The Press

Stir crazy to plant crazy

Gardening came into its own during lockdown, but surging demand for vege seedlings, herbs and fruit trees shows it’s one Kiwis are sticking to. Mikaela Wilkes reports.


We all went a little plant crazy over lockdown. People panic-bought seeds at level 4 until the seed retailers were forced to close. One garden centre sold six weeks’ worth of vegetable seedlings in three days as gardeners rushed to snap them up after lockdown.

That same weekend, the big-box stores sold out of vegetable seedlings then wholesale growers had to borrow plants from their commercial supplies to ‘‘top up’’ retail, and let’s not forget the 30,000 Aucklander­s who tried to get their hands on a free houseplant.

Now that most Kiwis have returned to some semblance of normal life, lockdown hobbies are becoming a thing of the past. You’d think a drastic loss of recreation­al time would weed out amateurs from the hobby, but it hasn’t.

Garden retailers say demand for grow-your-own food is at an all-time high.

Sales of vegetable seedlings and fruit trees are up by around 50 per cent since the end of the level 4 lockdown, said Mathew Dolan, chief executive for the industry body New Zealand Plant Producers Incorporat­ed (NZPPI).

‘‘In addition to popular winter lines like cauliflowe­r and broccoli, we are seeing strong demand for herbs. This is in line with the trend towards more home cooking and healthy eating.

‘‘Fruit trees have also been in strong demand, particular­ly blueberrie­s, citrus and apples. These take longer to produce, so we may run into some supply issues in the coming weeks,’’ he said.

He understand­s plant producers have been under pressure to keep up with the increased demand, and to keep stores supplied across the country.

Have we seen a sustained increase in customers wanting vegetable seedlings?

‘‘In a word – absolutely,’’ said Chris Peak, general solutions manager for Mitre 10.

‘‘Demand was exceptiona­lly high as we moved out of lockdown and continued as the alert levels lowered,’’ Peak said. ‘‘We expected to see a drop-off over time but that hasn’t happened.

‘‘There’s been a significan­t and ongoing uplift across the entire range of edibles, most noticeably herbs – probably to complement the vegetables people are also now growing at home.’’

Broccoli, spinach and lettuce are the most popular veges at the moment, and parsley, mint and chives are winning in the herb stakes.

Andrew Grant, Bunnings’ national greenlife buyer, said they’ve also seen popularity across a lot of traditiona­l products, such as indoor plants, camellias, daphnes, azaleas and roses, due to the rainy winter.

Peak also said plenty of new gardeners were visiting the stores and searching for advice online.

Marketing manager for Kings Plant Barn, Natalie Allen, suggested the spike in sales over the lockdown period was a ‘‘survival reaction’’.

The continued growth of the hobby now seems to be a shift in people’s priorities towards health and wellbeing, she said.

‘‘We definitely have seen a greater increase in seed and seedling sales post-lockdown compared to other department increases in the garden centre.

‘‘Overall, all gardening categories are up, but seeds and seedlings are up twice as much as other categories – indicating people are still planting vege patches to become more self-sufficient at home.’’

She has also noticed younger people coming in to the store to ask for tips and advice on getting started.

King Seeds owners Gerard and Barbara Martin said their usual trade had tripled, although the trend had been from returning rather than new gardeners.

Peter Worsp, director of Terra Viva, an awardwinni­ng Christchur­ch garden centre, said flower and vegetable seedlings (and supporting products such as compost, potting mix and fertiliser­s) were the main sellers during and immediatel­y after lockdown but that had since settled down.

‘‘That makes sense given how many we sold just before lockdown, and then again in levels 2 and 3 and, of course, when we first re-opened fully in level 1,’’ he said.

But their winter trading data shows people have stuck with their new gardening hobby.

‘‘With the outside world under threat and inaccessib­le at the moment, the home has become the ‘safe haven’, with an emphasis on improving that haven,’’ said Worsp.

Although Richard Persson, franchise owner of Palmers in Plimmerton, north of Wellington, has no further use for his contactles­s ‘‘drive-through garden centre’’, his revenue is up 300 per cent across the board. His vegetable seedling sales have also slowed, not due to a lack of interest, but because it’s cold and people have already filled their gardens, he said. Now it’s a matter of waiting for things to grow.

‘‘The sustained craziness has been spa pools [sales up 500 per cent], outdoor furniture and general garden stuff, including houseplant­s.

‘‘This is the closest thing; bring a tropical holiday into your own backyard and have it permanentl­y,’’ he said.

The vegetable seedling shortage (caused by the period of time growers weren’t allowed to tend to their plants) was rectified quickly because vegetables take three weeks from sowing to the shelf, Persson said. He is now experienci­ng shortages of houseplant­s and perennials, and anticipate­s shrubs will be short next spring.

He also thought the indoor houseplant trend had a part to play. ‘‘Eighteen- to 35-year-old females have gone crazy on houseplant­s.’’

‘‘With the outside world under threat and inaccessib­le at the moment, the home has become the ‘safe haven’.’’

Peter Worsp

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18- to 35-yearold age group have gone crazy for house plants, but vegetables and herbs have been the most popular postlockdo­wn.
Women in the 18- to 35-yearold age group have gone crazy for house plants, but vegetables and herbs have been the most popular postlockdo­wn.

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