From a large back yard to the tiniest balcony, the garden is a place of refuge, and never has that been more true than in 2020. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, gardeners new and old have realized the many ways that gardening enriches their lives, and how that joy and satisfaction is compounded when they share their bounty and their love of gardening with others. On this week’s podcast, I’m highlighting a few stories about the bright spot that gardening provided in 2020.
In the three and a half years that I have been bringing you “The joe gardener Show” podcast every week, I’ve watched interest in gardening grow, and in 2020, it just exploded. Along with my team here that produces the podcast and my national public television show “Growing a Greener World,” I have endeavored to explain the “why do” behind the “how to” so you can become a more confident gardener. I am a firm believer that no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn.
It was around this time two years ago that I launched Beginning Gardener Fundamentals, the first course offered by the joegardener Online Gardening Academy™. We found that many of the enrollees were more advanced than the beginners we had planned on: Some were horticulturists, Master Gardeners, and even college-level educators.
I was worried that enrollees who had a great degree of experience gardening would lose interest in a course that covered the basics, but what I found instead was that novices and advanced gardeners alike appreciate a thorough review of the fundamentals of gardening.
Today I’m gearing up for the relaunch of Master Seed Starting on January 27, 2021 — you can sign up to be notified when enrollment begins — and then the return of Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds sometime in May. Three new courses are in development to launch in 2021 — we will have an official announcement of the topics and titles soon — and looking ahead to 2022, we have even more new courses in the works that will be developed next year.
Gardeners Rising to The Challenge
Following up with students from the three Online Gardening Academy courses, we surveyed gardeners on what they are doing with their newfound knowledge during the pandemic. Many said they were refining their skills and spending more time outside. Some said they wanted to learn how to grow food not only to feed themselves but so they could share their skills with others — members of their community and the frontline responders who could not get out into their own gardens.
For the season 11 finale of “Growing a Greener World” this year, we asked a handful of gardeners to record themselves sharing what they did in the garden this year and how gardening helped them support and connect with others.
Evan Naismith Santa Rosa, California, says he never had a green thumb before COVID, but he dove into gardening podcasts to learn. One of the episodes he listened to was my conversation with Craig LeHoullier on dense seed starting, in which many seeds are planted in each cell of a seed starting tray. Evan decided to give away his extra flower and edible seedlings to his neighbors — and they went fast.
Evan realized this was something people were really interested in, so he bought more seeds, soil and pots to grow out seedlings that his neighbors could help themselves to. Running short on containers again, he set up a spot where the neighbors could return pots so he could reuse them. At the time Evan recorded his submission, he had already given away 1,100 plants.
MJ Ramos from West Sayville on Long Island in New York says it became clear in March that frontline workers were overburdened and nearing a breaking point. MJ came up with the idea of creating a “kitchen garden in a bag” that would be ready to distribute in June, when things eased up a bit. That way, the frontline workers who never had a chance to start their own seeds could still enjoy the gardening season.
MJ distributed 48 bags to four hospitals, where they were well received and much appreciated.
April Dodge in Gilbert, Arizona, started a garden two years prior to the pandemic, while her son was battling leukemia. “We needed a place to find joy,” April says, and Mother Nature provided nurture and nourishment when they needed it. Today, April shares her bounty with her new neighbors, and her boys enjoy playing with their new chickens and collecting eggs.
Avid gardeners John and Maureen Lalley in Ruxton, Maryland — just outside Baltimore — turned to their garden to help them cope with a stressful and difficult time. Their daughter and their son-in-law have a catering business that had all of its spring events canceled, but when they saw what John was planting, they were inspired. They delivered fresh meals to hospitals and clients and also offered “garden packs” with herbs, lettuces, tomatoes, and more that recipients could grow at home.
John and Maureen’s garden also gave them the opportunity to socialize with neighbors who were walking more than ever before. John and Maureen offered garden tips, and it even spawned a garden tour.
Lynn Shelton is an eco-literacy specialist at The Bright School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Last year, the school started an organic vegetable garden, but the pandemic cut the students’ growing season short in 2020. Lynn took it upon herself to plant the garden and give away extra seedling to members of the school community. She says the most important reason to keep the garden going is that almost all of the produce is donated to the local food bank.
John Malanchak, a Master Gardener in Madison, Mississippi, has been gardening for three and a half years with 250 adults with special needs, showing them how to start seeds under grow lights. But three weeks into this year’s program, COVID shut down the state, including the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, where the seedlings had been destined to go. John saved the seedlings and brought them to his own home, where he shared the plants’ progress with the program’s participants over Zoom.
Maria Failla, the host of the Bloom & Grow Radio podcast, was living in her tiny apartment in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Maria says it was scary living in the city for the first couple of months amid social distancing, but the planning and planting of her 9-square-foot balcony garden saved her.
She grew herbs, berries, peas and tomatoes on that balcony, and says there is no better feeling or better taste than that of the first harvested tomato of the season.
Seed Shopping for the New Year
Get those seed orders in right away. Seed companies are already starting to sell out of the most popular varieties they offer, as the new wave of interest in gardening spurred by the pandemic has not waned.
For getting better organized and taking stock of the seeds you already have, I have prepared two free resources for you: a seed inventory chart that can be customized in Google Sheets, plus a seed longevity chart to determine which old seeds to hang onto and which can be disposed of. You can download both charts as PDFs, or text SEEDGUIDES to 44222 to receive the free download links.
And as I noted above, my joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting course is relaunching at the end of January 2021. The course covers everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed. You can sign up to be notified when enrollment begins.
How did gardening help you connect with others in 2020? Let us know in the comments below.
Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. Relaunching January 28, 2021.
Wild Alaskan Seafood Box – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code “Joe” at checkout for two special bonuses just for our podcast listeners – 2 pounds of Dungeness crab with your first order and free scallops for the life of your subscription.
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Exmark, and Wild Alaskan Seafood Box. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.