A gardening expert has slammed the closure of all the Bunnings in Sydney, arguing they are essential for mental health in Covid lockdown.
Matt Leacy, the co-founder of Landart Landscapes, said gardening had proven mental health benefits as well as being a productive use of time during lockdown.
‘I am pro keeping Bunnings and other garden centres open and classed as essential,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Gardening at home is such a positive activity that is proven to be good for mental health.’
Matt Leacy, the co-founder and lead designer of Landart Landscapes in Sydney, agrees Bunnings is essential because gardening has proven mental health benefits
Mr Leacy with family: he advocated the multiple physical and mental health benefits of gardening during lockdown
The NSW Government had come under constant fire for deeming Bunnings an essential retail outlet during Sydney’s extended lockdown, even as the store repeatedly pops up on venue exposure sites.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly been asked why the hardware chain is open, while chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant explained that superstores such as Bunnings weren’t her greatest concern.
‘I’ve got to say in terms of large supermarkets or large spaces, (they) are not actually driving transmission,’ she said.
However, the government finally caved to the pressure on Friday and banned Bunnings and similar businesses from opening in the 12 local councils in western Sydney under a harder lockdown than the rest of NSW.
Bunnings responded by voluntarily closing all its stores from Monday in a shock announcement. They will only be open to tradies and for click and collect.
‘This is in support of the government and for the safety and security of team members, customers and the community,’ Bunnings managing director Mike Schneider said.
‘We know from experience that applying a consistent approach across a metropolitan area is easier for our team to manage and helps reduce travel by residents between LGAs.’
TikTok user ‘aussie65larrikin’ recently posted a video showing a man walking through the packed carpark of a NSW Bunnings store despite the stay-at-home orders
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and chief health office Dr Kerry Chant have been asked constantly whether Bunnings should be open during the Greater Sydney lockdown
‘I’ve got to say in terms of large supermarkets or large spaces, (they) are not actually driving transmission,’ Dr Chant said in defence of Bunnings staying open during lockdown
While defending Bunnings as essential, Mr Leacy, a garden design expert and horticulturalist, stressed that Covid-safe practice should always be followed during the lockdown period.
‘There are great benefits in giving people the opportunity to get products in a Covid-safe way that allow them to move forward or create great at-home garden projects,’ he said.
‘I don’t advocate standing in a long line to enter a hardware or nursery store at the moment. No project is that important.’
Mr Leacy said the physical health benefits of gardening included burning about 250 calories per hour while pruning and weeding.
‘I know I’d rather work out in the garden than in a gym any day, and at the moment when there’s gym restrictions in place it’s a great way to get incidental exercise in – while also being productive around the house,’ he said.
M Leacy also advocated growing your own food instead of pigging out on takeaways and comfort snacks while bored in lockdown.
‘The mental health benefits of gardening and of course eating healthy, home grown vegetables, are well documented,’ he said.
‘And making productive use of time at home also gives people in a long lockdown a sense of purpose and positive achievement.’
Mr Leacy, an award-winning garden designer, recommended involving kids in the garden by using food scraps and seeds to grow new fruit and vegetables from
Mr Leacy said gardeners should undertake a spring clean so that gardens are ‘optimised’ them for growth and maintenance in the warmer months
Soil under the fingernails was also found to contain bacteria that could help release ‘mood lifting’ serotonin, relieving anxiety and boosting immunity, he claimed.
‘I know myself how I feel, and my kids as well, when we get our hands dirty in the garden and soak up the Vitamin D so encourage everyone to do what they can outdoors in a safe way,’ he said.
With Bunnings now closed across Sydney and Melbourne, Mr Leacy encouraged families to look at what they already have at home that can be used for gardening projects.
‘You can teach kids the art of recycling and bring some of their classroom environmental studies to life by re-purposing egg cartons and the bottom of plastic bottles as seedling planters,’ he said.
‘You can also use fruit and vegetable food scraps and seeds to grow new vegetables from.’
