With the COVID-19 pandemic top of mind, gardening centre owner Tanya Olsen has noticed a theme early this season.

Many clients at the Guelph, Ont., business Royal City Nursery say they've found the springtime routine of gardening to be a welcome respite in these uncertain times, she said.

"They're looking for an opportunity to return a little bit to normal and just maintain the rhythm that you would normally do," Olsen said.

Like other back-to-basics activities such as baking, sewing and walking, gardening enthusiasts describe the activity as an effective stress reliever. And many are evoking the spirit of "victory gardening" -- named after a directive by governments during the First and Second World Wars for people to plant their own produce as a way to help sustain the food supply.

"It's also about getting our fingers dirty," said Olsen. "It's about getting the ability to get back to nature and to do something that is very simple."

For Lindsay Stuijfzand, who runs the Toronto-based Pretty Tasty Gardens home vegetable gardening service, the process is something she cherishes from beginning to end.

"Just touching the soil, putting the seeds in and watering it and attending to it, it's so mentally relieving," she said. "It becomes almost meditative. I don't do yoga -- I just garden."

With Canadians being urged to stay at home when possible, gardening can be an attractive option whether you have a vast rural property or a small downtown apartment.

It may be something as simple as tucking some small plants by the windowsill. Maybe it's trying your hand at growing vegetables. Or it could be working to ensure a bounty of plush flowers rule the soil.

"Even if you get some planters and put a pot in, drop a seed in and just do it," Stuijfzand said. "It's such a nice experience."

Olsen, who's able to operate using online orders with curbside pickup or home delivery, said interest is picking up now that the temperature is starting to rise.

"You can see the leaf buds swelling on the trees, you can see the forsythia flowers starting to bloom," she said. "And you can see the tips of the daffodils and the tips of the tulips starting to poke through.

"For a lot of people those are some pretty big mental switches that, 'Hey we're getting somewhere."'

An enjoyable activity for any age, children can also benefit by learning some gardening basics. It can also help fill gaps in their daily routine while out of school.

Self-watering container gardens may be a good place to start. Kids may also get a kick out of using empty egg cartons or plastic containers for small gardening projects.

Olsen, also a professor and horticulture apprentice program co-ordinator at Toronto's Humber College, has seen a "substantial" drop in the age of her clientele this season.

"We are seeing every single age bracket and it's awesome," she said. "Gardening does not discriminate."

Stuijfzand said she's noticed a recent shift in the industry towards a more sustainable living focus.

"Repurposing your garden to give back more than just oxygen and property value," she said. "I think with COVID, there has been a lot of conversations throughout our community with regards to victory gardening in your (yards) and really looking at how food processes are."

Her No. 1 tip for gardeners is to invest in reliable resources that can steer you towards a positive growing experience.

New gardeners should begin with fail-safe plants, she said, avoid over-watering and start small.

Tomatoes, onions and garlic are her suggestions on the vegetable front. For a traditional plant, marigolds are an easy starter, he said.

Screening or fabric can be used to keep veggie-hungry critters away. Planting fragrant herbs nearby can also do the trick.

There are all kinds of kitchen hacks that could be fun, too. Carrots, celery, onion, garlic and romaine lettuce are a few examples of vegetables that can be re-grown.

Simply cut off a five-centimetre root end, submerge in water, place near natural light and watch it start to grow. Eventually it can be replanted in soil.

"One of the things that we need to remember with all this COVID stuff that's going on, is spring is not cancelled," Olsen said. "Gardening is not cancelled. The leaves are still going to show up on trees. Forsythias are still going to bloom and your seeds are still going to germinate.

"So to me, gardening gives us the opportunity to look forward and (it's) really one of those things no different than farming. You're planting hope."

Stuijfzand, meanwhile, calls gardening "better than therapy."

"Nobody's in your ear. It's just you and the plants," she said. "It's you and the trees and your garden. It's so much better. It gets really meditative and you can go right into the back of your mind and just let your mind work itself out."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2020.