Deena Awad was one of the first customers inside her neighborhood garden shop when it reopened Friday. And over the weekend, she was already back.
“Today is Round 2!” Awad declared after picking out some English lavender and a selection of dainty white flowers from Adams & Son Gardens, a small shop consisting of two aisles and a side yard full of flowers and vegetable plants near Humboldt Park.
“I love this place,” said Awad. “They’ve been closed seven weeks and I have been biding my time.”
A microbiologist, Awad said she’s gotten all her groceries delivered and has only left the house to walk the dog.
“This is the first thing you could probably list under ‘somewhat frivolous’ that I’ve done,” she said.
Awad had lots of company Saturday as she picked out her plants. This was the first weekend that greenhouses, garden centers and nurseries in Illinois were allowed to reopen to the public. Under Gov. JB Prtizker’s revised stay-at-home order, which went into effect May 1, they’re now considered essential businesses, along with grocery and hardware stores.
And the new rules coincided with warm weather, the typical start of the gardening season and pent-up demand from Illinoisans who’ve been cooped up under stay-at-home orders for more than a month – all of which meant people flocked to garden centers.
At Adams & Son, owner Tony Adams moved the check-out line along by calling out prices for his dad to enter into the cash register, then wheeled customers’ purchases outside to be collected in the open air.
“Everyone’s stuck at home, so plants is a little escape, a little getaway,” said Adams, who said gardening is “mental therapy.”
He said customers have been patient with social distancing rules, employees and customers donning masks. While signs outside announced a limit of 12 people in the tiny store at a time, enforcement was not particularly strict.
Tony Rincon and Alyssa Leisure stayed just long enough to pick up plants for an herb garden they’re starting.
“Just gotta try to limit your time in there, get in and get out,” said Rincon.
“Be spatially aware,” Leisure added. “I think that’s something that everyone is just going to have to learn how to do in these times, be aware of everyone and everything around them.”
Adams put in orders for his springtime plants back in January, but had to put everything on hold when the governor issued the state’s stay-at-home order in March. He spent seven weeks at home with his family, coming to the shop just once a week to water plants.
“Then as soon as I got the OK from the governor, I started releasing the semi [trucks] and they started coming. It took us about five days, five semis to unload everything to fill up the yard,” said Adams.
Sarah Chrystal saw those trucks arrive; she has a small plot in a community garden across the street.
“The day I saw that their shelves were being filled was one of the most exciting days of quarantine,” said Chrystal. “The timing happened to be perfect with gardening centers opening May 1st, because this is when people typically plant.”
Chrystal said the coronavirus pandemic is emphasizing the importance of gardening.
“Grow your own food, take control of your kitchen, and know where your food is coming from,” she said.
Adams said he’s hoping the quarantine might be good for gardening in general.
“It keeps you busy … Clean your plants, water your plants, talk to your plants – it gives you something to do while you’re at home,” he said.
Linda Lutton covers Chicago’s neighborhoods for WBEZ. Follow @lindalutton.