By Francesca Sacco
The pandemic has created a new generation of enthusiasts who are embracing the organic experience of gardening.
Last spring, mom and pop nurseries and national home improvement stores alike struggled to keep their garden supplies stocked as more people turned to nature for an outlet.
Claire Campbell Schuchman, a master gardener at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh and owner of Exceptional Gardens in Mt. Lebanon, wasn’t surprised. Aside from the obvious benefits like growing your own quality food, exercise and getting outdoors, gardening can alter a person’s mental health in a positive way.
“Whether for food or beauty, there is a tremendous mental health life in gardening and being surrounded by living things,” Schuchman said. “It also gives you a sense of control in being able to provide food or create an oasis of beauty for our families during this difficult time.”
With extra time on their hands, Schuchman said last spring was the perfect time for many to test their green thumb.
“People are at home and they have two thoughts. One is that they now have enough time on their hands to grow a garden and the other is ‘look at how bad that looks,’” she said.
While the possibilities are endless, Schuchman said gardening takes time and patience.
“It’s not unusual for people to go out and purchase plants and vegetables and then get home and are unsure about how to move forward,” she said. “The most important thing is for people to prepare their beds. You need to feed your soil. It will make or break your success.”
Preparing the soil isn’t easy. Schuchman said there aren’t a lot of short cuts either. For those creating a new garden bed in their lawn, the grass must be killed. Schuchman recommends using vinegar to kill the roots and several layers of newspaper to smoother them.
“It really is a process. You’ve got to use the vinegar solution several times before layering the newspaper. Then you want to add about 10 to 12 inches of a 50/50 mix of topsoil and mushroom manure,” she said. “The following year you’ll want to rototill the space, so I recommend putting annuals there the first year.”
Mother’s Day is the unofficial start of planting season. Schuchman recommends keeping plant selection simple and taking the time to learn about the plants before purchasing them and the conditions of a homeowner’s property.
“Herbs are very easy to grow. They take very well to large pots, so they’re a great place to start for first-time gardeners. Tomatoes are also easy. They need full-sun for at least most or half of the day,” she said.
For those looking to learn more, Schuchman recommends Phipps’ online classes and resources.
“They also have a wonderful May Market. It’s a garden mecca,” she said of conservatory’s annual fundraiser and plant sale.
With the possibility of another socially distant summer, Schuchman expects the interest in gardening to grow. With the alluring displays in stores and online, Schuchman said it’s hard to resist creating your own little oasis.
“No matter how small your property, you can really create something beautiful,” she said.