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'Seeds became toilet paper': Brian Minter and Marjorie Harris on the pandemic gardening explosion

Gardening has exploded in popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an "absolute run on seeds" as Canadians dive into hobbies while stuck at home for the past two months, according to expert gardener Brian Minter.

Gardening gurus took questions from green thumb beginners and experts on Checkup's Ask Me Anything

Gardening has exploded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other quarantine-friendly hobbies like baking. (Leika production/

Gardening has exploded in popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to an "absolute run on seeds" as Canadians dive into hobbies while stuck at home, according to expert gardener Brian Minter.

"Seeds became toilet paper," Minter, co-owner of Minter Country Garden in Chilliwack, B.C., and gardening columnist for the Vancouver Sun and CBC's B.C. Today, told Checkup host Duncan McCue.

Minter stressed that there aren't any shortages of popular seeds for vegetable plants, but like recent customer scrambles on items like toilet paper and flour, the perception of shortages mean suppliers are working around the clock to keep store shelves full.

"Instead of an eight-hour shift, we had 24-hour shifts working … trying to be able to come up with enough seeds there. A 400-per-cent increase," he said.

"There is no shortage. Maybe a delay, maybe not your favourite variety, but more growers are still in the West Coast planting seeds, propagating more vegetables. So there is going to be an adequate supply and absolutely no danger of things running out."

Brian Minter is a well-known gardening guru based in Chilliwack, B.C. (A. Pahl/Tourism Chilliwack)

Marjorie Harris, gardening columnist for The Globe and Mail, says interest in gardening has skyrocketed among both enthusiasts and amateurs in the past few months.

"The core suppliers are going crazy, like everybody and their dog is gardening," she said.

But she cautioned that anyone looking to start a new project in their backyard will run into new challenges with physical distancing guidelines in effect.

Since it takes two or more people to plant a large tree, she said, green thumbs will likely have to settle for smaller-scale projects.

Gardeners of all stripes will have to get used to wearing a face mask in addition to their other yard work gear, which might take some getting used to.

Marjorie Harris is a well-known Toronto gardener with over a dozen gardening books under her belt. (Submitted by Marjorie Harris)

Minter isn't surprised at the interest in gardening right now. As our human connections are largely put on hold, he says people are instead reconnecting with nature.

"It's a whole process that we're learning so much now about the connections between, you know, trees and plants and the food we eat and how we grow it," he said.

"it's really gone up in the scale of important things in people's lives. so it's wonderful."

Beginner tips

For all the first-time gardeners looking to start their first home-grown vegetable garden or lush flower bed, Minter advises to start with the plants you're most passionate about, and don't be afraid to make mistakes.

"Most things are relatively easy to start. And making mistakes is the most important thing you can do because you'll learn from it and if it doesn't work the first time, it's a do-over," he said.

When it comes to picking vegetable seeds, he suggests picking the produce that's relatively more expensive to buy at the supermarket, including tomatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers.

Harris advised first-timers to take it slow, and focus on one project at a time to avoid spreading yourself too thinly.

"I'm a big believer in doing things in stages and doing them in pockets. Make a pocket garden, make it perfect, and then move on to the next thing," she said.

Click "Listen" above to hear Minter and Harris answer Checkup listeners' gardening questions in our Ask Me Anything segment.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interviews produced by Levi Garber.

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