The award-winning garden designer recommends gardeners undertake a spring clean so that gardens are ‘optimised’ them for growth and maintenance in the warmer months.
Weeding, new plantings, lawn maintenance and mulching are all activities to do in the next few weeks, diverting the mind from more weeks of lockdown.
Good ways to get into garden in lockdown
Have a spring clean
Mr Leacy said the first thing to do was remove thatch – dead plant matter that builds up around the garden.
Then it’s on to the weeds, which needs to be tackled before they seed all over your garden in summer and become a nightmare.
‘I always try to remove the weed completely from the root, by hand, if possible,’ he said.
‘Carefully place the weeds in a bag or bucket while you complete the process, and then quickly transfer them into your garden organics bin so that they’re properly contained and can’t grow back and seed.
‘Spray the soil with a little bit of water, or to do the job after it’s been raining,. The damp soil will be looser, making it easier to pull the weed out from the root.’
Mr Leacy said to only resort to weedkiller spray if weeds were so out of control there was no option. Plants should also be pruned of dead leaves and branches.
Mr Leacy said to only resort to weedkiller spray if weeds were so out of control there was no option. Plants should also be pruned of dead leaves and branches
Once the weeding and cleaning is done, it’s time to put in new plants so they get a chance to take root before the summer sun.
Mr Leacy suggests picking plants that don’t need much water, given Australia’s climate, and are low maintainence.
‘Some great water-wise options include agaves, dragon trees, tree aloes, Nolina’s and cactuses,’ he said.
‘These varieties are not only low-maintenance, but they bring a lot of form and structure into the garden – as well as being very diverse in terms of texture and colour, which means they can be suited to many different types of outdoor spaces.’
‘Succulents are another great choice. They are very versatile and water-wise. Some of my favourite succulents include Crassula, Carpobrotus, Aloes, Senecio, Sempervivums and Sedums.’
‘You’ve also got the likes of Lomandra, Echiums, Westringias, and Casurinas.’
Spruce up your lawn
Use lockdown to make your lawn the envy of the street, and one you can proudly show your friends when lockdown ends.
Once you’ve cleaned up, the next step is to aerate it with mortised aerator, spiked aerator shoes or a simple garden fork.
Once the weeding and cleaning is done, it’s time to put in new plants so they get a chance to take root before the summer sun
Lawns should be given too proper waterings a week, and if you’re making a new lawn from scratch you want something hardy that doesn’t need much water.
‘Buffalo Grasses, such as Sapphire or Sir Walter are often good choices. They tend to cope better than other types of grasses with minimal water – and they bounce back pretty quickly after rainfall or watering,’ Mr Leacy said.
‘Sir Walter and Sapphire can also tolerate more physical traffic than most grasses, so they’re often a good choice for families with kids and pets.’
Getting your new plants to grow in the spring before summer’s high temperatures will be much easier if you add mulch to garden beds.
‘I like to use a high-nitrogen organic compost and a slow release fertiliser. Dig it into the soil by hand where possible, but be wary of applying too close to plant trunks and stems,’ Mr Leacy said.
‘Excess moisture can cause stems to rot, so it’s generally best to mulch at least 50-70mm from stems and trunks.’
Organising outdoor furniture will make your garden a nicer place to spend lockdown, and help with entertaining once you can have people over again
Pools and outdoor furniture
If you’re lucky enough to have a pool, lockdown is a good time to clean it out, removing leaves, algae and other debris improving the water quality.
‘To be safely swimmable, a pool’s pH should sit between 7.2 and 7.8. The process of checking pH is pretty quick and easy – just head to a pool store, pick up a testing kit and follow the instructions,’ Mr Leacy said.
Getting a pool cover can help keep debris out of the water, and also stop it evaporating as fast in the summer heat.
Organising outdoor furniture will make your garden a nicer place to spend lockdown, and help with entertaining once you can have people over again.
Adding shade umbrellas, or investing in a gazebo or pergola, will help with sun protection and make the garden easier to enjoy.