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Garden Sales in Bloom - Nicole McNulty

JACK TRUITT, HOST: A lot of people have been spending a lot of time alone this year. To fill the void in their lives, some people bought pets. Others bought plants. Garden centers across the country have been reporting plant and garden supply shortages. Today, on National Gardening Day, Nicole McNulty went to New York’s largest garden and plant store to see how business has been going.

NICOLE MCNULTY, BYLINE: At 116th Street and Park Avenue in Harlem, under the subway overpass, there’s a tall picket fence made of reclaimed wood. Behind it are thousands of flowering plants and many many trees. This is the Urban Garden Center. Owned by Dimitri Gatanas.

DIMITRI GATANAS: They look like flowers but they’re succulents. What’s going on, baby? You sad? We’re gonna fix you up.

MCNULTY: Gatanas’ grandfather opened his first plant shop in 1959. They moved into this 20,000 square foot location in 2000. When they first opened there was no electricity or running water. But the cheap rent is a plus. There is one thing that takes some getting used to - the trains.

GATANAS: [Sound of the train]. My nemesis.

MCNULTY: When the pandemic hit last year the center was considered an essential business because it sells edible plants. Ever since, lines have been out the door. And online sales have been through the roof.

GATANAS: It’s a plant craze, indoor plant craze, that was just fueled by the pandemic.

MCNULTY: Gatanas says There’s a few things driving sales: older people have more time to garden; younger people with less space are turning to indoor plants; there’s been a craze for posting pictures of plants on Instagram.

MELINDA KNUT: another reason that we are seeing such an uptick in the amount of plants that are being sold is because, uh, this is a health crisis.

MCNULTY: Dr. Melinda Knut is a horticulture researcher at the University of Florida.

KNUT: And so people are seeking, um, different remedies to assist them in dealing with this health crisis. And, uh, as we know from research that, uh, plants can help in different ways, such as mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

GARY BACHMAN: There are people who are also looking at plants as a, do you want to say a substitute for a pet?

MCNULTY: Gary Bachman’s a research professor of Horticulture at the University of Mississippi.

BACHMAN: And they're looking at that and taking care of the, there, there are plants as they would have pet as they would a child.

MCNULTY: Back at the Urban Garden Center, longtime customer Jonathan Shepard says plants are the perfect antidote to Covid isolation.

JONATHAN SHEPARD: But it's, it makes you, you just feel, you feel way better when you're home, if especially, if you're in a little jungle.

MCNULTY: Gatanas says plants might not be the most obvious choice for people looking for some company in their lives but he says you don’t need a green thumb to get started. Start small, he says. And when you kill a plant, because you will, don’t worry, just try again. Nicole McNulty, Columbia Radio News.

GATANAS: Citronella, you know citronella?

MCNULTY: The mosquito repellent!

GATANAS: That’s correct. This is for you. You'll love the smell, it's wonderful. Put it in your bag, it'll be a breath of fresh air for later.

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