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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Plants at Ooltewah Nursery and Landscape Co. on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Ooltewah.

For master gardener Marianne Davis, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity to do more of something she loves.

"Boredom sets in," she says. "My neighbors tell me I'm digging in the yard so much that I'm about to run out of grass."

Davis says she buys her plants and other gardening necessities at nearby Ooltewah Nursery, and she's evidently not alone. Angel Miller, the nursery's longtime marketing director, says its business is up "significantly" the face of the pandemic.

"We were down initially, when [COVID] first hit and the economy froze up," she says, adding that Ooltewah Nursery's commercial landscaping business rebounded this past summer, when construction recovered its stride.

On the residential side, Miller says, Davis is one of many who are putting in time and resources on outdoor living spaces, flower beds and vegetable gardens.

"We saw a big increase in edibles last spring," Miller says. "It actually took us by surprise and took our growers by surprise. We have to order seed months in advance, so we had trouble meeting the higher demand. We had to grow some things ourselves to have for our customers."

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The grow-your-own trend has continued into the fall, she says, with lettuce, kale, broccoli and garlic supplanting the spring staples. Miller says the nursery's spring experience helped it better prepare for the fall, which she called "the best time of the entire year" to plant.

"It's cooler, but not cold just yet," she says. "The hard temperatures will come in December, but there's time before then for a plant to get its roots in the ground.

"So when the summer heat hits," she says, "that plant is established and can take it."

Miller says the pandemic changed, but didn't interrupt, Ooltewah Nursery's farmer's market. She says the market, now in its eighth year, opens each Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and differs from most others.

"You often see crafts at farmer's markets, but we only have crafts in December," she says. "Otherwise, we're food artisans only and we try to have a lot of diversity – from meat and milk to nuts and corn meal.

"We also began carrying items we hadn't before – cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, soaps, disinfectants," she says. "Some of those can be hard to find, so we wanted to give the community more access."

Miller says it was vital to keep the market open in the early days of the pandemic.

"Lots of people turned to us when grocery shelves were empty last spring," she says, "so we knew we had to stay open in order to give our community access to fresh local foods."

Ooltewah Nursery and Landscape

* Address: 5829 Main St, Ooltewah, Tennessee

* Founded: 1989

* Online: ooltewahnursery.com

Miller says that meant restriping a parking lot to accommodate social distancing, starting curbside pickup and putting an empty 100-square-foot space between booths of that size, which are normally elbow-to-elbow.

As health experts speculate as to whether winter will feed a COVID resurgence, Miller says Ooltewah Nursery will stay its course.

"We listen to health experts from the government and elsewhere," she says. "We have 16 acres, the majority of which is outdoors. Anyone is welcome to shop outdoors, but masks are required to enter the enclosed building."

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