As winter approaches, the pandemic continues and spending time outdoors seems less appealing, how can you still get your fix of nature? By bringing the outdoors inside, or at least that’s what soaring plant sales seem to suggest.

Latest figures show there has been a huge increase in the number of people buying plants and bulbs during lockdown, and medicinal plants have proven particularly popular.

Experts say people want to connect with nature and that customers are buying more bulbs so they can grow their own plants next spring as gardening grows in popularity.

Sales at Gardening Express of plants including echinacea, gingko, sambucus and green tea have risen sharply, in the case of echinacea by almost 3,000% compared with last year. It has sold more than 20,000 echinacea plants in the last three months alone.

The online plant store Patch said its sales had increased by 500% during lockdown and the DIY chain Homebase said the number of fruit and vegetable plants purchased has risen by 45% compared with the same time last year.

Guy Barter, the Royal Horticultural Society’s chief horticulturalist, said: “Grow-your-own edible plants have seen huge interest. Over 3.5 million people have taken up gardening for the first time and there have been shortages of seeds and plants.”

He put the rise in interest down to people having more time on their hands, being indoors more and wanting to make the best of their garden. “Gardening is also a comfort in troubling times,” he said.

Barter said indoor plants had been equally popular among those without gardens. “House plants have certainly taken off … They are bought by those who want the benefits of horticulture but don’t have a garden or are not comfortable visiting parks and having to practice social distancing.”

The RHS also said there had been a 533% increase in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds visiting its website in the last five months.

Barter said: “One other thing is the demand for allotments has gone through the roof, certainly here in the suburbs, it has gone from small waiting lists to long ones. That is an interesting puzzle for councils who have to provide to meet the demand for allotments.”

Beth Griffiths, a garden buying assistant at Homebase, said the number of people buying spring bulbs had risen by 18% compared with last year. “This suggests that gardening novices, as well as green-fingered pros, are still busy in their gardens, planning ahead for an edible, fragrant and colourful spring,” she said.

Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress said: “We’ve had a very busy year and are continuing to see sales increase despite the slight easing of restrictions. September this year was up 200% on the same time last year but interestingly the types of plants that are selling well have changed.

“We’re seeing an increased demand for plants with medicinal properties and health benefits. It seems like customers are looking for natural ways to boost their immune system and remain healthy as lockdown restrictions continue.”

Howard Griffiths, a professor of plant ecology at the University of Cambridge, said that during the lockdown people’s awareness of the natural world “increased as we took our limited walks during springtime and heard the birdsong. It was only natural, as soon as we could get back to garden centres to try and bring some of that verdant world into our homes.”

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