Design-build landscaping has been our vocation since the late 90’s, but until three years ago we also owned a retail garden center and nursery. Owning and independent garden center is as fraught and risky as farming; just as subject to the fancies of weather. It’s also very dependent on the public mood, and very vulnerable to big-box competition. So right now, with a virus epidemic front-and-center, my heart goes out to any family whose living depends on their seasonal greenhouse and retail garden center, or any grower that has built their business by serving the many mom-and-pop greenhouses that dot our communities.
Independent, family-owned garden center businesses are an endangered species. Big-box merchandisers like Home Depot and Lowes have nibbled away at their business for many years. These giant, well-funded corporations are able to morph into garden centers for a few months every year, and pay their overhead costs for the rest of the year by selling appliances, hardware, lumber or whatever. They have tremendous buying power. They can skim the cream of high-volume products; the bread and milk of the garden center business, while leaving it to the “mom & pops” to eke out a living selling specialty plants to consumers who have already spent most of their gardening dollars before they ever set foot in the independent stores.
We lived this life for over twenty years. We totally understand how hard it is to make a living in such a seasonal, weather-dependent business. We sold our garden center three years ago, after a spring season that brought rain every weekend from March to June left us with six figures of unsold, highly perishable merchandise. After decades of just breaking even year after year, the rainy spring of 2016 was the fatal blow. We’re still paying the price to this day, and will be for years to come.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that we’re watching the 2020 gardening season get totally forgotten in the current Covid19 panic. Our favorite local greenhouses have been working hard for months planting, buying, gearing up for the few busy months that will make or break their businesses this season. They have huge sums and hundreds of hours of hard work invested in crops timed for Mother’s Day 2020, and they are truly facing disaster if things don’t turn around quickly from where they are now.
Gardeners everywhere are getting the itch to plant. These first warm days of spring get all of us excited about our landscapes and our vegetable gardens, and we’re eager to get out and put our hands in the dirt after a long gray winter. Instead, we’re being told to “shelter in place”. Small business of all kinds stand helplessly by as huge corporations like Amazon, CVS and Kroger experience record sales, while they’re told to close their businesses until further notice. Happy to say that garden centers and greenhouses haven’t been forced to close, but their customers aren’t in a buying mood.
Here’s a shout-out to Glenn and Arlene at Sterling Run Greenhouse, Michael and Virginia at Stauffer’s Garden, Tammy and Travis at T&T’s Garden Patch, and so many other hardworking families who have poured their heart and soul into their 2020 garden seasons. These people are facing the fight of their lives, to keep their customers and their businesses in the face of events truly beyond their control. They need your prayers. More than that, they need you to support their businesses even though it may take extra effort on your part.
Eventually the virus scare will subside. Promise me that you’ll walk right past the garden offerings at the grocery store, the big-box and the home improvement chains, and instead make
your purchases at a local family business that is part of your own community. They need you badly right now.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.