2020: What a Year in Gardening!

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All round, 2020 was a stupendous year in the gardening world! Photo: deanteamchicago.com

2020 was certainly a memorable year in gardening. Not that it started in a particularly surprising way, although even as early as January, seed companies and tool suppliers began noting a serious increase in sales. Then the “COVID-19 Crisis” hit and confinement began. After the initial shock of realizing that many of us wouldn’t be likely be going far from home in the coming months, a sort of garden panic set in. 

Experienced gardeners put in extra hours (about 2 additional hours per day hours a day in the garden during quarantine than before the outbreak began). And then there were all the newbies. All sorts of people who had never gardened before suddenly took up the hobby … many of them young people, under the age of 35. Some 16 million (yes, million) claimed to have started gardening in 2020 in the United States. That’s huge. And it’s well known that once people get the gardening bug, well … they’ll pretty much garden for the rest of their life.

balcony garden
People realized they could garden anywhere, even on a balcony or window ledge. Photo: tayloronhistory.com

Part of this upsurge was because gardening is something you can do at home. All you need is a little plot of land or just a pot on a balcony. It’s inexpensive to start, so anyone can do it, and costs even less as time goes on. However, there was also a concern about food security. If things started shutting down seriously, would it still be possible to buy fresh fruits and vegetables? Or would they be affordable? (The answer turned out to be “yes” in the first case, but increasingly “no” in the second, certainly not if the pandemic cost you your job.)

Young boy gardening, grandpa and ma looking on.
So many people got involved in gardening in 2020, many for the first time! Photo: homegardenandhomestead.com

The Victory Garden, originally developed during the two world wars as a means for people to contribute to the war effort by growing their own food and thus not draining the country of valuable resources that could go to the troops, was suddenly the byword for gardening in 2020. Victory Garden 2.0, the National Garden Bureau called it. Soon, “victory garden” was on everyone’s lips. And in everyone’s personal space.

It was (and is!) all about food gardening, mostly vegetables and herbs, the idea being to put fresh, healthy, homegrown food on the table. Some 67% of adults surveyed said they grew food plants this year. Wow! Even in my own family, the “grandkids who never garden” (about half of the brood) suddenly were growing vegetables and proudly featuring photos of their results on Instagram. 

Ornamental gardening seemed to be more on hold in 2020. Sure, people were doing it (especially on balconies), but it didn’t seem to be making waves.

Room with houseplants.
Houseplants: if you don’t grow them these days, people look at you strangely! Photo: society19.com

Except indoors. The houseplant craze (I think we can call it that) had been going strong among the younger set (students, new workers, young parents) for a few years now and suddenly, with working and even studying from home suddenly becoming a necessity for so many, having a few plants to share your working space with seemed like a extra good idea.

Garden Centers Made a Fortune

Garden nursery, employee with mask
During the early part of confinement, garden centers filled with stock, waiting to open… then sold out when they were able to! Photo: Randy Vazquez. Bay Area News Group

It’s hard to find a single supplier of plants, seeds and garden products who didn’t have a banner year in 2020. Although some were forced to confine for a short while, that didn’t generally last. And when they did open, most were taken by storm by crowds of avid plant shoppers: all those new gardeners mentioned above adding to the usual spring rush. Few merchants had ever seen anything like it! Everything seemed to sell out as soon as it was put on the shelf. 

Remember how seed houses were so overwhelmed with the extra demands that many had to stop taking orders? Or shut down to rebuild their stock? (For more on that, read What Happened to Vegetable Seeds This Spring?) Well, exuberant sales continued right to the end of the year. Bulb sales, the last big sale opportunity of the year in most garden centers, were so up this year many sold out without 2 weeks of starting and suppliers had nothing left to ship them to help fill in the empty shelves, something never seen before.

So… if you’re a plant merchant, you almost certainly had a profitable year! 

Gardens Closed, Then Reopened

Sign of closure of garden.
Most public gardens around the world closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 confinement. Photo: france24.com

And then there was the closing of public gardens. Parks generally remained open (and indeed were often crowded), but most gardens closed for at least a while as they worked out how to make garden visits safe for all. And most succeeded. Certainly by summer’s end, almost all of the gardens I know were open to the public again, albeit with some restrictions. It was such a pleasure to be able to wander through them again, although many suffered serious financial setbacks from being closed for so long. Make sure you visit your local public garden extra often to help them through 2021.

My Case

Selfie of Larry Hodgson in his greenhouse
Yep, this is me, in my natural environment, my greenhouse, with my COVID-19 moustache.

In my own case, that is, Larry Hodgson, the man behind the Laidback Gardener blog, the COVID-19 crisis had multiple effects. 

You may not know this, but besides being a passionate garden blogger sharing plant-related information for free, I’m also a professional “garden communicator”. Indeed, a past president of Garden Communicators International (GardenComm). Sharing knowledge about gardening is how I make a living and brings in the money I need to keep the blog going. I have no regular salary, I have no paid holidays, I have no specific work schedule: I’m totally freelance and have been for nearly 40 years, give or take a few out-of-house jobs in the early years. 

Larry Hodgson giving lecture
Lectures? Canceled!

The first obvious COVID-19 change was that the in-person lectures I had been scheduled to give were all canceled. Tentatively at first, and just the upcoming ones, then as confinement and restrictions on group gatherings were installed and it became clear they would stick, massively. I had 64 lectures scheduled from mid-March to December 2020. All of them were canceled. But virtual lectures, as on Zoom, stepped in and helped save the day. I’d never even done a virtual lecture before; now I’ve done 12. Still, financially, it was a tough blow. 

