Two years ago, who would’ve thought that the word ‘pandemic’ would be such a staple in our vocabulary? However, for gardeners, breeders, retailers and more, the word ‘plantdemic’ could more specifically describe how COVID-19 has changed the way that we interact with plants and the plant industry.
I talk to nine plant lovers and industry experts about what they’ve been up to during the plantdemic, and how they feel that this historic time has impacted the plant world around us.
Ally Mitchell, Ocean Plastic Pots
“The pandemic has forced us to spend more time appreciating British nature. Having to work from home, exercise nearby and holiday within the UK has forced us to appreciate the little glimpses of wildlife we find in our towns and cities, and appreciate the time spent in the rural countryside. This has focused our attention on native species of wildflowers. An appreciation of our domestic wildlife has driven a wider awareness of the importance of sustainability and looking after our environment, particularly in our garden. There has been an ongoing shift to move to peat free compost and we are all more aware of the importance of looking after the British bee population and I think this is having an impact of the flowers we are choosing to plant. We are seeing more of these in our gardens. I love seeing Sweet William, Cornflowers, Forget Me knots, Ox Eye daisy, Field Poppies and French Marigolds in wild borders, and of course as cut flowers in vases as a table centre.”
Morag Saddington, home gardener and QVC customer
“Myself and Reece (my grandson, 22) had already discussed the redesign at the beginning of 2020 – the moving of the shed, new fencing and creating an area for a greenhouse. Also, reducing the number of the borders, making one wider and longer. I had a delivery from my local garden centre (they have good prices) in early March of most of the building materials. Coronavirus was declared a pandemic a few days later. Reece could not travel as he lives in a different area. This did not deter me from lifting, splitting and potting border plants during Spring. This got me out of the house and away from the awful news headlines. When the Garden Centres/ DIY shops were allowed to re-open for online orders/phone and collections/deliveries, I placed an order with a large DIY store as I needed paint for my fence. I managed to get 7 tins but needed another 2 to finish. It quickly became apparent that anything to do with the garden was going to be the “in” thing for 2020 as the stock levels quickly depleted. There were some online sellers taking advantage of the situation and price-wise it was more expensive and I refused to buy from them. My local supplier’s prices stayed the same and they offered small order deliveries (which I used a few times) for £5.00. I ordered bedding plants from QVC in 9cm pots – which were a great size, price and arrived in very good condition for hanging baskets. My 6 lily pots for the first time had lily beetles and despite my best effort none of them recovered – that was not a good day!
“By the end of July, Reece managed to take a holiday for a week – he was in my “bubble” when the restrictions relaxed and we were able to complete most of the garden redesign. It took the whole week, along with some help from a few others, but the end result was worth it. I now have a wonderful waterfall feature and a large plant bed which is much easier to maintain! If I did not have a garden I have no idea what I would have done. I have been a keen gardener for a long time and even more so now. It is my go-to place when I feel stressed and it helps me to relax. It has been a hard year on my own, but I have a good neighbour and we have had many, many socially distanced gins over the garden fence.”
Paul Ras, Plant Expert, Always Kalanchoe
“The pandemic has been challenging for so many reasons. After a major decrease in the early months of the pandemic, we actually saw a boom in demand as lockdown meant people were spending more time at home, focused on their surroundings and the things that bring them joy. When it comes to nurturing our health and wellbeing, plants are right up there. They connect us with nature, they encourage us to live in the moment, and they’re great therapy!
“Flowering succulents like kalanchoes – which come in array of bright, mood boosting colours – have seen particularly strong consumer demand. Not only are they a great style statement, but they’re a bit different from the green varieties that have been on trend for a while, and they give you more than 10 weeks of colour with very little attention required! And, whilst sourcing plants has been challenging over the course of the past year, kalanchoes are actually very easy to find – you can buy them in most supermarkets, garden centres and florists. Plus, they’re great value, which has really resonated with people during these tough times.”
Donna, Owner at Pretty Cactus Plants
“As a house plant seller, my business rocketed in the first lockdown. With more people spending time at home, it gave them chance to observe the surrounding of their home in more detail than ever before. People realised they were missing some finishing touches in their home. Before, it had always been a ‘base’ to flit in and out of between work and socialising. Now, it has become the centre of everything – so why not invest? And, with more time being spent inside people wanted to bring a touch of the outside in. Hence, the rise in the house plant craze we all saw in March and April 2020.
“Being in a state of pandemic has given such a boost to the horticulture industry as a whole. For house plants in particular, the surge in interest was noticeable. Many growers in Holland were struggling to keep up with demand. Some plants became hard to get your hands on due to their popularity – such as String of Hearts (ceropegia woodii). Which made them even more popular. Many people became house plant owners for the very first time during lockdown, and their love of plants continues. The pandemic has given people a new perseptive on house plants and the benefits they have when introduced to your home. I see this trend continuing for a long while yet!”
