/Garden centres spring into action 
Cindy the gift store manager at Pine Reflections stays safe during reopening by wearing a mask and standing behind a Plexiglass screen. /Submitted by Sue King

Garden centres spring into action 

By Zachary Roman

On May 6, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced garden centres and nurseries could reopen to the public as of May 8, provided they follow the same safety measures that grocery stores and pharmacies are currently required to. Ever since the government mandated closure of non-essential businesses, garden centres and nurseries had been allowed to operate via curbside pickup and delivery only.
Sue King , owner of Pine Reflections garden centre and gift shop in Carnarvon, had a long list of preparations to make before she could reopen – which included adhering to three pages’ worth of compliances required by the Ontario government.
“We are installing suspended Plexiglas to protect the cashier,” said King. “We have a portable hand washing station going to be set up out front.”
And that was just the beginning.
“We are making directional arrows in the garden centre so there’ll be a flow, there will be actually an entrance and an exit,” said King, who also has purchased a remote contactless payment system for outside of the store – so that vulnerable populations or those who are immunocompromised don’t even have to go in. If you do go inside though, King said the checkout there has tap payment, as is mandated by the government.
As for the gift shop, King said Pine Reflections is placing red markers two metres away from each other on the floor and limiting the number of people allowed in the gift shop at one time.
“We live in a great [place], we live in the Haliburton Highlands. So most of us help each other, we’re understanding and [customers] are willing to comply with whatever we do to make this a safe thing,” said King.
While COVID-19 has presented challenges for King and her business, there is a silver lining to it all. She had to double the order of vegetables she usually brings in from Holland Marsh because people have had the time to garden. “They’re going to try a raised garden, make their own food or at least be able to supplement groceries, what a great thing to do,” said King. “I’m telling people, this is the time, all that stress and energy, give it to
Mother Earth.”
For King, the mental health aspect of digging in dirt and growing flowers is second to none and she said she wants to get people digging and trying new things. “When you live in constant fear and stress, you need some help to get out of that mindset. So looking at flowers, even a small garden lifts the spirit and people are realizing that more and more,” said King. “We can’t all ride bikes, you know.”
Smaller garden centres have also had to deal with adversity and changes due to COVID-19.
Based out of Highland Grove, Melanie Lewis is known as “The Northern Gardener.” And that’s the name of her garden centre, which is run at her home property there. Lewis grows all of her own plants.
Right now, she has about 400 tomato plants in her basement under lights. “I usually go to the farmer’s markets [to sell them] and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year,” said Lewis. She is concerned because she usually does the most sales at farmer’s markets, which will likely not be running this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Lewis still gets “an awful lot” of calls from people who want to buy directly from her home garden centre, she said it won’t match the volume of customers she gets at the farmer’s market.
“I grew my same amount that I would normally grow every year and now I don’t have a market for it,” said Lewis. “So I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
As far as safety measures go, Lewis said her garden is very open, so you don’t have to get close to anyone. “My aisles are big and I placed my tables very far apart, so it’s not a problem here at all,” said Lewis. “And I have a self serve so you don’t even have to see me if you don’t want to. I have a box outside that if somebody wants to buy something, they can drop the money in the box and take it.”
The Minden Times reached out to the Fort Irwin Cottage & Garden Centre but they did not respond in time for publication. In a Facebook post, Fort Irwin Cottage & Garden Centre said they have “regretfully decided to not open the garden centre and the gift store during these difficult times of COVID-19 with the government restrictions of curbside buying, etc… in place.
Unfortunately, purchasing of flowers and other plant materials ‘curbside’ is a difficult way to conduct business. As far as the retail store, we cannot safely protect the products in our store which ultimately will affect the safety of all our customers and staff.
Through Vince Hammond Trucking, we will provide pick-up and deliveries of our bulk material but the times & days will be limited.”