Many people around Ireland and in countries worldwide have turned to gardening to help ease their fears, anxieties, and grief during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Some of them just sit outside in the fresh air silently remembering happier days, watching the antics of meandering cats and prowling dogs, admiring the flight of birds, or just pottering around flower beds and re-arranging garden furniture.
With as much as one-quarter of the world’s population currently in lockdown, the International Association of Horticultural Producers, says now is the time for people to use their time in the garden or balcony to keep safe and healthy.
Gardens provide a place for experiencing nature, which is proven to benefit mental and physical health and emotional well-being. Embracing it can reduce stress, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
IAHP secretary general, Tim Briercliffe, said these difficult times of staying at home open new opportunities. Many people have so much more time to appreciate the joy of gardening for the first time.
“Gardens are going to play an important role in keeping society happy and healthy, and the garden industry stands ready to support success in this area wherever we can,” he said.
President Michael D Higgins, speaking last May, said one of the most remarkable aspects of the crisis has been a new-found, or restored, consciousness of the abundance and vitality of nature, as the country slowed down to a quiet hush.
“The world has never been so quiet in our lifetimes perhaps, enabling us to hear the birds sing their dawn chorus more clearly than ever, and the pollinators have returned in greater numbers, for nature is, of course, oblivious to the crisis that has enveloped us.
“There is a great reassurance in this, and a humility necessary that comes from the realisation of our place in the ecosystem, and appreciation for the resilience and renewal of nature, it encourages an acknowledgement that this dark chapter will eventually pass.
"Another perverse, if positive, outcome of the crisis has been the reduced environmental pollution and harmful emissions that have resulted from the lockdowns across the globe.
“However, when the crisis is over and we return to our schools, colleges, offices, and factories, we must ask ourselves, how can we ensure that we do not revert to where we were before the crisis unfolded?
“Public support for environmental issues encourages me to believe that we will not. We cannot permit this to happen,” he said.
The re-connect with nature was noted in Ireland, however, long before the pandemic. A survey carried out for Bord Bia by Red C in 2017 revealed that more than 1.3 million people in almost one million households were gardening on a regular basis.
It also indicated that the next generation gardeners will be younger, more eco-aware and ‘grow your own’ advocates with a desire for easily maintained compact gardens.
Attendances at the annual Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, also underlined the growth in green-fingered action and enthusiasm.
These increased to nearly 120,000 people, but the event had to go online in 2020 due to the public health restrictions and will do so again during this year’s June Bank Holiday weekend in partnership with RTÉ.
Bord Bia described the surge of interest in gardening as transformative. There was a big demand for hardy nursery stock, flowering plants, and hard landscaping products.
Spend on herbs, fruit, and vegetables for growing at home increased by 43% on 2018 as consumers became more concerned about sustainability, the environment, and their health.
Sales of potted plants also increased as people further recognised the role these have in improving air quality indoors.
Planting food was also seen by parents as a positive way to engage children at home from school, in the same way that cooking from scratch and home baking became enjoyable ways to pass the time.
But the biggest uplift in spending (+75%) was on garden products such as BBQ equipment, garden structures such as sheds, trellising, as well as pergolas and gazebos that offer shade and shelter for people relaxing outdoors.
Garden maintenance expenditure also rose by 57% as consumers tackled jobs which had previously been put on the long finger.
Carol Marks, horticulture sector manager, Bord Bia, said the garden became the focus of much attention during lockdown.
“And with the longer-term prospect of remote working, the positive sense of wellbeing along with the recognition that our gardens, balconies and outdoor spaces were a safe place for gatherings, made the garden an even more important part of life during 2020,” she said.
Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said the demand for garden products has doubled over the past twenty years. “There is a great opportunity now for the sector to continue to harness Irish consumers newfound interest in the garden,” she said.
Bord Bia has outlined focus areas for the industry, including ways to engage new gardeners who have developed a keen interest, but have little knowledge or skills about where to start.
It also provides supports to the sector, including an annual assistance grant which enables businesses to enhance their marketing capabilities and competitiveness.
Gardening and nature have inspired poets and artists for centuries. Some have left us with evocative words and images.
Audrey Hepburn, the British actress and humanitarian, loved flowers, fresh vegetables, and flowering trees. She even had a rose, a tulip and a daylily named after her.
Wherever she lived, she made sure to have a garden. She regarded the quiet joys of planting and growing plants to be one of life’s greatest gifts.
As the world continues to battle Covid-19, and yearns for brighter days ahead, one of her popular quotations is never more important than it is now. “To plant a garden,” she said, “is to believe in tomorrow.”