Photo courtesy City People’s Nursery: City People’s Garden Store in Madison Park is having a busy 2021, with outdoor living items popular among customers, as are houseplants, owner Alison Greene said. Other nursery and garden center owners in Seattle report similar experiences.
Photo courtesy City People’s Nursery: City People’s Garden Store in Madison Park is having a busy 2021, with outdoor living items popular among customers, as are houseplants, owner Alison Greene said. Other nursery and garden center owners in Seattle report similar experiences.

Last year was a blockbuster year for gardening businesses ­— and 2021 is already breaking those records.

According to a news release on prnewswire.com, Ferry Morse seeds, the nation’s largest home garden seed retailer, announced in April that first-quarter sales had outpaced even last year’s,  and a spokesperson for Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds confirmed the business’s January sales were up 500 to 600 percent from a typical year.

Locally, at City People’s Garden Store in Madison Park, after last spring’s somewhat rocky transition to curb-side pickup, sales have rebounded and then some, owner Alison Greene said.

The 30,000-square-foot site offers indoor and outdoor plants, gear and gifts.

“It’s been a crazy busy year,” Greene said. “Sales overall have been very strong.

“We didn’t quite know what to anticipate this year,” she added, stating outdoor living has been big, especially furniture and cedar planters and raised beds, and houseplants “continue to be off the charts.”   

“People are happy to be out shopping,” Greene said. “They are happy we are still here.”

Greene is scouting for a new location for her business since the site was sold and is pending development into an apartment building.

Magnolia Garden Center is also “busier than it has ever been,” owner Chuck Flaherty said, and after 24 years, Flaherty should know.

Magnolia Garden Center takes up about a city block and focuses on helping the urban gardener. Flaherty said the business’s cozy size means customers enjoy personal service. Like many nursery owners in Seattle, he has been scrambling to untangle a snarled or broken supply chain caused by the pandemic.

“We’ve had a lot of disruption in the supply chain, and we expect that to go on for a while,” Flaherty said. “You either can’t get it, there’s a huge delay in getting it, or you can’t get parts for it.”

For instance, Magnolia Garden Center had some furniture early in the season, “…but that’s long gone,” Flaherty said, and he wasn’t able to find a replacement.

Many cited snags in getting supplies from overseas, whether pottery from Germany, Italy or Vietnam or furniture from France, and in finding plants to meet the staggering demand ­— both indoors and out. Many vendors issued limits on orders to parse out their stock.

Because everyone is competing for the same plants, owners have to be diligent to keep up with ordering. Urban Feed’s Kristi Robertson said, “I’ve had to log on [to my computer] on my day off to order plants the day they become available,” Urban Feed and Garden owner Kristi Robertson said. “If I don’t, they’re all sold out.”

Still, she said sales at Urban Feed and Garden in Columbia City are up 70 percent from the same time last June.

“This, by far, is my biggest year in both growth and numbers,” Robertson said.

Urban Feed and Garden offers supplies ranging from garden to pets and is one of the few places in the city a person can both buy chicken feed and order a custom “catio.” Robertson’s biggest items continue to be vegetable starts and chicken feed, but she has noticed an uptick in perennial sales.

Sales remain strong at other nurseries, as well.

Ravenna Gardens at University Village, which offers a selection of indoor and outdoor plants and gifts, has benefited from its outdoor location, which became a safe haven for pandemic shoppers, owner Gillian Mathews said.

“It has been the biggest spring we’ve ever had, I would say, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up, either,” she said. “Our sales are up about 35 percent this year, to date, which is huge. We’ve seen unprecedented growth versus previous years. I think when people were home with the pandemic last year, they started focusing on their gardens, and they are enjoying spending more time outdoors.”

Often vegetables and herbs are the on-ramp for new gardeners, and owners reported they were for a horde of new gardeners last spring. Those sales continue to be strong, but several nurseries are seeing an expansion into perennials, trees and shrubs, as well as decorating outdoor spaces for lounging, entertaining and, of course, outdoor Zooming.

“We’ve never sold as much furniture as we have this year,” despite delays in shipments from France, Mathews said.

Swanson’s Nursery in Crown Hill, a 10-acre destination with a café, koi pond and reindeer during the winter holidays, has also experienced great interest in outdoor living from customers, from furniture to pots and decor, Marketing Director Aimee Damman said. Sales overall year to date are up from both 2019 and 2020 in “nearly every category,” she said. Another difference this year was customers were eager to get into their gardens as soon as possible, calling or posting earlier in the season with plant requests or questions on seed starting, leading to a “blockbuster April,” Damman said.

Among plants, people are still buying vegetables but have been asking for pollinator-friendly plants and colorful perennials to mix with their edibles. Damman thinks 2020’s new gardeners “got the bug” and are expanding their borders mentally and physically out from their raised beds.