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Wingham Nursery and Florist doing booming trade in vegetable seeds and seedlings during COVID-19 pandemic

Busy as a bee: Ralph Sawyer of Wingham Nursery and Florist says he has never sold as many seeds as he is selling now. Photo: Scott Calvin
Busy as a bee: Ralph Sawyer of Wingham Nursery and Florist says he has never sold as many seeds as he is selling now. Photo: Scott Calvin

Wingham Nursery and Florist owner Ralph Sawyer says he has never sold as many seeds in his entire life as he is selling right now.

The COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in many businesses closing and people out of work across the globe, but for the nursery it has had the effect of bringing it back from the brink of closing its doors during the worst drought in the area's recorded history, coupled with the 2019 bushfires.

During level four water restrictions, which were only lifted on February 21, 2020, Ralph was having to water all of the nursery's stock with bore water by hand. During that time he had to let go of two staff members. The only thing keeping his struggling business afloat were customers on the coast, from Crowdy Head down to Pacific Palms, where the drought wasn't biting as hard as it was inland. That was, until the bushfires hit.

"No one could garden, that's what it came down to," Ralph said. "It was pretty horrific. One Sunday we only had five customers.

"When the fires hit that Saturday, Sunday, it just absolutely crashed."

Welcome rain and lifting of the water restrictions helped the business start to bounce back as customers returned. But since the coronavirus started becoming national news, customers have been coming through the door in droves.

We're catching up pretty well now. I wish it was under different circumstances than this virus.

Ralph Sawyer

What they are seeing at Wingham Nursery and Florist is part of a worldwide trend that has emerged from the pandemic of people wanting to grow their own vegetables from home. Part of the reasoning is fear - people have been panic buying and fearing a shortage of fresh food, despite their being a plentiful supply, And now they want to 'prep' for a catastrophic disaster by growing their own food.

Other people are finding a lot of time on their hands while self isolating at home, and are taking up gardening as it is something they have perhaps wanted to do but never had the time for.

Some are simply wanting to go back to a simpler, more sustainable way of living.

"They've said they want to start growing their own stuff like their grandparents used to. Some of them have never gardened in their life, and we're trying to help them as best we can," Ralph said.

They've said they want to start growing their own stuff like their grandparents used to.

Ralph Sawyer

With demand at an all time high, Ralph hasn't been able to keep up with the demand for vegetable seeds and seedlings.

"We have been flat chat. In the last three weeks, it's just been incredible. Even Yates can't supply us enough seeds, Greenpatch were struggling. I rang another bulk seed company at Coopernook, Sunland Seeds to source some seeds.

Seedlings have been popular, too.

"Vegetable seedlings - we've increased our vegetable growing capacity by 500 per cent," Ralph said.

While business has been good for the past three weeks, Ralph still feels the same uncertainty about what will eventuate as most people do.

"We're catching up pretty well now. I wish it was under different circumstances than this virus," he said.

"We're managing so far. If we can get through the next month without the virus biting us... that's the worry."

Whatever happens, right now Ralph is feeling a good deal of relief and respite, and not just a little bit of gratitude.

"I appreciate how the people have stuck by us. And they appreciate that we are still here. It gives you a bit of pride," he said.