Plant breeders, growers and nurserymen have been hard at work these past several years hoping to match changing environmental conditions with gardener's choices for this coming gardening season. Seed racks have full displays of 2015 seed packets, new gardening paraphernalia have been ordered and are probably winging their way to shelves near you. It'll be a few months before the plants arrive, so we still have time to reflect on some new trends they'll be stocking for in anticipation of a profitable year.
A quick perusal of Internet sites informs me there is really no new trend coming along, just a continuance of current trends that have given new terminology to past practices. Similar to the progression from straight leg pants to bell-bottoms and back again, gardening in our decade is casting inspiring new looks to older practices. So what's trendy nation-wide?
Pollinator Friendly Gardens
Gardening for bees and butterflies is becoming hugely popular. All the press about Colony Collapse Disorder is encouraging gardeners to think of pollinators when choosing plants. Vegetable gardeners know if more bees don't visit the flowers, they'll continue to have plenty of pretty flowers without a crop. A good way to insure proper pollination is to plant a diversity of plants pollinators can use as a source of nectar and pollen throughout the growing season, March through November. Develop beds and borders for these plants, rather than a landscape composed primarily of turf.
Leave areas within the beds that might look to us neat-knick gardeners as messy. Leaf litter, stems, even dead wood and branches provide nesting areas for the beneficial insects gardens need. And thirdly, eliminate the use of all pesticides (herbicides too). What's the point in killing them all off to temporarily suppress one bad actor. (Click on this Southwest Regional Guide for Selecting Plants for Pollinators for extensive information about our region's pollinators and plants that support them, or go to Pollinator.org).
Nature Friendly Gardens
Gardeners nationwide are still concerned about gardening in a more eco-friendly manner. This includes trending away from chemical gardening and learning about organic gardening techniques. On a more advanced level, it can include implementing techniques and principles of permaculture that lead to sustainable landscapes. Sustainability is defined as
“… design, construction, operations and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by attempting to: ...protect, restore and enhance the ability of landscapes to provide ecosystem services that benefit humans and other organisms” (United Nations Brundtland Report).
Example of permaculture or sustainable practices would be to compost all plant materials on site and to use the resulting compost on the landscape. Even switching to a mulching mower is a sustainable practice. Install a rain cachement system and design the landscape to more effectively use water runoff. Sustainability aims to reduce the energy footprint by buying local, buying products that are environmentally safe, planting natives and eliminating synthetic chemicals on the landscape.
There are several trends in growing edibles that have emerged on the national scene. Agri-hoods is a new term for an old old practice: simply raising chickens, ducks, goats, keeping bees as well as growing vegetables for one's own use in the city. Instead of villagers a hundred years and more ago practicing growing and eating local, today's urban and suburban dwellers are trying their hand on it. It's not easy. First off, most local ordinances frown on roosters cock-a-doodle-doing before sunrise, and the neighbors complain about the smell of small domestic farm animals in their midst (it can't be as bad as the odor of the local CAFO that wafts over the city).
The modern version is similar to Agritopia, where communities are developed and modeled around a practicing, producing organic farm in the same manner a development would be centered around a golf course or sports complex. Kind of like living next door to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm. This hot new building trend overcomes the obstacles met by homeowners who wish to dabble in farming within the city, individually. They often include homes in a diversity of price ranges, hoping to attract young adults up through retirees. Residents are often within walking distance of the local eggs, milk (dairy and/or goat) and produce. Children grow up knowing where their food comes from. I really like this idea myself, having grown up on a real working dairy farm. This might be the ideal retirement community for me. (Photo at right from the Shareable.net blog website.)
Another edible trend is simply more and more people turning to the backyard, or front, and growing more than just tomatoes. More vegetable gardening of all sorts, in expanded seasons, including the fall and winter. (See my GardenNotes on Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening.) I used to grow vegetables only in the back. Then I expanded to select areas in the front, and finally on the east side, which gets ample sunshine in the summer.)
This is not to be confused with the concept of the Edible Landscape, in which the landscape is designed and planned with edibles totally in mind. If one is going to feed the soil and water the plants, one might as well eat it. Again, this concept is as old as agriculture, it's just been given a new label. Many of us admire the English cottage garden – a garden filled with fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetables for the table. It was only later that the flowers planted to insure good pollination took center stage over fruit and vegetables.
One of the newest trends is the downsizing of vegetable plants and even vegetables to those with smaller compact sizes. Plant breeders have developed many “pint” sized plants for smaller spaces. Recognizing people no longer have great estates, or even an acre, but often a small city lot or just a balcony, plants closer in scale to the space have been selected. Vegetable gardening in containers and pots is closely associated with the smaller sized veggies. There are far too many selections to even list, as the seed catalogs are chock full of them.
