Soon, we'll be able to peruse the petunias in person at garden centers

  • Chris Wolf readies to close a hatchback Wednesday after bringing out items for curbside pickup at Shady Hills Gardens nursery in Elburn.

      Chris Wolf readies to close a hatchback Wednesday after bringing out items for curbside pickup at Shady Hills Gardens nursery in Elburn. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Craig Stitzell brings items out for curbside pickup Wednesday at Shady Hills Gardens nursery in Elburn.

      Craig Stitzell brings items out for curbside pickup Wednesday at Shady Hills Gardens nursery in Elburn. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • In the absence of clear guidance as to whether customers are allowed inside to shop, Shady Hills Gardens in Elburn offered curbside pickup orders.

      In the absence of clear guidance as to whether customers are allowed inside to shop, Shady Hills Gardens in Elburn offered curbside pickup orders. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/24/2020 6:24 PM

Do you yearn to shop in person for your garden plants?

Technically, you have to wait until Friday, May 1, per the new guidelines Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday. He said all garden centers, stores and nurseries can open to customer traffic then.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But you might find a garden center open now.

It is a crucial time for the industry. According to the Illinois Green Industry Association, gardening businesses make 70% to 80% of their annual revenue during April and May.

On April 9, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said all garden centers could sell products -- but only for delivery or pickup. That included any center "that is part of a hardware store or big box stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot."

But those stores let shoppers in to their garden centers, leading to questions.

"We're confused. Is there no enforcement? There's too much confusion," Joe Heidgen, co-owner of Shady Hill Gardens in Elburn, said Tuesday. "If you look long enough (at the order) you can find justification for anything."

Margaret W. Smith, spokeswoman for Home Depot, said "many essential items" are located in the outdoor garden area, including building materials.

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"We've been partnering with the state for some time to share our efforts to keep our associates and customers safe, including customer limits in stores, pausing spring promotions to avoid driving foot traffic, expanding contactless fulfillment options, and implementing many social distancing and safety measures," she said.

There are about 900 licensed nurseries and more than 3,000 nursery dealers (including home-improvement stores, garden centers and grocery stores) in Illinois.

"People need to be able to walk through and look at plant materials," Illinois Green Industry Association Executive Director Kellie Schmidt said. "Gardening is something that provides documented health benefits."

Heidgen agrees. Curbside pickup "is not a replacement for being open," he said. Helping customers get what they want is hard enough in person, he said, because people don't remember the names of what they planted previously. He calls it "plant charades," with employees guessing what people mean when they describe a plant.

"There's never been a spring like this," Heidgen said.

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