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Shopping for your garden is different this year, but greenhouses and nurseries are here to help

For gardeners, a trip to a greenhouse or nursery is a spring ritual. There’s the joy of browsing row after row of flowers, herbs and vegetable plants, while hanging baskets beckon from above. There are questions, always questions, for the staff about new varieties, plant placement and watering needs.

And then there’s the garden cart, so big but so easy to fill up quickly.

The sights and smells, the feel of leathery leaves and even the sounds of a hose or trickling fountain entice shoppers to stick around awhile.

For now, amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, that trip will look and feel different.

Limited hours. By-appointment visits. Online shopping. Contactless curbside pickup. Marked aisles. Face coverings. Social distancing. Requests to not handle products for everyone's safety.

First, what’s open for in-person shopping? Farmers markets, for one. Nurseries and greenhouses selling fruit and vegetable plants, for another, although some are doing by-appointment visits. Many continue to offer phone or online orders, curbside pickup and local delivery.

On its website, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets included information on which businesses within the industry were deemed essential and which ones were not, under executive order: “At this time, horticulture is designated as a nonessential business (with the exception of nurseries/greenhouses selling food-producing plants). Please note that landscaping for maintenance and pest control purposes has been designated as essential.”

Best bet: Get updates from your favorite local greenhouse, garden center or nursery on their websites, via Facebook and Twitter or by calling them. You'll notice websites and Facebook pages look different as well, with much attention given to providing information on how the businesses are serving customers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shoppers can check out new arrivals and shop online and even take virtual tours of some greenhouses and garden centers. Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping in Getzville posted a video on Facebook of its pond products, for example.

Shoppers can also review protocols in preparation for their visit.

Waterman's Greenhouse in East Concord recently posted this: "During normal circumstances we encourage this time to socialize and relax in the greenhouses. However, this season is not ordinary times. The health and safety of our customers and our families are our top priorities. We are asking our customers to do their shopping, but please do so at a safe distance from others and head home."

As Joe Weber of Mike Weber Greenhouses in West Seneca put it: "This is no time to fool around."

Weber said people have been behaving, adhering to social distancing and other guidelines.

Mike Weber Greenhouses, which sells vegetable plants, organic herbs and other products, posted this on its website: “To follow essential business guidelines we have put in place the following actions: All customers must wear a mask upon reaching the benches outside. Even though you are outside, masks must be worn. Hand sanitizer is available at all registers for customer use. There are marked one-way aisles. We have marked 6 ft social distancing lines for the register lines. Finally, customers must maintain the social distancing requirement of 6 ft apart. Anyone who chooses to give our staff problems will be asked to leave.”

Like other businesses, they continue to offer shopping options: "We have the online shopping available on our website. We have the curbside pickup; people can call in. And we’re also allowing people into our facility, but we have to follow the social distancing guidelines. When anyone calls, I just explain it to them simply like this: It’s like going to the grocery store now," Weber said.

Owner Bill Zittel, left, discusses plant ordering with new employee Maddie Engle at Zittel's Greenhouses on Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Shopping appointments

Several business are setting up appointments for customer shopping with clear restrictions posted on websites and Facebook.

At Agle's Farm Market in Eden, customers can call for a one-hour appointment with a maximum 12 customers per hour. No one younger than 16, no pets, no food or beverage, no restroom available. A face mask is required. All sales are final.

"I understand that people like to come in and pick out their own plants and see the different combinations. So we want to give people that opportunity, but we want to make sure everybody is safe – customers and staff. That's the highest priority," said co-owner Karyn Agle Sullivan.

"But they can also call and put in an order for curbside pickup if they are more comfortable with that. My goal is to give them options," she said.

Lockwood’s Garden Center is offering in-store appointments for 30 minutes or less. Limit is 10 customers at a time. Customers register online, where they can read other specific guidelines regarding their visit.

“We’re finding that customers are really happy with the restriction of less people in the store,” said Teresa Buchanan, garden center manager.

Urban Roots Cooperative Garden Market in Buffalo is having customers come in by appointment to shop for plants and other items beginning May 8, according to its website. Shoppers sign up for a time slot online, and the limit is six people at a time.

Phone consultations and remote services are other options. Busy Beaver Lawn and Garden of Cheektowaga uses aerial imagery software to get a view and measure of a site.

“It’s a way to start planning for summer projects in a safe way,” said Alyssa Keem, office manager. “It allows us to take measurements of properties and we’re able to do that remotely. It offers a panoramic view so we not only get length and width but we can also measure depth and dimension that way. So using that software we’re able to create a relatively accurate 3D rendering of the site without having to put boots on the ground, so to speak.”

Then, using customer’s photos and a 3D landscape design software, the staff is able to create a custom landscape design.

“We’re able to use screen-sharing software in order to present our final 3D design and then we can make real time changes with the client to come up with the final project,” she said.

Also big this year: Vegetable and fruit gardens – or what's being referred to as the modern-day Victory Garden.

"Nothing beats helping first-time gardeners learn that they don't have to run to the grocery store for tomatoes," said Jeff Salmon, president of Arbordale Nurseries and Landscaping.

Online resources

Here are some websites where you can find additional information. Be sure to check updates from your favorite greenhouse, nursery or garden center on their websites and via Facebook and Twitter. 

• buffalo-niagaragardening.com (The online gardening magazine includes a detailed gardening directory.)

•  agriculture.ny.gov (New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; updates on farmers markets, etc.)

• Erie Grown (Local farms, produce locator, etc.)

plantwny.com (The website of the Western New York Nursery & Landscape Association, a trade association, keeps landscapers and other members posted on updates on Covid-19, restrictions and how it impacts the green industry.)

esd,ny.gov (Empire State Development; updates on Covid-19 and business-related issues.)

• gardensbuffaloniagara.com (For information and updates on area garden events and tours.)

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