Herbs, both culinary and medicinal, are making a comeback. The High Plains enjoys a climate that supports many of the favored Mediterranean herbs (and it's not often that High Plains and the words “enjoys a climate” can be paired in a sentence). Just a caution, here, do some research on which parts of the herb are edible, as some parts can be deadly, while others are beneficial.
The concept and necessity of conserving water has finally reached national attention. And I'm happy to say, even in the Amarillo area, the desire for conserving water is becoming a trend. This isn't just watering one's landscape less, although many people still do overwater, at the same time under-nourishing the landscape. It's a larger movement away from water-thirsty lawns. According to Neal Hinders our local grower and nurseryman, “landscaping designed for our region is finally about to grab hold. I have more and more people telling me they are tired of watering their lawns just to keep them green. They are tired of paying water bills for something they see as unnecessary and even wasteful with water as valuable and limited as it is.” Hinders owns Canyon's Edge Plants, a Canyon nursery specializing in native and drought tolerant perennials, including many Plant Select® Plants (more later) and less thirsty turf varieties. (Buffalograss turf at left.)
People only plant and maintain lawns because it's what they know, but there are plenty of other options from water thirsty grasses. “I think our native grasses: Buffalo and Blue Grama will play a big part in it. They require little to no water to survive, look good, and if we let a few of the smaller native flowers and other plants coexist in our lawns, we can go a long way in promoting the health of our ecosystem without any pain,” Hinders added. Hinders will be stocking the 'Top Gun' variety of buffalograss this year, and our native blue gramagrass (photo at right), as well as the Plant Select® variety, 'Blonde Ambition' Blue Gramagrass .
I, too, think people are becoming more water conscience. There are many ways to decrease the amount of water used in the landscape (click here for tips). With a little study and thought how the tips can be applied in the landscape, great water savings can be had and increase the general “greenness” of one's landscape. Even without changing the type of turf, with improved techniques, water savings can be realized ( click here for improved lawn maintenance techniques).
Other trends in the industry include pop-up garden centers next to grocery stores or big box stores such as Target, that don't have their own garden center. Yet more competition for local nurseries. It's important to support local nurseries, less we are left with the plants shipped to big box stores, whose corporate executives decide what we get.
On the color wheel, orange is said to be making a comeback in the garden (was it ever in?) and pink is on the wane. Contrasting colors are out and complimentary in. But from the looks of new plant introductions, I would think any color you choose will look great. The color of the year is Marsala (Pantone 18-1438) its “it's grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness”, the color of Marsala wine – taking burgundy to a new levels. Look for patio accessories in this color. (Click here for color pairings.) With that heads up, it'll be easier to choose container flowers to match or contrast with the new patio cushions. I am please 2015's color is the color I had chosen as the background color of my website.
I predict all these gardening trends will continue for the near future. I predict a coming year of normal Panhandle temperatures. I predict at least one extreme weather event. And I predict rainfall to fall within the average range of 17-21 inches. I've always contended that average is good for the Texas Panhandle, in amended soils and regionally appropriate plants, 17-21 inches is plenty, irrigating supplementary once or twice a month.
One trend that has been growing and I predict will gather even more importance, will be the use of Plant Select® Plants, durable plants that thrive in the High Plains and the intermountain region. The Plant Select® program is administered and developed by the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University for the many and variable eco-regions from the high mountains to the high plains. Not every plant is suitable for the Texas High Plains, but many of them are. Plant Select® plants are plants that are either native to the West or superior varieties or hybrids of natives that have not yet been as sought after for gardens as they deserve to be. Other selections are non-natives from similar floristic regions of the world.
The selection criteria for Plant Select® plants include:
- Exceptional performance under broad range of garden situations
- Exceptional performance under low water conditions
- Adaptable to the region's challenging climate
- Long season of beauty,
- Selected for their non-invasive quality
- Disease and pest resistant
The Amarillo Botanical Gardens has completed installation of the new Sybil B. Harrington Garden that features Plant Select® plants. Amarillo Botanical Gardens will be using this space to illustrate which Plant Select® plants grow the best and are the showiest for our climate, with planting to commence in May.
Each year Plant Select® promotes from 4-10 new plants. Nine new plants are selected for 2015. I'll be interested in trying a few of them myself.
- Of particular interest is the new cross between Salvia darcyi and S. microphylla, Windwalker® royal red salvia, cold hardy to -20º, heat tolerant, and blooms a full two months earlier than Salvia darcyi 'Pscarl', Vermilion Bluffs Mexican Sage.
