'Sunny days, you know your place is going to be full'

June's mostly RDF brutal for gardeners' zeal, garden centres' business

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on June 29, 2011
Rise and Shine Nursery and Garden Care owner Wayne Putt tends to hanging baskets in one of his Goulds greenhouses. Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Kim Codner wants the sun. And so does everybody else.

"It's been cold and wet and miserable," agreed Dianne Codner, as the daughter-mother duo were one of the few customers trickling through greenhouses at Murray's Garden Centre in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's one mid-morning respite this week from chilly RDF - rain, drizzle and fog.

"You just have to get at it and make the best of it."

With some sunny periods forecast for today between the drizzle, the Codners might get their wish briefly - Environment Canada is forecasting cloud and/or RDF well into next week.

CBC weather specialist Ryan Snodden has dubbed the month June-uary, tallying 25 of 28 days with precipitation.

"The crazy part of it is we have not even had a crazy wet June," Snodden said Tuesday.

"We've had 94 millimetres of rain. The normal for June is 100.

The temperature has gone above 15 degrees only three times so far this month and has not cracked 20 degrees, making it the most brutal month since June 1982.

Margaret and Tim Shears of St. John's find it hard to get motivated to garden, but started making the circuits of the nurseries last weekend.

"Last year, we went to Barbados to get away from the weather," said Tim Shears, adding they might have done the same this year, except for a planned fall vacation.

Diehard gardener Vic Young was picking out plants at Rise and Shine Nursery and Garden Care in Goulds to replace a freshly planted flower bed that washed away.

"I made my mistake," he said. "I couldn't believe all the rain that came down. It's definitely the worst June I've seen, the wind and rain and lack of sun."

"I don't even want to go outdoors," said one man, pulling a cart full of plants with his wife. "It's been weeks of rain, morning, noon and night."

At Bickerstaffe Nurseries and Gardens in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, Bill Johnson lamented his grass has been growing like crazy, but it's too wet to cut it.

Johnson was bitten by the gardening bug four years ago when he bought his home and is itching to get some decent days to tend to his flower beds.

"I got $4,000 spent in plants and that's no lie," he said.

At Lester's on Brookfield Road in St. John's, Lucy Hynes said the dismal weather has infested her garden with grubs and she's leery of planting.

"It's only my second time out," the Mount Pearl woman said.

Garden centre business has been slow in June - due to a lack of sunshine and warmth which brings out the impulse buyers - the non-diehard gardeners who open their wallets for pretty plants when double-digit temperatures hit.

"Nobody wants to come out when it's raining and cold," said nursery operator Mary Lester.

"Nobody wants to be out in their mitts. And they have been this year - mitts and hats and winter coats."

The weather has also made the work harder for nursery operators to keep their plants looking great and curb moisture-loving diseases like mold, as well as advise customers what to choose, Lester said.

The operation's market may also see a lag in product availability between vegetables growing under plastic cover - meant to put them on the market earlier - and those growing in the open, Lester said, adding once the weather turns warm, you can see the vegetables and flowers flourishing.

"You get a day of sun and they respond. I guess they are just like us," she said, as dark clouds hovered overhead.

At Rise and Shine, owner Wayne Putt is happy to see a busy parking lot as temperatures leave the single digits.

"We found it a challenge to grow our crop because of all the moisture and stuff, but we have a beautiful crop," he said, tending to a row of vibrant hanging baskets of all colours.

"We're finding a slow start, but people are out now and they are starting to get their flowers, plant their trees and shrubs and get into their gardening. This weekend started to pick up. I'm hoping July is going to be good."

Michael Murray was four years into his business in 1982, and this is the worst start to a summer since then.

"The weather certainly is keeping the blush off people's enthusiasm," he said.

"Sales in the garden centre are down significantly from the past year. Although this is a tough season and we're having a downswing in sales, we'll survive the season and we'll persevere."

Landing a contract for the courtyard at the Hotel Newfoundland saved 1982 and Murray's has spent three decades building the horticulture and landscaping business, which includes diversifying into services such as playground installations.

Landscaping contracts continue to be busy this year, and Murray marvels at his dedicated crews, who missed few days of the outdoors' work because of the weather. However, topsoil has been hard to handle because of the wetness.

The moisture is also having an impact on trees like ash, which need a lot of heat to leaf out, Murray noted.

At Bickerstaffe, operator Peggy McDonald notes the weather in June is always unreliable and Newfoundlanders are used to it.

Hardy gardeners, she said, want their plants early and put the effort into dragging them in and out of the weather. More people are also stretching their seasons to include fall plants, as September is usually nice.

Bickerstaffe grows for a supermarket chain so it keeps the nursery busy.

But she said warmth goes a long way, both for sales and for stress levels.

"Sunny days you know your place is going to be full," she said.

"For most people, even myself, there's nothing as nice as sitting down in the evening looking at flowers for lowering stress in your life."

What's up for July and August?

All four nursery operators are optimistic, based on their gardener's gut instincts.

The weatherman can't guarantee anything.

"It can't possibly be this bad. Let's just hope," Snodden said.