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Ontario steps out of the weeds: Landscaping and greenhouses set to welcome back customers

As of May 8, garden centres and nurseries can begin allowing in-store purchases again

Although not fully through the pandemic, Ontario has begun taking steps to return to business as usual, with the announcement in the past week of the full or partial re-opening of a particular list of businesses and construction projects. 

May 6, Premier Doug Ford announced further relaxation of restrictions. As of midnight on Friday, May 8, garden centres and nurseries will be open for in-store purchases and payments, operating under the same guidelines currently in place for pharmacies and grocery stores. Hardware stores and safety supply stores can do the same as of midnight May 9. 

On May 11, all retail stores with a street entrance can begin offering curbside pickup and delivery.

In the meantime, garden centres and nurseries continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery. 

Lawncare and landscaping had been deemed essential, with services limited to those necessary for the continued operation of other essential businesses. But exactly which services were considered essential was never made entirely clear, said Marylou Hargan, co-owner of Turfscapes and Turf King Sudbury alongside her husband Rob. 

This resulted in a considerable amount of confusion over the first few weeks of pandemic closures, she said, but once they had their ducks in a row, the team found their new rhythm with ease.

New safety and sanitary procedures had already been put in place, including spraying their vehicles and equipment with a disinfectant spray before and after shifts, assigning equipment to limit interaction, and staggering shifts to promote social distancing. 

The only issue was giving her crews access to washroom facilities, she said, but this was resolved by renting portable toilets when on location at Pioneer Manor or Rehan’s Independent, for example. She hopes to carry this technique through the coming months, with toilet stations established across the city for her teams to use when needed. 

Aside from offering these limited services, Hargan said her teams’ focus has been on preparing for the upcoming season with online training, getting trucks and equipment service-ready, ordering products and bumping up their client base with community outreach. Meaning they are more than ready to get back on the road. 

“We’re ecstatic that we are allowed to work,” she told Sudbury.com but that doesn’t mean they will be fully functional. The majority of big-ticket landscaping projects will be put on hold for the time being, assessed on a case-by-case basis according to the risk of exposure.

This may be inconvenient to some, especially given the fact that people will be looking to spend more time in their backyards, just as she has but the safety of her staff and the public is her first priority. 

“Our reputation is more important than any job or profit or whatever. It’s the long haul.”

Moving forward, Hargan said teams will be travelling to worksites in separate vehicles, cutting out their interaction with clients all-together through the use of new software, and conducting all meetings outdoors at a distance.

She has not had to make any significant changes to staffing thus far but she and her husband Rob have chosen to cut their personal salaries should additional funds be needed down the road.

Owners Peter and Olive Vanderkooy of Azilda Greenhouses, have also not had to make any significant staffing adjustments due to the pandemic, Peter shared in a recent interview. They have actually chosen to hire an additional staff member to meet existing demands but even with this new set of hands, he said this business style cannot be sustained long-term. 

A considerable portion of their business stems from impulse shopping and that is a lot harder to achieve when people are forced to pre-order, said Vanderkooy, so news in-store purchases are once again allowed as of May 8 is welcome. The business was providing staff with additional training to shop for clients, taking valuable time away from other tasks, on top of any time spent doing the actual shopping. 

Azilda Greenhouses has been open for curbside pickup since the pandemic began, he said. 

Vanderkooy said that Azilda Greenhouses has had safety measures and protocols in place for quite some time now, including hand sanitizer stationed at various locations, floor markings and signage to encourage social distancing, and masks for employees in close contact with each other or customers. They will also be limiting the store's occupancy once Friday rolls around. 

“The desire among the public to come to our facility and other places is very high. They seem to need gardening this year.”

Aside from the effects of a decline in impulse shopping, Vanderkooy said the business hasn’t had any significant losses as of yet but they are “psychologically prepared to take a big hit.”

“We do 70 per cent of our business in two months. If this is choked off from us our livelihood is choked off from us.”

With this in mind, however, he remains confident that Azilda Greenhouses will return next season. 

Find more information on the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services requirements for working during the COVID-19 pandemic for lawn care workers here and garden centres here



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Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Keira Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

A graduate of both Laurentian University and Cambrian College, Keira Ferguson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, at Sudbury.com.
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