Is social distancing a natural thing for gardeners?


A better term is “physical distancing,” which is literally what I have to do when I am working in the front garden and anyone walks by. Rather than tread on April-soggy soil, I retreat down the walkway as it’s the only way to put enough feet between me and the sidewalk. Otherwise, nothing stops me from my usual spring chores. Garden centers are open, many deliver, and working outside on my own property seems safe enough.

The usual conclusion is that gardening offers a satisfying outlet in these days of uncertainty and fear. I even wrote a column that started, “If you’re a gardener, this is your time.” It’s true, as far as it goes. But then I realize how social the gardening world really is. One good barometer is our Facebook gardening group, which is receiving dozens of requests to join on a daily basis. I think this is as much about people reaching out from isolation as it is about people wanting to start gardening.

Is it really completely satisfying to watch spring perennials and bulbs burst into color and bloom with nobody else to see it? To a certain degree, it’s nice, but then you want to share it somehow. We’re all doing that on social media, but nothing compares with the humblebrag walk along the perennial border with a friend, making sure to point out the problems, not the triumphs. This is so universal, it appears in just about any novel that has gardener characters in it. Even those in rural isolation find ways to share.

That’s why I have all digits crossed that our midsummer garden walks will emerge intact as COVID-19 begins to wane. I have to be realistic and think it must be 50-50 best, and, if these events do survive, they will be very different. Everything will be very different.

I would like to show somebody my hellebores.

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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. Since I have hellebores also (it’s my favorite perennial), I appreciate yours and can imagine how beautiful they are in person. I have doubles, but not an all-white double like that one. It’s stunning! Having been to your garden, I can just imagine how beautiful it is now and will be in the coming days. I’m crossing my fingers for you and all of Buffalo that you can show off those stunning gardens, neighborhood after neighborhood. Stay safe and healthy, my friend!

  2. While the municipal edicts require isolating ourselves, I’m finding opportunities to connect to neighbors I have never met by offering free perennial divisions. In my leafy urban neighborhood with many tiny properties where only some have caught the gardening bug, those stuck at home seem to crave the chance for an activity outdoors that makes them happy. And what better than accepting the gift of a free plant.
    An email listserv of neighbors has been active with acts of kindness and caring, sharing a bit of fresh cilantro, or trading some sponges for some tissues. And we have a special location set aside, an old picnic table, for “socially distant” item swaps. So as I dig and clarify the design in my own garden, making moves to adapt to changing amounts of sun, I gather plants which I might have donated to community garden fund-raising plant sales. Now, there just mood lifting freebies!

    On Easter, I received a lovely handmade surgical mask at my door for the clump of Hakonechloa I had left for a neighbor I have yet to see.

  3. I had to laugh at your comment that gardeners, when showing visitors their gardens, point out the problems not the triumphs. I’m also a quilter and quilters do the very same thing, pointing to mistakes in their projects, often things that nobody would ever notice (except judges in quilt shows). Your double hellebores are gorgeous.

  4. Hello! Could you possibly tell me the name of your double white hellebore? It is absolutely gorgeous! Because of the deer in my area (outside DC/in MD), I am planting every possible bare space, including the woods, with hellebore seeds. Since I’m 77, I’m not sure I will ever see what I imagine it can be – hellebores everywhere! Thank you. Joan

  5. I am of two minds on this. I love sharing and do miss inviting “strangers” to my gardens BUT I am taking more pictures than I ever have before. Now I look forward to hopefully sharing the gardens later and then whipping out my I-Pad and saying “I want to share my hellebores, primroses, …. with you since you missed them last spring.”

    Oh yes I am a quilter and a knitter as well and I do understand that the critical eye of the creator always goes to the “mistake” even when no one else notices. One of my gardening moments was when a neighbor brought over her son’s family right after we had returned from a three week vacation. All I could see were the weeds. They said to me “you have an incredibly beautiful garden!”

  6. I can’t wait to see everyone’s hard gardening work this year when walking through the neighborhoods – it’s always been such a relaxing pastime. Hopefully soon things will get better and we will see more gardens flourishing! Thanks for the comforting read.

  7. I have met more of my neighbors since we started “social-distancing” than in the prior 18 months (when we moved in). Mostly because they are out for walks and I am outside, digging up the front lawn for my veggies, replacing irrigation, getting rid of the shrubs and putting in fruit trees. Some are also veteran gardeners who want to share their experiences and knowledge and opinions; some are newbies with so many questions about what and how (they seem to get the ‘why’ these days); and some marvel at the idea of dispatching a lawn for, well, *not* lawn. I find it funny that in this time of keeping our distance, I’ve met more people than I did when I was attempting sociability.


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