When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Grow Tomatoes

Lisa McKean submitted photos of her Malibu Park garden to The Malibu Times for Best Shot consideration this week. “I find my garden the most healing place to be in this time of isolation,” she wrote. “Spring is here.”

Now that everyone is staying home around the clock except for the occasional foray to an “essential business” or to walk the dog, boredom is setting in. There are only so many hours a day anyone can spend looking at a screen or cleaning out the garage. As a result, many residents have come up with the same solution for doing something fun outside that doesn’t involve violating the social distance rules—planting an edible garden of vegetables, fruits and herbs. 

Andy Lopez, Malibu’s “Invisible Gardener” said in a phone interview that, “Now is the time to get started—you can have vegetables in 30 days… and if you plant fruit trees, you can have a ton of fruit by next year.”

All of the garden supply companies in town have confirmed that sales of plants, potting soils and seeds are going through the roof since schools, businesses and beaches were closed. 

At Cosentino’s Nursery at 25019 PCH, Manager Phil Campanella said, “It really helps people’s anxiety just to come here and walk around looking at the plants and the ocean view for a half-hour, even if they don’t buy anything.” He pointed out that the nursery seldom has more than a handful of customers at one time spread out over a large property, so social distancing is no problem. 

“Usually, people in Malibu don’t start planting vegetables until April,” Campanella continued, “but this year, they’re starting early” because of the state’s Safer at Home order. “It’s mostly locals coming in, and they’re really taking their time planning out their gardens. There’s a real demand for anything edible, as well as succulents.”

At Anawalt Malibu Hardware & Supply, employee Matthew Gervais said raised beds, potting soils and vegetable plants were selling very well. The store had a variety of nursery plants to pick from, including eggplant, cucumbers, beans, spinach and beets. 

Nearby, Whole Foods Market has a display of vegetable nursery plants out front, including tomatoes, herbs and bell peppers. Ana Arias, store flower and plant manager, said “People are buying up all the trays of plants and I’m having to work closely with the vendor to keep it full out front.”

At the west end of town, Trancas Canyon Nursery has also been experiencing a run on garden plants. Longtime employee Debbi Stone said, “Our customers are buying anything edible. I think they’re doing the Victory Garden thing.”

“We got a ton of vegetables in last week and everything was gone by that night,” she continued. “Right now, I’m out of seeds and most potting soil, but I’ll be getting more in, and I just got a shipment of fruit trees and blueberry bushes. My vendors are also getting overwhelmed.”

She confirmed that now is a good time to begin planting. 

“The weather is still cool, but the ground is warming up and still moist from rain,” Stone said. “It’s a good time to plant tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucumbers—just about everything.”

Beginning gardeners can contact or join the Malibu Garden Club for advice or help. Vice president Linda Androlia said anyone can ask a question through their website or Facebook page. Although the monthly meetings are currently on hiatus, when they resume, the 70 members have access to a sharing table of plant cuttings and extra fruits, raffles, talks, snacks and field trips.  

In addition, Lopez not only has a website and a book (“Don’t Panic, it’s Organic”), but also hundreds of YouTube videos, radio shows, podcasts and workshops. He said his book can be downloaded in a PDF format for free from his website, invisiblegardener.com/ebooks.  

And remember, a garden doesn’t necessarily require a yard—experts say even a balcony, small patio or a sunny window sill are enough space to grow something.