The Lowcountry's plant nurseries and garden centers are thriving after the Covid-19 related shutdown catalyzed a widespread renewed interest in gardening. | Photo by Chelsea Grinstead

Local business owners say the Covid-19 pandemic actually improved the demand in the plant nursery and garden center industry in Charleston. 

Despite supply chain issues and widespread changes in consumer behavior caused by Covid-19, local nurseries and garden centers have flourished in the years since the pandemic shutdown in 2020, said Roots and Shoots Nursery owner David Manger. 

“I think because nobody was doing the more traditional socializing during Covid, everybody retreated into themselves in the things that they could do alone around their house — and the spike in gardening fervor helped everybody,” Manger told the Charleston City Paper

Sea Island Savory Herbs is as solid as ever, said co-owner Ella Cowen, who owns and operates the Johns Island plant nursery with her business partner Danielle Spies. 

“We’ve done a lot better since Covid,” Cowen told the City Paper. “Business has definitely improved.”

And while the assorted Covid-shutdown supply chain issues did somewhat affect the garden industry through issues, such as scarce availability of plastic pots and topsoil, Manger said it wasn’t a huge hurdle and overall operations are back to an even keel. 

He said he hasn’t heard other local owners in the plant business express they’re having hard times recently. 

“Everybody I know seems like they’re doing really well,” Manger said. 

Renewed interest, unique options

Sea Island Savory Herbs has been around in one form or another since the ’70s, Cowen said. She and Spies have owned and operated it for the past 10 years, selling plant cuttings, seeds and vegetables, with a focus on culinary herbs. Sea Island also grows medicinal herbs, flowers, perennials and succulents. 

“People just started during Covid to see what’s important and become more adventurous … and I do think that Covid brought back an interest in growing your own plants,” Cowen said. 

Another trend Roots and Shoots staff members say they’ve seen lately is younger people becoming “more into their gardens,” Manger said.  

Roots and Shoots Nursery in West Ashley is what Manger called a hybrid model that both grows its own plants and purchases plants from other growers. The nursery has been at its current location on Wappoo Road for the past five years, but Manger ran the business out of his backyard for five years prior. 

Manger’s nursery only sells South Carolina native plants, which he said makes Roots and Shoots niche and less susceptible to the ups and downs of supply and demand in the traditional industry. Other wholesale garden centers that supply non-native plants and popular flowering plants are more volatile.

“When you go to a regular nursery,” he said, “you see plants that are in the middle of peak bloom. … We’re a little bit different in the fact that not only are we niche, but we also keep all of our plants available whether they’re blooming or not. So that niche [aspect] is more fortified because everybody knows that whenever they want something native, they can come to us.” 

Sea Island prides itself in sustaining accessible prices, Cowen said, and selling plants that are naturally adjusted to the Charleston climate. 

“We don’t use bloom boosters or any sort of crazy fertilizers,” she said. “The plants are grown from cuttings of plants that are used to this area, and so they end up doing a lot better because they’re not coming from a big greenhouse in Michigan.”

She said the nursery is known for having “weird specialty stuff” and has been supplying Charleston landscapers and garden centers, such as Hyman Garden & Accent Store on James Island, for several years. 

“It’s a real funky, out-in-the-woods, lovely, beautiful place,” Cowen said. “It’s a working farm because we produce everything that we sell, so it’s not like a pristine garden center.”

Sea Island Savory Herbs is a small operation that wants to stay that way, she said, which means working with a group of close-knit women and basking in the joy of a simple business model. 

“We make most of our money in March, April and May — we still sell plants in the fall, but [those warmer months] get us through the year. Ever since Covid, we’ve done really well every spring.

“There’s a few [local businesses] that grow a little bit, but we’re like the only real grower around so it draws people to us.”

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