VIKTOR PIVOVAROV/The Globe and Mail
There is a growing desire amongst people to grow their own food, to aid pollinators, to disconnect from screens and reconnect with the Earth. Supply chain shortages and inflation amplified this desire, culminating in many Canadians planting seeds in their gardens – and now those gardeners are hooked.
Christian Lajoie, who owns Montreal-based Natural Seeds Canada, says that a significant number of these gardeners are parents gardening with their children, despite often being novices themselves.
Arley McNeney, a university instructor based in Vancouver, is one of those parents. McNeney began gardening in March this year after she and her daughter moved into a new place with a garden box in the front yard.
“We’d had a bit of a rough week in March, and I just went to the plant store [and] I bought some seeds,” she explains. McNeney also bought some broccoli and strawberry plants, which she thought she would plant in neat rows, but things didn’t go as planned.
“My daughter just scattered the seeds,” says McNeney. “[Now] it’s kind of grown into a tangle that we call ‘The chaos garden.’ “
Despite its name, McNeney describes the chaos garden as a source of tranquility and connection for her family – something she needed after she and her partner separated.
Gardening has also forged connections between McNeney and her neighbours, who offer her plant-related advice since gardening is often trial and error.
Seed sales jumped during the pandemic as more people picked up gardening. Though sales are subsiding somewhat this year after remaining strong in 2021, many neophyte gardeners are sticking with their new hobby, says Benjamin Hutchinson, operations manager at Ontario Seeds Company.
Kaleena Lawless is another new gardener. She bought a house in Petitcodiac, N.B. in 2018: The house came with an acre of land that’s now home to Lawless’ sprawling vegetable garden. She picked up gardening when the pandemic lockdowns limited access to spaces like indoor gyms.
“I have definitely tried everything; I have a big garden tower where last year I did all vegetables like lettuce and cherry tomatoes,” she says.
To reduce gardening mistakes, many new gardeners flocked to local gardening groups on Facebook, such as Gardening in New Brunswick Canada, which Lawless joined two years ago and now moderates. The group now has 19,000 members and counting.
Jennifer Jobin, a seasoned gardener and an administrator of the Manitoba Gardeners Facebook group, which has 24,000 members and counting, says the group enables new gardeners to learn and improve.
“I built the group and it’s become a very large group,” says Jobin. Gardeners appreciate the ongoing learning as well as the community. Lawless, for example, often shares extra harvest with her neighbours.
Though gardening enriches gardeners’ lives, it is often inaccessible to many Canadians – sometimes literally, since it requires physical labour and at least a bit of land.
As a result, many Canadians are now gardening on their apartment balconies as well as in community gardens. Amanda Johnson, who works with the Yellowknife Community Garden Collective, recalls that in the spring of 2020, all the plots across the collective’s six community gardens filled up quickly. Interest in the lots has persisted, she adds.
New gardeners seem to be particularly interested in growing their own food, according to Jim Ternier, founder of Saskatchewan-based Prairie Garden Seeds. Ternier mentions an increase in sales of fruit and vegetable seeds – carrots and sweet corn are especially popular – as well as wildflowers to support pollinators. Lajoie is also selling a lot of saffron, which, to many of his customers’ surprise, can grow in Canada.
Many Canadians developed green thumbs that they have continued to nurture because, not only is doing so therapeutic and connects them to their communities, but the fruits, as Lawless says, are bountiful.
“The garden is a gift that keeps on giving,” she says. “The more you put into it, the more you keep getting back.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Arley McNeney. The article has been updated.