The business of gardening continues to bloom across India amid the pandemic

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As first-time gardeners find comfort in nurturing plants and growing their own food at home, nurseries across the country bolster their inventory to keep up with rapid sales

“Over the last couple of weeks people have been speculating about an impending lockdown. And that has brought even more plant enthusiasts here,” says K Subramaniam, the owner of KS Garden in Panaiyur. “They want to stock up on a variety of flowers and foliage to cheer them up as they stay indoors.” In addition, this rising bevy of first time gardeners are also buying compost, coco peat and pots so they can nurture plants and see something positive take shape in a world that is unnervingly unpredictable right now.

With this sudden influx of clients, Subramaniam says he had to round up his troops to manage the crowd on weekends. “Normally I have three to four sales assistants but on weekends I need at least 10 of them,” he says. With the fresh lockdown restrictions starting today, he is now allowed only 50% of his staff and the nursery is permitted to be open till noon. While he expects the shorter working hours to impact business, he adds that on the whole he has seen a rise in clients over the past year.

Before COVID-19, he says he would get an average of seven clients a day. This rose to 20 visitors per day on weekdays, and 50 on each day of the weekend till last month. Many were young first time plant buyers, who replaced their mall visit with the relative safety of the wide, open spaces the nurseries offer. Before the second wave, he was also getting road trippers on driving vacations from other cities. “It is easy for my clients to maintain physical distancing in a large, open area such as my nursery. They have enough space to spread out and admire the variety on display,” Subramaniam says, adding that he gets his staff tested as an additional safety measure.

Natural green succulents cactus, Haworthia attenuata in white flowerpot isolated on white background
 

The 10,000 square feet green space houses nearly one lakh variety of plants — including grass, home garden, vegetables, potted plants — that Subramaniam procures from Pune, Rajahmundry, Bengaluru, Cuddalore, Puducherry, and Thiruvananthapuram. He gets stock once a week and says that incoming stock for succulents, table top and hanging varieties has gone up by 50%-60% given the demand. “I think with clients not having to go to office they are using that time to nurture plants,” he smiles. “I am hoping that the interest doesn’t fade in the future,” he adds.

For a less empty home

A number of nurseries and horticultural farms mushroomed along the ECR over the last few years. But with many more people taking to gardening to counter the tense monotony of lockdowns, smaller ones have been launching despite the economic slowdown. While the pandemic shut several small enterprises and made a dent on the balance sheets of the big ones, it kept many plant nurseries not just open, but thriving.

Visakhapatnam-based CMR Nursery Garden was bracing for the “Great Recession” all over again when its seasonal business saw a steep decline in March-May last year. However, that did not last long. “By June, our business roared back with a 40% increase in sales as compared to pre-COVID-19 times,” says Mavuri Venkata Ramana, founder and managing director of CMR Group. The nursery that has around 800 varieties of plants along 16 acres received on an average 200 daily footfalls till last month. Now with the State going under restrictions again, and shortened opening hours (6 am to noon), a lull lies ahead.

However, judging by the rush of Instagram and Facebook advertisements for online plant nurseries, buyers are as enthusiastic about shopping online. Ahmedabad-based myBageecha saw their sales grow during the July to September period — a time when most people were working from home. Saumitra Kabra, co-founder of myBageecha, says has been receiving a lot of orders from tier-2 cities lately ; this was not the case earlier.

New plant products

  • Buoyed by urban India’s renewed interest in gardening, myBageecha is now focussing on developing new products such as pressed flower diaries and moss frames. A welcome addition, as, for many, Nature has become an extension of home décor. Perhaps, another reason for the popularity of plants. “With a lot of people still working from home, a plant on their desk or living room will help them feel fresh. This is how they can reconnect with Nature,” says Saumitra.

Pune-based NurseryLive too saw their sales double in the last year, with their vegetable seeds pack especially in huge demand. “We’re seeing a definite spike in seeds that’s continuing to rise this year,” says Satender Kumar, co-founder of NurseryLive. The bulk of the sales came from the June-October period when business sprung back with 70,000 orders in a month. “Now it has stabilised to 50,000 orders in a month, which is still higher than the 35,000 we did pre-COVID,” adds Satender. With the supply-chain networks still affected in many parts of the country due to the pandemic, NurseryLive plans to join hands with more local partners in cities across India to bridge the gap between plant growers and buyers.

With nurseries observing a surge in first-time gardeners — primarily young working professionals and families with young kids — they are helping clients with personalised guidance, online or over the phone. “We launched a work-from-home plant pack which has a mix of five species that are low maintenance and perfect for low-light conditions. These include syngonium variegated, areca palm and peace lily,” says Satender.

No wonder, most new buyers ask for them, concurs Saumitra, who likes to refer to these varieties as indoor “beginner” plants as they require minimum effort and attention. He also adds sansevieria, Pothos, Aglaonema, and Hoyas to list of the “It” plants.

For Deepa K, a resident of Egmore, her joy every morning is to look at the plants on her balcony, along with her grandchildren. She started out with easy to handle plants and on the behest of the grand kids is now mulling over procuring a few ornamental varieties.

“The kids and I feel a sense of achievement every morning when we see flowers blooming or new leaves opening up. There is this joy because we have created this, it’s alive, growing, blooming and brightening up our space. It is a positive, productive, de-stressing hobby,” she says, adding that “sometimes even if we do not get to see people, seeing these flowers can make our surrounding feel less empty.”



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