millions of seeds are not being used. He cited an example of lettuce seeds which can contain up to 300 seeds in a single package.

“People panic,” said Clark. “They believe if they don’t use all of the seeds, they are no good the following year. That simply is not true if the seeds are stored correctly. There are likely millions of seeds that are not being used.”

Being present amidst nature can have positive effects on emotions or behaviors. Studies have shown that gardening can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. In fact, being outside in the sunshine exposes people to high amounts of Vitamin D, a synthesizer of serotonin, a chemical in our brain that induces happiness.

So as the song goes, “Forget your troubles, come on get happy” and plant a garden.

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