Editor's note: This story was originally published April 9. If any of these businesses have modified their pickup, carryout or delivery options, let us know in the comments below.

Sarah Thomas usually has a plan for her garden at this time of year. She goes to Amish-run greenhouses near her home in Oxford, Chester County, and picks out seedlings: lettuce, kale and other greens plus some herbs and geraniums.

This spring, Thomas is recovering from pneumonia. She’s being extra-careful to be socially distant to protect her health.

To find her plants and keep her distance, she went to two Lancaster County garden businesses. Thomas ordered and paid online and then drove to the parking lots, where she picked up her plants. She got greens and flowers at Perfect Pots in Strasburg and herbs from Groff’s Plant Farm in Kirkwood.

Her containers are filled with zero contact.

Even if it took a few extra steps and more miles to get these plants this year, it was worth it, Thomas says.

“I enjoy gardening in general and like to teach my kids about where their food comes from,” she says.

Planning a garden this year is different. Plant sales are canceled, including those planned by Penn State Master Gardeners of Lancaster County and Lancaster Native Plant and Wildlife Festival in Manheim Township. Throughout Pennsylvania, businesses considered not life-sustaining are closed to the public. That closed florists but allowed businesses focused on selling farm supplies to stay open. Some opted to close. Others added online sales with contactless pickup and delivery. And some are open with restrictions for people to find the plants and seeds they need.

Pansies at Ken's Gardenhouse-Smoketown

Open with more precautions

The first day of spring, Ken’s Gardens’ Intercourse and Smoketown stores were packed with pansies, herbs and more. That afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered businesses not considered life-sustaining to close their doors to the public.

A few days later, the business had a waiver to open.

“Right now, we’re primarily selling a lot of vegetables,” says manager Kathy Trout. “Now is the time that you’re planting your broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, onions, asparagus and strawberries. And we had a good inventory because we’re a grower.

“We felt that it’s important for gardeners to get their vegetables into their gardens,” she says.

The doors opened to fewer staff working at the same time. Customers were asked to stay home if sick, wear gloves, pay by card instead of cash and not shop in groups.

Those pots of pansies that filled the greenhouses? They were moved outdoors and spread throughout the parking lot.

“It’s a safe shopping environment being outside,” Trout says. “We’re trying to be very conscious of keeping not only the employees safe but the shoppers safe.”

Kate Dellinger went to Ken’s last week to buy annuals for her East Lampeter Township home. She had heard there was a sale and likes supporting the local business. Also, her 2-year-old daughter, Jeni, likes the greenhouse cats.

Usually, spring gardening for Dellinger means cleaning up and maybe adding a few perennials. With more time at home, she planted pansies, tulips and hyacinths. She convinced her husband to build three raised beds where she plans to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Social distancing gardens

Dellinger said she felt safer venturing out to a place where the plants are outdoors, the doors on the greenhouse open to circulate air and there’s a no-touch payment system.

She’s always enjoyed gardening, but this year, she’s going to make more time for it.

“It’s time that was always there, but I didn’t see it, actually,” she says. “I should have made more time for it in years past but was too distracted by everything else going on.”

Black Creek Greenhouse in East Earl was already open for the season when social distancing guidelines were first made. Owners spoke with their local state representative, David Zimmerman, learned the business was an essential and stayed open, says owner Irene Zimmerman.

Cold-weather crops need to be planted now, she says, and people need gardening as a therapeutic outlet.

“I know we’re putting ourselves at a risk,” she says. “Our employees, we gave them a choice, to work or leave and we had some leave because of their elder parents and that’s fine. We respect that.”

Employees at the checkout are recommended to wear gloves. Cleaners are available for customers.

“We’re a bigger greenhouse, so people really aren’t really crowded,” Zimmerman says.

Some elderly customers have ordered and paid over the phone. Employees will bring these orders to cars in the parking lot.

Rohrer Seeds has taken a few precautions at its Smoketown store. Signs in the front ask people to stay in their cars if they’re not feeling well, says Rob Fisher, chief operating officer. Inside, there are hand sanitizer and gloves for customers. The aisles have been widened to keep people apart as they’re looking at the selection of Rohrer’s roster of 1,600 varieties of seeds.

The stores had a drop in customers but an increase in new gardeners, especially families.

“Families are looking for things to do,” Fisher says. “This is good, clean fun. It’s never going to be canceled like any other event in the world.”

Online ordering, pickup and delivery

Ordering online and having seeds and plants delivered isn’t new for many retailers around the country, like Burpee and Seed Saver’s Exchange. For most local businesses, going to the store has been the only option. That changed this spring.

Rohrer Seeds, which started in 1919, continues to get mail orders from its catalog. Just last week, Rohrer added a digital copy of its catalog to its website to help with online orders, which are already twice the amount of last year’s online sales, Fisher says.

Also new is the option to pick up at the store to save shipping and maintain social distance.

Customers at Perfect Pots used to go to the greenhouse in Strasburg to see plants in person. Browsing in the greenhouse is now not an option, but orders still can be picked up outside or delivered, says owner Laura Lapp.

Her business temporarily closed its retail stores but has an agricultural exemption for some services. For Lapp, she wanted to stay open because her growers already had grown cool-season flowers, a perishable crop. She wants to continue supporting their work and keep her own 18 employees working.

So this spring, people can order plants on the phone or online. They can collaborate on custom designs over the phone, text, email or through social media.

A popular request this spring is anything bright, cheery and colorful.

Perfect Pots is also partnering with Commons Company to sell plants, planters and soil for pickup Tuesdays and Saturdays in Lancaster City and Lititz. The service also sells food and drinks.

Also, Hoover’s Farm Market and Greenhouses in Lititz offers pickup outside the store. Delivery is offered for a fee.

BloomBox in Lancaster delivers plants and supplies throughout the county.

Closed, temporarily

Ken’s Gardens was planning to open Gallery Grow in downtown Lancaster on April’s First Friday. The store had a few soft openings but was closed temporarily in mid-March. The space is stocked with houseplants and was going to have planting workshops.

“People would be in close proximity to each other,” Trout says. “We didn’t even ask for a waiver for that.”

Stauffers of Kissel Hill temporarily closed several home and garden centers, including the location on Rohrerstown Road. They have since re-opened with some changes. The Lititz home and garden center, which shares the same building of the grocery store, remains open.

There are hundreds of certified plant sellers in Lancaster County, including greenhouses, roadside markets and plant sales. LNP | LancasterOnline is asking these businesses and groups to share if they are selling plants or seeds and if they have options like pick-up or delivery. To see who’s open or to submit information, click on the survey below.

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