Stir crazy from the coronavirus stay-at-home quarantine, San Antonians are moving outside to relieve stress, gain a sense of control, and enjoy the wonders of spring.

City officials have permitted local nurseries to remain open while San Antonio and Bexar County are under the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order through April 9 and are adjusting hours and offerings as needed, including for curbside pickup. With the first day of spring just behind us, the usual peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers are selling fast, nurseries report.

“We are crazy busy,” said Junetta Schiaretti, grass manager at Milberger’s Nursery on the city’s North Side.

Mike Fanick of Fanick’s Garden Center reported less business than usual for the spring season. “But that’s ok because we don’t want a packed nursery right now,” he said. The East Side gardening center, famous for its tree inventory, has been around since 1939. Fanick said customers are coming out for stress relief.

“Not really landscaping, but more of a hobby to do something outside,” he said.

Rainbow Gardens, with two locations in San Antonio, recently launched a “resilience garden” initiative that hearkens back to the victory gardens of the World Wars.

Resilience gardens can comprise food crops, herbs, and ornamental plants, said Brandon Kirby, partner and second-generation nurseryman at Rainbow Gardens. Kirby said growing fruits and vegetables can make people feel self-sufficient, while herbs have culinary, medicinal, and aromatherapy uses. And cultivating ornamentals provides an outlet for individuals to unwind.

“Outside is the best place to be right now, so why not plant a resilience garden?” said Kirby. 

Many scientific studies prove the mental and physical benefits of gardening. They cite the rearing of fruits and vegetables resulting in a mild feeling of control, the peace of mind that can occur in a backyard, and how digging, weeding, watering and just being outside can restore people and get them away from their screens and drama of the daily news. One study detailed how exposure to soil is good for health by creating exposure to outdoor microbes that can boost the immune system.

But people like Candy Roach, a master gardener, don’t need a study to justify their gardening habit.

“I am way ahead of my gardening activities for the spring so that’s a big bonus for me,” said Roach, who lives near Government Canyon and runs a gardening club for Newcomers of San Antonio called Blooms and Brunch. “It’s a wonderful place to reconnect with nature and be reminded that life and wonder is just right outside your door.”

People walk through the potted flower area.
People walk through the potted flower area at Milberger’s in fall 2019. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Self-described plant lover Shawn Bowers posted on the Bexar County Master Gardener Facebook page that he’s spending a lot of time in his small garden after arriving home from work at a police department. “I have never found the peace and solace that I am finding the past few weeks listening to the birds and watching the plants spring back to life,” he wrote. “It gives me hope!”

On the same string, widower Terry Glaser said he planted his first pollinator garden last spring when his now-deceased wife contracted pancreatic cancer. “It makes you feel better,” he wrote.

Heather Smith-merrithew said she found pruning “so very gratifying” after trying to work from home with her two kids in the house. She added the family is planting more vegetables to learn about and eat. “Listening to the birds this time of year is also a good stress reliever,” she wrote.

People are planting more edibles like fruit trees and vegetables “because self reliance and sustainability is a positive,” said David Rodriguez, county extension agent for Texas Agrilife Extension, an educational arm of Texas A&M University.

Lee Marlowe, president of San Antonio’s chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, said she finds reassurance in the natural rhythms of the outdoors. “I always feel better after weeding and working in the garden,” said Marlowe. “The normalcy of the seasonal changes in my garden has helped me feel better about our current situation.”

Charles Bartlett, president of Green Haven Industries in San Antonio, has been gardening for 75 years. Now 81, the Army veteran gardened at the knee of his grandmother as a preschooler.

“She viewed Mother Nature as her ‘doctor’ with calming influences, huge stress relief, and each year providing hope for the future,” Bartlett said.  “She lived a sickness-free life until she was 96.

“Today, our stresses are somewhat different, but through my long life, I have met thousands of gardeners who say, ‘Gardening saved my life!’ This is the time to get outside, create something beautiful, and re-establish our age-old communion with nature.”

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...