As the coronavirus pandemic puts a damper on summer, there’s one thing continuing to thrive in Frederick County: gardens.

Since pandemic-related restrictions began in March, gardeners — both experienced and new — have found solace in planting, growing and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables.

Rachel Sanger’s two garden plots in the Ballenger Creek Community Park are her place of solace. She started using the community garden three years ago after she ran out of room to plant vegetables at her townhouse, where she primarily plants flowers.

She goes to the garden every day, and said for a long time, the only time she went outside was to take walks and visit her garden plot.

“I love to garden. It’s my therapy,” she said. “And obviously during the quarantine we all need lots and lots of therapy.”

The season got off to a late start this year since the annual frost did not arrive until late April, but once it warmed up, the garden got much busier, Sanger said.

The influx of people looking to try out their green thumb meant a boon for businesses that specialized in plants. Nurseries and garden centers, which had still been permitted to open under the governor’s orders, were swamped with new customers. Many were looking to start a new hobby, while others were concerned about food shortages amid the pandemic.

Louisa Zimmermann-Roberts said her family’s business, Thanksgiving Farms, has been busy non-stop the last few months.

“Honestly we’ve been very blessed. We have had a phenomenal year, and it’s been amazing,” Zimmermann-Roberts said. “You kind of have survivor’s guilt out here, but we’re doing good.”

Her 22 greenhouses filled with plants were completely cleared out by the second week of May. For the first time ever, she had to find a wholesaler so she could continue to have stock to sell to customers.

“I was lucky, because a lot of the wholesalers were not taking on new customers due to the demand … so I was being rejected by a lot of the wholesalers, but I did finally find a few places,” she said.

The new demand shook things up for gardeners, including Mindy Bankey and Jack Stere of Frederick. The couple have been using their community garden plots for the last three years and had to go to great lengths to find their seeds this year.

Sanger figured so many people were stuck at home that they wanted to get out of the house any way they could. With nurseries, garden centers and home improvement stores still open, it seemed like the natural choice.

“You have these huge crowds at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot and the garden centers because people were home and that’s all they could do,” Sanger said. “That was really all the places they could go.”

She was thankful the community garden was still open, because it allowed her to get out of the house and talk to other people. She’s friendly with many of the other gardeners, and they will often share tips or swap tools. After the frost, when some people lost their plants, people offered to help.

But she’s also happy to work in silence, without music.

“When you’re told you can’t go so many places and that’s the one place you can go… it was nice to have a place that was just mine and quiet,” Sanger said.

Bankey and Stere live within walking distance of their plot, so they like to take walks or bike rides to the garden and get outside.

“We go about once a day and it has been really nice to be able to see other gardeners, but keep a social distance,” Bankey said. “We’ve been keeping to our same routine through COVID.”

This year, they’ve been growing tomatoes, onions, garlic, several varieties of herbs and peppers, watermelon, sunflowers and more.

They even got their teenage sons involved. Their oldest son, who is 20, started building garden boxes with his girlfriend and planting his own seeds during the pandemic. It’s given him something to do, in addition to an appreciation for what it takes to grow food and be sustainable.

Zimmermann-Roberts knows how important it is for people to have that outlet right now. She and her family have been working tirelessly to remain open and stocked while keeping social distancing measures in place.

“We try to keep things exciting because we are these people’s havens during this pandemic,” Zimmermann-Roberts said. “We feel it’s our responsibility to maintain a fresh safe place for people to come out to.”

Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley.

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