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With everything going on, Alaskans need plant nurseries more than ever

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: March 26, 2020
  • Published March 25, 2020

I don’t have to guess the role gardening is going to play during this era of COVID-19, because if there is one thing you can do in isolation, it’s garden. In fact, in normal times, the garden is often the very place people go to get away from people. In addition to keeping you safe, now you should toss in the prospect of organic, fresh vegetables and homegrown flowers without having to worry about how long The Virus lasts on surfaces in the market.

Given the importance of gardening, then, the question of the day is whether Alaska’s nurseries are considered “essential businesses,” and therefore an exception to “hunker down” orders. Fear not. While I no longer have my Alaska Bar ticket, I am nonetheless offering my legal opinion that nurseries are most definitely essential in this time of COVID-19.

The Anchorage mayor’s emergency declaration doesn’t say nurseries are an essential business, but it does allow for “Food cultivation, including fishing, hunting, farming, and livestock.” If we can’t get seeds, soil, containers and starts, then how are we going to engage in growing food, or practice residential farming?

Of much greater import, however, is this: if we can’t get horticultural supplies, how are we to LIVE? How would we maintain our sanity? (More insanity is the last thing we need these days.) Remember, gardening (or should I say residential farming, just to be legally safe), not fishing or hunting, is Alaska’s number one activity.

Even in the unlikely case I am deemed wrong in my interpretation of the mayor’s declaration, it allows for non-listed businesses to petition for inclusion on the list if “you believe that it is critical or it is an entity providing critical services or functions.” I hereby file such a petition on behalf of all Alaska nurseries. There is an extremely solid case that gardening is essential and all nurseries should remain open.

This being so, we all need to follow new rules. I expect all nurseries to go out of their way to follow COVID-19 cleaning protocols. Clear distancing rules should be given. A system has to be developed for picking up stored baskets and displays that would limit crowding, perhaps outdoors. Perhaps samples should be set out so customers can point and employees can get the plants. Let’s get some foot door openers on all doors —including the rest rooms — supply hand sanitizer throughout to wipe wagon and shopping cart handles and whatever else it takes to keep everyone safe.

Customers need to wash their hands before visiting nurseries — and afterward. They must follow any posted rules and in addition, touch nothing but things they take home. Of course, it goes without saying not to visit if you are sick in any way. That would not be the gardening way. Have a neighbor help.

Please take this seriously for the sake of the good people who work at nurseries, your friends and neighbors and yourself. Consider buying in groups and having one person actually go. Perhaps we shouldn’t bring children, though it pains me to even think it. Let’s try to be sensible and limit the numbers in any given establishment without hurting their sales. We need these folks to survive.

Most Alaska nurseries are big spaces. Be respectful of others. Keep your distance. Sure, it will take some of the fun out of visiting, but such are the times.

Jeff’s garden calendar

Free trees: Oops. Last week I incorrectly listed the State Association of Foresters Arbor Day tree distribution event at REI. This is actually part of an annual tree seedling sale and distribution which has been conducted by the Cook Inlet Chapter of the Alaska Society of American Foresters. The sale has started. A few seedlings may be available for sale at the distribution but the majority are sold prior to the main events. Go to for information and tree species.

Lilies: If you have been growing yours indoors, take them outdoors and keep there until planted. Use a nice, wind-protected area in the shade.

Flowers to start from seed: Brachycomes, Dianthus, stock, lock spar, asters, Nicotiana, cleome, iceplant, zinnia and salpiglossis. schizanthus, nigella, phlox, portulaca, nemesia, marigold and nasturtiums.

Vegetables: Broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.

Gladioli: What are you waiting for?

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story contained a typo. It should have read: “Perhaps we shouldn’t bring children, though it pains me to even think it.”