Photo courtesy Jenna Magee: The best vegetables for planting now are greens like lettuces, chards, kale and spinach, as well as beets and all the brassica family, which includes broccoli and cauliflower.
Photo courtesy Jenna Magee: The best vegetables for planting now are greens like lettuces, chards, kale and spinach, as well as beets and all the brassica family, which includes broccoli and cauliflower.

This is a strange time for all of us, and it may seem an even stranger time to start a garden column, in the middle of a global pandemic. Here’s why it’s not.


Even if you’ve never planted a seed, it might be the best time ever to garden. The state declared landscaping and agriculture “essential” industries on March 23, allowing them to stay open during Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” mandate to help curb COVID-19, and I couldn’t agree more.


Gardening is good for your immune system on many levels: Research has shown that being outside delivers the vitamin D so many Americans are deficient in; exercise burns calories and keeps your lymphatic system tuned; being in nature lowers depression and anxiety; and breathing in beneficial microbes in dirt powers up your immune system and may also help your mood.


That’s not even mentioning the heart-expanding benefits of tending living things, creating something larger than yourself, teaching a child how to grow snap peas or sunflowers, or growing an extra row of veggies to share with neighbors or a food bank.


Gardening just feels good.


Or if you just want to glam up your yard, grow fresh nutritious veggies or keep the kids busy with a no-tech activity, fear not, there’s help.


Since the stay-at-home order, some nurseries have closed outright and are focusing on new ways to be of service.


City People’s Garden Store in Madison Park is closed, but is creating educational videos to help people learn about gardening. Urban Earth Nursery in Fremont is offering virtual plant consultations — $20 per 15 minutes, and has abbreviated online shopping for herbs, seeds and DIY planting kits, bit.ly/ShopUrbanEarth.


Magnolia Garden Center has also pivoted to offer remote ordering and curb side pick-up but with a full range of offerings manned with half their typical staff, manager Jenna Magee said.

What are people buying?


“There’s been a huge interest in vegetable gardening,” Magee said. “We’ve been selling tons of vegetable starts, seeds and equipment like trays and seed-starting planting mix.”


Many of the callers are first-time gardeners, with questions about what to plant and how, which is a “little challenging” in the current set up via phone and email, but she’s happy to do it.


“Everyone wants to grow tomatoes, but it’s not the time,” Magee said.


America’s favorite veggie to grow, heat-loving tomatoes need to wait until May. Tomato seeds can be started under lights indoors now, but plants need night-time temperatures over 50 degrees to thrive outside.


Magee said the garden center is selling through such supplies much faster than usual, even for the usually frenzied first weeks of spring. One seed vendor has already told her that stock is sold out — smaller nurseries often get their orders filled last, after the larger ones.


Magee thinks the swell in garden interest may be a combination of people seeking a back-up food supply to the grocery store and people wanting to connect with their kids in the garden.


Herbs, dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes suitable for container planting and bare-root rhubarb and asparagus are also hot items, Magee said.


In contrast, general tree and shrub sales have cooled, she said, perhaps because the landscape construction industry, not deemed “essential” by the state except for emergency repairs, is currently on hold.


Landscape maintenance for the health of plants, such as lawn care, integrated pest management, irrigation and food cultivation is permitted, but “routine maintenance” is not, according to the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association. Single-owner landscape design businesses are permitted to operate within safety guidelines, though many are choosing to stop work during this time.


Since design is allowed but not new construction, “I have lots of clients interested in help, but I cannot comply,” said Michelle Meyer, of GardeningGaga!, www.gardeninggaga.com, which designs and maintains gardens in Magnolia and throughout Seattle.


“I started gardening professionally because it is a therapeutic activity,” Meyer said. “I find it immensely satisfying both physically and artistically, and I highly recommend going out in your own garden now for that outlet alone.


“You can either pick up where your gardener left off or try your hand at growing veg this summer,” she added. “It’s a perfect opportunity, and the nurseries would be so grateful and attentive in helping you.”


The best vegetables for planting now are greens like lettuces, chards, kale and spinach, as well as beets and all the brassica family, which includes broccoli and cauliflower.


Even if you lack outdoor space, Magee said you can grow microgreens or bean sprouts on a partly sunny windowsill. Magnolia Garden Center carries seeds for all of those, as well as a heavy-duty line of trays and liners that come in a range of fun colors.


According to Magnolia Garden Center’s home page: “Through all of time, people have retreated to the garden for solace, support and sustenance. This Spring can be no exception.”


Hear, hear.

 

— A lifelong gardener, Erica holds a Certificate in Landscape Design from The New York Botanical Garden, works at Ravenna Gardens, and grew 45 tomato plants last year.