Are garden centres still open?
No. They are classed as ‘non-essential retail’ so most shut their doors from Monday 23 March, although Dobbies, Britain’s biggest chain, limped on for another day. Hardware stores, Homebase and B&Q (which also sell garden supplies) are deemed ‘essential’ under the Government's coronavirus strategy, but they closed their doors last week while they decide how best to trade going forward. Try supermarkets and smaller hardware stores, such as Wilko, for seeds, plants and basic gardening equipment.
Are nurseries still delivering?
Yes. Online sales are booming as mail order retailers fill the gap left by garden centres closing. Specialists such as Suttons, Gardening Express, Hayloft and Mr Fothergill’s are seeing huge spikes in interest. It’s not just “edibles” and children’s grow-your-own kits – compost, sundries and flowering ornamental plants are selling fast, too. Chrysanthemums Direct’s Martyn Flint has reported a 20 per cent increase in sales, “as people gear up for a spot of gardening during time in self-isolation”. For indoor gardeners, Patch is still delivering houseplants.
Are there delays in online delivery?
Online suppliers are flat-out. David Turner of Mr Fothergill’s says: “We’re dispatching with a skeleton staff to maximise social distancing and, due to our large stockpile of bulk seed, we still have enough to pack to keep supplies available.” Gardening Express has moved staff from potting and retail to dispatch.
“If I put a plant online, it sells,” says the company’s Chris Bonnett. “Online retail is being encouraged by the Government. They’ve got to keep the economy going one way or another.”
Derek Jarman of Hayloft says its new plant-packing glasshouse “gives us a facility well in excess of current requirements. We’re seeing good sales across all categories, particularly fruit, vegetables and compost. If this continues, we’ll be short of stock to sell after Easter.”
Can I still visit your allotment?
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, has clarified that going to the allotment is recommended as a permitted form of outdoor exercise. However, Liz Bunting, legal adviser for the National Allotment Society, says you must follow social distancing and hygiene advice. If you’re self-isolating, stay away – even to feed cooped chickens. “We are living through a crisis, the likes of which none of us has experienced before,” says Bunting. “Not since wartime has the community spirit that exists on allotment sites been more important.”
Are garden shows still on?
No. Everything, including Chelsea Flower Show, is cancelled up to the end of June.
What is selling fast?
Suttons says salad leaves seed sales are up 700 per cent (the most popular varieties include Little Gem lettuce), tomato seeds are up 421 per cent (Sweet Million and Gardener’s Delight are top), while beetroot Boltardy sales are up 461 per cent.
Overall, the biggest spikers are bean seeds: dwarf French bean Compass, runner bean Firestorm, climbing French bean Cobra and broad bean. Strawberries are much in demand, as are courgette and mushroom kits. Hilary Cutler, marketing director of Suttons, says: “The nation is taking self-sufficiency to a new level.”
What should I plant now?
Sow beetroot, salads, broad beans, chard, carrots, peas, spinach and radishes outside. Plant potatoes, strawberry runners, asparagus crowns, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic and onions. Under cover, to avoid late frosts, grow tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. To accelerate production, force rhubarb by putting a bucket over it and use cloches over lettuces. Now is the last chance to plant bare-root fruit trees and bushes.