Beth Otway, Horticulturist and Garden Writer
“I’ve found the pandemic has brought a greater appreciation for the things that really matter – the health of our planet and the people we love, and an awareness that these are closely intwined. In lockdown, many people enjoyed the gift of spending time outdoors in their gardens and heeded the encouragement to enjoy a daily walk in the countryside. The pandemic has created an army of new gardeners of all ages, united with a desire to fill their homes with houseplants, all eager to plant up and nurture their window boxes, gardens, and allotments. In amongst the devastation of COVID-19 with fewer cars on the roads, we got to enjoy our first taste of improved air quality, which opened our eyes to the ways in which we’re actively harming and polluting our planet; this gave us an awakening and a renewed focus on the environment – something that we all needed.
“Gardeners care about our planet. I’ve found that my readers are actively looking to support companies that offer environmentally friendly, sustainable products, for example: plants grown in peat-free composts without the use of damaging pesticides, and plastic-free, vegan products. This is great for our planet and great for horticulture, too. My readers have been using my Compost and Vegetable Trials to get their growing off to a good start and have been reading more articles I’ve written about gardening for bees and butterflies, which is lovely!”
Mark Lane, Broadcaster, Writer, Actor and Garden Designer
“I remember the beginning of the pandemic and being completely disheartened at empty shelves in supermarkets and wondered whether the scrambling for groceries and of course toilet paper would filter down into horticulture. With more time on our hands, time for hobbies such as gardening, plants and flowers, and let’s face it being bored out of our minds binge-watching series after series, we all needed a dose of the ‘green pill’, as I call it. The pandemic gave people the time to really slow down and embrace their space, whether it be a house with a garden, an apartment with a balcony or the need to green up rooms indoors.
“All of my garden design projects came to a standstill, but since October last year our design work has increased 200%. Yet, with the huge demand for plants, flowers and houseplants my suppliers were having real problems finding stock, and of course Brexit didn’t help when it came to sourcing plants from Europe. If our business is anything to go by, and the myriad of horticultural personnel that I meet, who have seen sales far exceed any expectations, I hope the future of horticulture is a good one. Perhaps as a repercussion of the pandemic, many will retrain and choose horticulture as a second career. It would be great to see new, young people entering the field. Whether it’s sales, high demand, short supply, everyone has reaped the benefits that plants, flowers and houseplants have had on our physical and mental wellbeing, during an unprecedented time, which quite frankly I do not wish to go through again in my lifetime.”
Elaine Everton, home gardener and QVC customer
“Being in my garden and creating my outdoor space has been a lifesaver especially through the pandemic. As both my husband and I were vulnerable, we didn’t go out for 12 months. Luckily, the weather was good enough for us to sit in garden and take in the glorious sights of our plants. Since then, my husband passed away in June of this year, and so my happy place has been my garden and the ability to add to it.”
Trudi Moakes, home gardener and QVC customer
“Lockdown down was something so different. Fortunately for me, no-one I knew had Covid. My personal experience of gardening last year was a positive one; I hppe that’s not a bad thing to say. Because there was a shortage of seeds and compost, and outlets were closed, it was a make-do situation. It concentrated my gardening into what was available and how could I do my best. I love my garden, but last year it became vital, special and so important. I didn’t need to hear the news. Having the beautiful weather at the beginning of the first lockdown was amazing.
“I really enjoyed the peace. When the restrictions slowly lifted, I noticed that people spoke to eachother more, possibly even smiled more. I personally enjoyed the switch off. Now things are back, more or less, to normal, I’m enjoying the slower pace, knowing that things will get done, plants still grow, grass still needs cutting and sometimes the sun shines.”
Francijn Suermondt, Managing Director of Rabbit Attack PR
“I, along with everyone else, was in a state of shock when the pandemic hit. As a person who normally feels her glass is very much full all of the time, it was strange to feel so shaken and I was not only worried about my friends and family, but also my career and how this event would shape my PR world.
“Luckily, the majority of my clients are in the horticulture industry, and with the horror of COVID, miraculously came the peace and solitude that many people found in growing their own and simply enjoying their gardens. Seed sales, along with all other aspects of the gardening industry such as plants and outdoor furniture have gone through the roof and the trend continues.
“Yes, I have had to diversify and become very versatile in some cases by turning my hand to copy writing and translation work in some instances. But I am grateful that in the main, my PR work in the horti world has not faltered and it has actually given me great pleasure to be able to share stories that have offered peace, tranquility and a little ray of sunshine to many in this testing of times.”
With the UK starting to get back to normal, I can personally feel the pace of life picking up again; however, there is much that we have all taken away from this time under ‘shelter’ from the pandemic. As illustrated by the contributors to this article, we have all learned to stand back and appreciate nature, from the hard work we put into our gardens to the wonderful natural world around us. Could it be that this is our new way of life?
What have you learned from the plantdemic? Leave a comment below.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.