Karl Eckert, the owner of Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights, sold out of most of his  product last year by the Fourth of July and expects to do the same this year.

Karl Eckert, the owner of Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights, sold out of most of his product last year by the Fourth of July and expects to do the same this year.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Gardening continues to bloom amid COVID-19

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published April 28, 2021

  Bordine’s in  Rochester Hills is preparing for another robust selling season catering to gardeners new and old.

Bordine’s in Rochester Hills is preparing for another robust selling season catering to gardeners new and old.

Photo provided by Bordine’s

METRO DETROIT — As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, one trend that seems to be here to stay is gardening.

Garden centers and nurseries across the nation were forced to shut down in March of last year due to the pandemic, leaving millions of plants and flowers in jeopardy of dying.

“Because we didn’t know when we were going to be able to reopen, we reduced some of our annual plant numbers just praying that, heaven forbid … we won’t have a total loss on some material,” said Heather Glenday, the general manager of Bordine’s in Rochester Hills.

But when business resumed, she said, the largest family-owned grower and retail garden center in Michigan couldn’t keep lawn and gardening supplies on the shelves.

“Once we did open, it was crazy. People were buying more than they ever did before,” Glenday said.

Gardeners new and old also flocked to Eckert’s Greenhouse in Sterling Heights during quarantine.

“When everything opened up, it was our busiest season we ever had,” said Karl Eckert, the owner of Eckert’s Greenhouse. “People couldn’t do anything, so it was a priority to stay home and make the house and the surrounding area better with annuals, perennials or nursery stock. That patio furniture and every other business had anything to do with the home, inside or out, just went crazy — and we were one of the crazies.”

Millions of people cultivated their green thumbs during the health crisis, creating a huge boom in business for garden centers and nurseries in Michigan and across the globe.

“With people being essentially forced to stay at home, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, people were looking for projects to do around the home — whether it was painting or other indoor projects, or — as the weather turned nicer — outdoor projects,” Glenday said. “People that maybe had never had time to take care of their landscape, because they were now at home, had time to rip out those old shrubs and put new things in. The kids were at home too, so it was a good time to get them involved in gardening.”

The pandemic, Eckert said, exposed a lot of people to gardening that, in other years, had too many other things on their plates.

“No one could do much, because everything was closed, so folks stayed home and decided to fix up their houses. That’s where we got busy,” he said. “We sold out of plants earlier than we ever have in the history of our greenhouse for 61 years. It was just a very hectic run.”

As lockdowns slowed the harvesting and distribution of some crops, many gardeners turned to their own backyards for food, causing fruit and vegetable seed sales to jump worldwide.

“Vegetable gardening sales were huge last year,” Glenday said. “We actually planted almost every tomato seed we had, because we heard from the southern states that vegetable gardening was really trending, so we made sure that we had as many tomatoes available as possible. That’s one thing we didn’t run out of.”

However, tomato cages — like toilet paper and paper towels — were nowhere to be found.

“Usually, we have tomato cages all throughout the growing season, but we sold out of those in May — and we weren’t the only ones. … Everyone was sold out. They just did not exist,” said Glenday. “The ironic thing is, I’ve noticed this spring that we already have ours out and available for people to purchase, and in March, people were already buying their tomato cages because they knew that last year, they couldn’t get them. It’s kind of crazy.”

As the summer progressed, patio furniture became a hot ticket item.

“In the summertime, patio furniture was very steady and very busy. People were upgrading their spaces outdoors, so we sold out of almost all of our patio umbrellas,” Glenday said. “People wanted to enjoy their outdoor spaces, because that was where they could hang out and maybe have a family member over, or something like that. They wanted to be able to entertain outside, because it was a lot safer for everyone.”

In fact, it was one of Bordine’s busiest selling seasons, according to Glenday.

“It was across the board — it was patio furniture, trees, shrubs, vegetables, annuals, houseplants, absolutely everything — because more people were gardening and beautifying their outdoor spaces,” she said.

This year, as COVID-19 continues, home gardens and outdoor spaces continue to be a welcome escape for homeowners.

“The new gardeners that picked the hobby up last year learned the benefits of growing your own plants, of working in the garden and the stress relief,” Eckert said. “I’ve heard the new gardeners in the South — where spring has already begun — are coming back again this year, which is huge. We are anticipating that happening here, so we have everything full — all the greenhouses are full and they are beautiful because of all the light that we had in March. We’ll open up May 1, and we expect to be really busy from then on.”

Bordine’s is also preparing for another robust growing — and selling — season.

“We are planning to grow more vegetables this year, because we saw the demand for that last year, and if people were successful at growing their vegetables, they’re going to want to do it year after year, so we do anticipate higher sales in our vegetable department,” Glenday said.

Bordine’s is also in the process of growing a full stock of annuals and perennials to meet increased demand this year.

“We didn’t reduce anything like we did last year, when we were closed. It’s more trying to fulfill the needs of our customers by making sure we have the plant material longer on the annual side than we did last year, that we don’t run out of certain varieties as quickly as we did last year,” Glenday said.

Despite the recent snow, many Bordine’s customers have already begun purchasing plants, eager to get back in the gardens.

“With the weather, it doesn’t make sense, because you can’t plant anything outside yet, so the pent up demand of wanting to be outside and garden is definitely there,” Glenday said. “I definitely anticipate that we will also see an increase in early season patio furniture sales, knowing that people are going to want to spend more time entertaining outside. Then they are going to be planting combination planters and annuals to have nice colorful areas in their yard, and I know they have some projects left over in their yards to continue adding to what they started last year.”

Bordine’s in Rochester Hills is located at 1835 S. Rochester Road. For more information, visit www.bordines.com or call (248) 651-9000. Eckert’s Greenhouse is located at 34051 Ryan Road in Sterling Heights. For more information, visit www.eckertsgreenhouse.com call (586) 264-5678.