As we reach the New Year, I thought a look at trends in landscaping and gardening would be interesting. The basic techniques of gardening today are not that much different from those our great grandparents used. Still, technology and the age of communication are definitely changing the way we live, work and garden. Gardeners will, with greater ease and frequency than ever before, exchange ideas and be exposed to new concepts about how and why we garden. How will these trends affect the plants we use and how we design with them and care for them?
I think overall gardeners will become increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable, and will move beyond some of the traditional ideas about landscape design and maintenance. Outdoor living is continuing to be a primary focus. Our landscapes are more often being looked at as an extension of our homes, an area to live in and use, rather than a just pretty planting to look at.
Designing private, intimate spaces into the average American landscape is becoming more important as our fast paced world creates a greater need for places to relax and enjoy a little quiet time. Private outdoor living areas can be fashioned out of hedges and screens to create outdoor garden rooms that give a sense of enclosure and separation from the world.
In addition, accessories that help to personalize and enhance landscapes are becoming more popular. Examples include wind chimes, sculptures and other art suitable for outdoor display, gazing globes, topiary, gazebos, arbors, decorative containers and other accents to individualize our outdoor spaces and add personality.
Garden designs are becoming increasingly interactive. We crave gardens that appeal to all of our senses — sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste — with an emphasis on personal enjoyment and the therapeutic values of gardening. An example would be creating a landscape that includes a variety of fragrant plants you remember from your childhood.
Water provides sparkling light, beautiful reflections and a relaxing sound in the garden. Regardless of the garden’s size, we are more frequently enhancing the composition by adding a water feature, such as a fountain, reflection pool, waterfall or water garden. Aquatic features can range in size from a half barrel to a large pond.
The baby boomers were the “flower power” generation that brought to gardening a deeper understanding and appreciation of ecology and a respect for natural environments. An increased interest in the use of native plant materials is a reflection of this. Please do not become a “native plant snob,” however, and go so far as to consider the use of any introduced plants as somehow inappropriate. On the other hand, increasing concerns for the tiny percentage of introduced plants that become invasive weeds will influence what we choose to plant.
Realizing the amount of water and energy our landscapes can use, gardeners are switching from plants that need frequent watering and maintenance, to those that require less irrigation and maintenance once the plants have become established. Smaller turf areas, low-volume irrigation systems, mulching and low-input plant care are important components of these energy efficient landscapes. An example might be replacing a traditional high-maintenance lawn area with ground covers and easily maintained decks, terraces and patios of wood, brick, paving or stone.
Caring for the Environment
Gardeners are composting and recycling more, using less fertilizer and choosing environmentally friendly products for dealing with pests. Pest control now tends towards the concepts of Integrated Pest Management, where many strategies are employed (especially using plants that are less prone to problems) to manage pests. And pesticides — whether organic or chemical — are applied only when absolutely necessary. It’s also appropriate to accept some level of pest damage to landscape plants. There is no reason, in most circumstances, to immediately use pesticides to deal with minor or non-life threatening damage.
More and more gardeners are deciding that it is okay to share our gardens with other creatures, and even create habitats to provide for their needs. Landscapes designed to attract and provide food, water and shelter for wildlife such as butterflies, birds, beneficial insects and natural predators have, and likely will continue to, become more commonplace.
Preserving the Past
It is remarkable that gardeners “on the cutting edge” are not only looking for new and interesting plants and cultivars, but also continue to focus much of their attention on rediscovering or preserving our garden heritage. Antique roses, heirloom annuals, perennials, vegetables and bulbs and other tried-and-true old-fashioned garden plants have gained new interest and use. On the other hand, plant exploration is back, and explorers are finding new species of common garden plants to expand and revitalize our plant palette.
The millennial generation is now a major influence on gardening. Here, we see a new appreciation for indoor plants similar to the 1970s baby boomers. There also seems to be an even greater bonding of people to plants. Millennials have coined the term “plant parents,” putting indoor plants on the same level as pets (pet parents).
Millennials are also very active in food gardening. The growing techniques they are using are often nontraditional and innovative, including hydroponics, hay bale gardening, container gardening and no-till bed preparation. They often focus on organic gardening practices and planting heirloom varieties.
Overall, our concept of gardens and landscapes is becoming more personal, interactive and relaxed. Landscapes may still include formal elements, but large turf areas, monotonous pruned shrubs, clipped hedges, foundation plantings and precise annual beds are likely to become less common. Food gardening and reduced use of pesticides will become more common. A more diverse palette of plants, both native and introduced, will be used in a way that is more resource-efficient and lower in maintenance to create beautiful, functional landscapes that nurture both nature and people.
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