Liquor is essential. Is landscaping?

Hope I’ll soon be able to make a haul like this again, but safely.

That was the question yesterday, as local green industry owners and employees were discussing whether or not garden centers were one of the (many) essential businesses allowed to operate while New York State is “on pause.” The long list includes things like anything medical (of course), police, fire, grocery stores, banks, utilities, construction, and many other businesses, including liquor stores (I agree). You won’t find garden centers on this list, except for an agriculture/farms item. Hence the anxiety among many; it’s almost time here to start pruning roses and pick up a few flats of pansies.

There has been some clarity. According to the New York State Department of Agriculture, “Garden centers, nurseries and greenhouses that grow food crops, including fruit trees, fruiting shrubs, vegetable starts or herbs are considered essential business under the farm and agriculture category and may bring in employees to maintain these plants while remaining closed to the public.”

And this, according to a few New York state counties, but not confirmed at the state level, the work allowed is “Including care and maintenance of lawns and plants including plowing, mowing and plant care, but may not perform new installations.”  Ok, so no ponds, rain garden installations, or anything new and ornamental, just lawn care.

THIS JUST IN: New guidance indicates that almost every garden center or nursery I know of will be able to operate. And, despite the above, it does seem to allow for new installations.

Many here believe that garden centers and nurseries will at least be allowed to offer curbside pickups, which is something, but not really satisfying to those of us who have been longing to browse among plants. I have mixed feelings. I, too, long to browse among plants, but I don’t want to do it in close proximity to my fellow humans. Not at this time.

I’m also worried about our local botanical gardens annual plant sale. The facility is closed, though I assume employees are allowed to come in to take care of plants on a limited basis. The sale happens in mid-May, when I have zero confidence anything will have returned to normal and it’s invariably a madhouse. I will likely not go; I’m sure I can pick up my preorders and that will have to be enough. I also have things on order at some mail order places (actually, quite a bit). I love gardening and can’t wait to get out there, but I won’t be risking my health and the health of others. Not worth it. Curbside sounds like a good compromise.

I’m not going to the liquor store either; I don’t have to. Mine delivers.

These are strange times.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Bigger worries than whether we can browse petunias, at this point in our history. I feel for those who are worried about loved ones who are ill, and those out of work. Social distancing saves lives. Propagate plants.

  2. Gardening is a productive and healthy avocation, for individuals as well as the environment. If we can authorize those who “need” alcohol to continue to buy it in every crowded package store around, surely we can find a way for people to buy plants in the midst of expansive, largely outdoor nurseries.

    • Sadly, some actually do need alcohol to function. My friend works in a hospital near Pittsburgh and after the liquor stores were closed several people visited the ER in withdrawal. These are very difficult times and we should all do our part to end them as quickly as possible. In terms of gardening, I will be starting plants from scratch this year and testing my (embarrassingly) older seeds by placing a few on a damp paper towel in a ziploc bag. Fingers crossed they germinate!

  3. Our benefit plant sale is going online for ordering, drive-by pickup. I worry about the logistics of pulling orders, getting them to cars, but we’ll manage. Keeping our volunteers and shoppers healthy is the most important.

  4. Long Beach, California resident here. Our local nurseries have mostly all gone to curb side pick up. It’s not perfect, but it is working. It’s tough on the newbie gardeners, but for those of us who know our way around
    a trowel, it’s a god send.
    Stay well ranters

  5. The seed stash will be plundered and rifled and picked over this week, even the ‘elderly’ seed packs, as who knows how long this will last. If nothing else good comes of this, I will finally be getting back to basics this year by growing from seed. I was delighted that the local liquor store was included in the essential category, so that stash has been renewed. The local hardware store is doing curbside only and I need a furnace filter, so all hail the new shopping model where it is necessary.

  6. I live in Westminster, Colorado and I have been visiting my small, local garden center, Hillside Gardens. There were no other cars in their parking lot. I have been buying soil to top off my raised beds and potting soil for my planters. My seeds were already purchased in late fall. My deck planters that previously grew flowers are now designated to grow fresh food. I wish I could encourage my friends to do this. We don’t know where this is going and fresh produce is depleted in our grocery stores. It gives me peace of mind that I can grow radishes, lettuce, and green onions beginning in April. I am a senior now, not sure when that happened, because in my mind I’m still thirty. It makes me feel more in control to have a plan and working in my yard gives me peace. Be safe.

  7. Like Kathy, I will be growing vegetables instead of flowers in my large patio containers. Just yesterday I went through my stash of left-over seeds from previous seasons to see what I can start indoors. I think our local nurseries will be closed, but not sure about that yet. Our governor here in Minnesota issued a two-week Shelter in Place order yesterday, starts tomorrow, although many of us had already been doing that. I have never been so grateful for my garden, as it starts to wake up. Stay well everyone

  8. Landscape is specifically called out as essential in CA. Every wholesale nursery I deal with is still shipping orders.

  9. Sacramento CA – our garden centers are open. My fave offers curbside pickup since the outbreak and shelter-in-place order, but also regular shopping. I’ve gone to get what I need to start my garden (new home, was not planning on really putting in a garden until next Spring) and have found about half the customers browsing for definite non-essentials like houseplants, ornamental plants, and garden decor. But maybe those things I deem non-essential would be considered essential to a person’s mental health.

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