Garden tours: also canceled.

And my garden tours… I’ve been leading garden tours, again for nearly 40 years, all over the world and had 8 reserved and 2 filling up when confinement began. Of course, they were all “canceled” (although my travel agency told me not to use that term for legal reasons). At any rate, not one of them took place. How could you even think of leading a tour that involved stuffing people repeatedly into airplanes and buses under current circumstances? 

Was I worried about my finances? You betcha! 

What’s left? I write articles under my name or no name at all for various magazines and websites. That held steady and even grew quite a bit. (With more people gardening, more people needed gardening information.) I also do horticultural translation. That too held steady.

I also make some money from the ads that appear this blog. I think you’d be surprised at how little, certainly well below the minimum wage if you count the hours I put into writing and preparing it (about 6 hours a day), but still, money is money and any revenue is highly appreciated. 

Larry Hodgson leading garden tour
Nope, I didn’t qualify for that! Ill.: Ontario 211

I also hit 65 in 2019. That means I get a government pension as a senior. So, I don’t need as much work revenue to survive on as I had in the past. The pension isn’t enough to maintain my current middle-class lifestyle that I just adore, but it sure helps. And no, I wasn’t eligible for any emergency response benefit, offered by the government to people who had stopped working due to due to COVID-19. I most definitively did not stop working!

And I had far fewer expenses. No gasoline (true enough, my car was one of the early hybrids, but still needed gas), no restaurant meals, no hotel rooms. I ended giving my car away. It was just sitting there in the driveway, doing nothing, anyway. And it was so old, rusty and tired (there was nearly 250,000 miles/400,000 km on the speedometer), selling it would have brought in very little. So, I helped out a friend in need.

Gardening books by Larry Hodgson
A few of the French-language books I’ve written over the years.

What saved me financially, though, were book sales. True enough, I haven’t written a gardening book in English for years, but I live in French Canada and still write books in French. (I have an editor who will take any book I write, no questions asked!) The two I published in 2020 sold out within 2 months. Yet, enough copies had theoretically been printed for a 5-year run. That’s never happened before. Also, two of my other books, already on the market, sold out as well. All are being reprinted and will be relaunched this winter or spring. And two of those books, plus a new one I have just finished, have been picked up by Costco (although just in the province of Québec) for 2021. That it is a very big thing! 

The Joy of Gardening

But for me, the real joy of 2020 was gardening. 

I have, obviously, always gardened, ever since I was a kid, but with lecturing and garden tours and TV shows to tape in various places, I just couldn’t be present enough to really take care of my own garden adequately. 

I mean, when you’re off on a 10-day tour, then have a 2-hour drive to a lecture the next day, you’re just not there to take care of watering and watch out for pests. This year, I was there. Every day. Several times a day. 

Larry Hodgson in garden
Me in my beloved garden this summer: I’m just so happy there!

It was such a pleasure being able to wander out into the garden whenever I felt like it. I’ve never taken coffee breaks, even when I worked in an office away from home. But I love taking gardening breaks. Sometimes, I even seriously garden when on such a break! Much of the time, though, I just wander about, pick a few veggies, maybe yank out a weed if I see one, stuff a wandering tomato stem back into its cage, lift a few leaves to check underneath, etc. And I spent my summer with the dirtiest index finger you’ve ever seen: always sinking it into the soil to see which plants needed watering.

Puttering around in the garden is just sooo relaxing.

Pollinating a squash flower
Pollinating a squash flower. Photo: sendjoelletter

In previous years, I used to sometimes hand pollinate my cucumbers and squashes, when I could and when I thought there were no bees about. This year, I think I pollinated every single one. I’m up before the bees at any rate and, to be honest, the little hummers can’t always be trusted. The old adage is true: if you want something done, it’s best to do it yourself. Even if that means outbeeing a bee.

As a result, we had too many vegetables this year. Not that I planted more than usual; it’s just that most produced so much more. My wife’s the cook and canner in the family and she literally filled up all the storage space we had. We gave lots away, too. And I didn’t even bother trying to ripen those last green tomatoes indoors this year. They’re never the best ones and besides, what would I have done with them?

If my plants loved the attention I showered on them; the bugs hated it! I don’t think I lost one plant to pests this year. In fact, scarcely a leaf! I was always there just as they were starting their attack. And I squished and I sprayed and I dropped creepy crawlers into cups of soapy water. It’s amazing how well you can control pests when you’re on them from the beginning.

So, this is going to sound strange, but for me, 2020 was an exceptional year, an excellent year. In spite of spending most of it in lockdown and only seeing the grandkids through the front window, plus coming close to financial catastrophe, it was one of the best of my life. Truly glorious! I hope yours was just as wonderful!

Ill.: wallpapercave.com

16 thoughts on “2020: What a Year in Gardening!

  1. Weesie

    Very interesting to learn more about the person behind The Laidback Gardener. Thanks! Congratulations on surviving… and thriving in 2020. May 2021 bring another best year for you, and all of us.

  2. John Wilson

    Larry, your articles are always interesting, informative, and welcome. I read them every day. But today’s was more interesting than most, because you have given us further insight into the “back-story” of the writer of said articles. Thank you for that, and thank you for your blog! I wish you and your family health and happiness in 2021 – Happy New Year!

  3. Weirdly, my ‘other’ work did not change . . . much. The landscapes and the forest do not slow down for this ‘situation’. There is more vegetation management because of the fires. I really should concentrate more on writing. I do miss that.

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