Mother’s Day isn’t canceled. It might be bigger than ever this year. It will, however, be different.

For nurseries and garden centers, the Mother’s Day weekend is a boom time. It isn’t just because because males lack imagination and can’t think of anything other than flowers – whether cut and arranged in a vase or growing in the garden – for their mothers or the mothers of their children for the holiday. It is largely because for Mainers, the holiday comes at the ideal time to start working in the garden.

Regular readers might say I am contradicting myself. A few weeks ago I wrote that I normally start gardening on Patriots Day but this year pushed it and planted lettuce in a cold frame on March 15, and succeeded. But I get bored easily, and getting out in the garden is often how I relieve that boredom. Comfortable, enjoyable gardening comes later.

Traditionally, Memorial Day – which used to be celebrated on May 30 until it was moved to the last Monday of May for a three-day weekend – marked the time that Mainers could safely plant tender crops such as peppers and petunias outside. But many Mainers get ready for that safe date on Mother’s Day. They can plant perennial flowers, trees or shrubs in May’s 60-degree temperatures instead of the windy, wet and sometimes snowy 30 to 40 degrees of April.

Nurseries prepare for Mother’s Day by loading up with baskets (hanging pots) of petunias, fuchsias and other annuals, as well as pushing the flowering shrubs out to the front of the nursery display area next to the parking lot.

Phil Roberts, owner of Broadway Gardens in South Portland – which is open with its greenhouses full of tender annuals and vegetable seedlings and its outdoor grounds full of perennials and shrubs – advised waiting, because the plants will do better when the soil is warmer.


“Early June gives plants plenty of time to develop,” he said. Instead of presenting mothers with beautiful plants, present a card that promises the plants and promises that you will do the planting.

But a lot of people aren’t waiting.

Joe Gagne, co-owner of Roosevelt Trail Garden Center in Windham, is not only ready for the rush of Mother’s Day customers, but says that the onslaught actually began during the colder-than-normal April. While the rush on vegetable seeds has been reported, for him the demand includes ornamental plants.

“The guys are forced to be at home because of the virus, they can’t go to work or the golf course, so they are working in the yard to have something to do,” he said. “We’re selling a boatload of trees and shrubs.”

While Roosevelt Trail offers curbside pickup, and some customers have even called up to ask his workers to create window boxes for them with specific plants, Gagne says there is plenty of room for people to walk among the plants and pick the ones they want.

“We’ve got a lot of room to spread out, unlike the big box stores,” he said.


Kelly Tarbox of Springvale Nurseries in Sanford is open for business but but still trying to figure out ways to practice social distancing. On days when the weather is suitable, she plans to move the cash register to a tented area outside the greenhouse. “We are going to direct traffic, so customers come in the front and go out the back and make the aisles one way, like they are doing at the supermarket,” she said.

Hammond Buck of Plants Unlimited in Rockport says his nursery is ready for the rush. It has increased deliveries and curbside pickup and is limiting the number of customers in the shop at any time. As with Gagne at Roosevelt Trail, he has been busier than normal because, he surmises, “People are looking for something to do.”

So the nurseries are ready.

But what about those who want nothing to do with growing the flowers? They just like to look at them. Don’t worry: Many florists are open, their website and phone calls indicate. Some closed for a spell but are now reopening, relying on deliveries and pickups.

“We are doing mostly deliveries but a few curbsides,” said Rachael Brown of Fleur de Lis in Cape Elizabeth. And she has had no problems getting materials.

So, no matter how you want your blossoms, no one will have to sing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” – unless they just happen to like the song.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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