Local greenhouse makes changes to operations during COVID-19 pandemic

COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) Starting Monday, landscapers will be allowed to come to spruce up your yard with spring flowers and mulch. But what if you want to do the work yourself?

Gardening is a great way to get outside and make your home more appealing, but working on your green thumb is harder during the pandemic.

"Gardening's a great thing to do when you're stuck at home. I like to keep gardens, and this is the year to expand the operation," said Michael Upton of South Hero.

Like many in our region, Upton is planting to pass the time. After more than 20 years of gardening with Claussen's, he says the experience looks and feels a little different this season.

"Usually we like to go inside and browse around in the greenhouses, but they've set things up nicely out here," said Upton.

"It's a whole new way of doing business. Curbside is not normal for us," said Chris Conant, the co-owner of Claussen's Florist, Greenhouse & Perennial Farm in Colchester.

Normally, customers can roam the rows of flowers, succulents and cacti to their heart's desire, but the doors are closed to the public until further notice.

Conant says creating a system where people can pick out products strictly outside or online has kept the company going amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Trusting customers will call in with their credit card to pay for the plants, and the colder climate poses an additional challenge, as they can only put out plants that'll survive like pansies.

Plus, Conant says they have far fewer people working in the greenhouses. The co-owners furloughed 27 employees to limit exposure to COVID-19. Only 10 who live on the property are taking on the transition.

"It's exciting and, at the same time, it's exhausting. A lot of emotion goes into gardening," said Conant.

That's just 10 people tending to 40 greenhouses where they're preparing for the thousands of orders that will pour in come May.

"I hope that the gardening season is going to be stronger than ever, stronger than ever, once it opens up because everybody is so itching to get their hands dirty and get out in the yard," said Conant.

For now, customers like Paula Laidlaw of Winooski say they're browsing to brighten these darker days and boost their struggling spirits.

"It's just so hard to get out of the house to do anything, and gardening is my escape from the inside of the house," Laidlaw said.

Conant says Claussen's is selling four times more vegetable and herb seeds now than they have in the last four years.

Though it's tempting to start tending to your gardens now, he says patience is important. If you plant some seedlings now, like tomatoes, they may not survive the spring.

If you want to get your garden fix, he suggests putting perennials in the ground first.