- A new evergreen introduction is Juniperus scopulorum 'Woodward' columnar juniper. Suited for most home landscapes, this Rocky Mountain native grows to 20' and only 2-4 feet wide, needing only moderate watering, not more than twice monthly. In our climate, gardeners have struggled to find a tall narrow shrub to provide that exclamation point to bed and border compositions. Struggle no more.
- Engelmannia peristenia, an Engelmann's daisy from the south plains is another new introduction, which is remarkably similar to our own native Engelmannia pinnatifida, both incredibly tough and long blooming xeric perennials.
- An even longing blooming and quite xeric native perennial is the natural hybrid hairy goldenaster Heterotheca jonesii x villosa 'Goldhill' said to bloom from late winter into fall – pretty much the whole year. It is also said to be sterile, so prolific reseeding won't be a problem.
- Two new penstemons have made the list, Penstemon pseudospectabilis, desert beardtongue, and Penstemon barbatus 'Coral Baby'. Both bloom in later spring for 6-8 weeks. Penstemon pseudospectabilis (photo at right, pink flowers in foreground) hasn't been long lived in my gardens, but I do like it, and P. barbatus are showy plants for the xeric garden.
- Two Plant Select Petites are the silky rock jasmine, Androsace sarmentosa 'Chumbyi' a semi-evergreen from the Himalayas. Growing instructions advises to place the plant in sun or partial, but to avoid hot and humid situations.
- Desert moss, Arenaria 'Wallowa Mountain' is another evergreen perennial, native to the Columbia Plateau of the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon, is said to be quite drought tolerant, yet resembles moss. This could be that moss-like plant we need for containers, in-between pavers, for rock and fairy gardens. It requires gritty soil with good drainage. I've searched to find the proper species name, but without success. 'Wallowa Mountain' is said to be a non-flowering variety.
One of the things I like about January is the symbolism of a fresh start and reexamination of what's important in our lives. Many people use it as the time to make resolutions, or action plans, they may or may not follow through on. Mostly not.
However, recent research is showing that because resolutions are just action plans, people haven't sufficiently examined what their motivation is for the proposed actions. They don't come fully to terms with why they desire this action, and therefore, fail to fulfill it.
The suggestion is to create a personal mission statement that defines and guides. Stephen Covey's book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” outlined this approach of “defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.”
Early on in the formation of this website, HighPlainsGardening.com, I advocated for gardeners to develop their own personal gardening mission statement, although I called it a Gardening Management Statement. I stated it in this manner “Your Garden Statement should be your guide in not just the planning of your garden, but should state your intent and focus, the gardening philosophy you intend to implement in managing the landscape. If you hired someone to manage your landscape, this would be the set of guidelines you would direct them to follow.” I have governed all my gardening actions by the gardening management statement since 1999. Once you know where you want to go, it's easier to get there.
It takes time and soul searching to find what you want your front landscape to reflect. And make no mistake, a gardener's front landscape reflects his/her point of view just at much as Louis XIV's point of view with his garden of Versailles, that of opulence, power and control, even control of nature. Of course, I'm not advocating grand scale intimidation as a current gardening trend. It's expensive and very high maintenance.
History has shown that one's culture and political climate influence garden design. Most home landscapes in America reflect a world view from a bygone age. It's mimicry of the great estates of England with expansive lawns. It took a lot of wealth and power to acquire the land and money to groom it. Seventy years ago, American homeowners announced to the world that they could invest in new technology and had Saturday's off to tend to the lawn. The front lawn was a statement of a certain level of attainment. Maintaining lawns became America's dominant version of the garden. Today, home landscapes with lawns simply announce: “I own a lawn mower” and “I have to spend Saturday mornings mowing and trimming,” rather than “I have extra money and only work 5 days a week.”
Maybe it's time to evaluate the message our landscapes project. A review of todays above mentioned gardening trends emphasize better care for the earth through a diverse, organic ecology, conserving energy, water and other resources, and better care for oneself, in eating more vegetables, and eating locally grown.
The great estates of England and France weren't built in a year, but with careful planning, attention to detail, and budgeting it was composed to send a message to all who viewed it. Does your front landscape reflect your true gardening statement?
- For pollinator gardens: Southwest Regional Guide for Selecting Plants for Pollinators, at www.pollinators.org.
- For Sustainability and Permaculture: Gaias's Garden, A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Second Edition, 2009.
- For edible landscaping: Edible Landscaping, by Rosalind Creasy, Sierra Club Books, Revised Edition, 2010.
- For regionally appropriate plants:
- Lawn care: HighPlainsGardening.com/lawns
- Making your Gardening statement: HighPlainsGardening.com/planning
Angie Hanna, January 8, 2015