Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Looking back at 2019 and Garden Trends for 2020

Every year around this time I review the posts from the previous year to assist me in mapping out an editorial calendar going forward. It's an exercise that helps me to know what was of interest to readers and what fell flat.

For you, the reader, this is a chance to catch up on any popular posts you might have missed. So without further ado, your favourite garden in 2019 was (drumroll please)...

Cynthia McAlindon's Shade Garden in Oakville Ontario. It's a backyard garden with a quiet, yet pleasing palette that shows just what can be accomplished with a modest-sized backyard that has part-to-full shade conditions.

Coming in second was a formal garden that also had a soft, restrained use of color. Here the design of the garden offered readers pleasing vignettes and an abundance of ideas.

There was a tie for third place. The small town garden filled with Hollyhocks very narrowly edged out a Small Courtyard Garden. Ironically one of the two third-place winners was a country garden and the other was a garden in Canada's largest city.

Hollyhocks were the star in the first of the two properties:

The city garden was a space designed for relaxing and entertaining with the garden as a backdrop. The main features of this garden were a large flagstone patio with lots of seating and a small shed complete with a bar.

The low-maintenance plantings flanked either side of a charcoal-coloured fence. My favourite feature was the moss dog peeking into the small waterfall and pond.

In what I will refer to as the "how-to" category, the most popular post was My Weed Management Strategies Though my garden is by no means weed-free, over the years I have discovered ways to keep weeds down to a dull roar.

The other post with good readership was the first of a two-part series on moving and dividing perennials. I'm always worried when I decide to write about such dry topics, but readers don't seem to mind the useful information.

Moving and Dividing Perennials, Part 1 (tips on when and how to move/divide) 
and Part 2 (all the basics).

One of my regrets about last year's blog posts was the limited number of plant profiles I did. This post on Siberian Irises and flowers that provide Mid-Summer Color actually were well-received, so hopefully, I can make up for that oversight in 2020.

Finally, the subject of new introductions from Proven Winners has been a reader favourite for a couple of years. I can understand the appeal of these blog posts–new plants promise improved performance and features like larger flowers or smaller overall size.  It's a subject I'll repeat again in 2020, but I think I will try to balance what's "new" with information on plants that are tried and true. 

Now I'll move along to trends for the coming year and beyond. I'll touch briefly the background for each trend first and then tell you a bit more about the trend itself. In a couple of cases, my examples may introduce you to a few Instagram accounts or YouTube channels you might like to follow.

Private garden in Oakville Ontario.

 Trend # 1 Smaller Gardens

In Canada, Baby Boomers account for 27% of the population. Of that number, 16% are already over the age of 65. In ten years, that statistic will jump to 20% (no doubt, there are similar numbers available for the States). 
One might suspect that retiring Boomers would have more time to devote to pastimes like gardening. While that may be true, ageing gardeners seem to be all too aware that gardening is hard physical work. What I seem to be witnessing is increasing numbers of Baby Boomers trading in larger properties for smaller homes/gardens with less maintenance.
There is a second aspect to this trend. In Canada, statistics suggest that the median lot size for a new single-family detached home has dropped in size. This means homeowners are working with smaller yards/gardens.

Smaller Gardens Equal Smaller Plants

Modest yards mean that gardeners are looking for small-scale shrubs. Growers have responded with new dwarf versions of classic favourites. This trend to producing smaller plants is something that has been around for a few years now and will continue into the near future. We can also expect to see a preference for breeding plants that are less demanding and relatively low-maintenance.

'BoBo' is one of my favourite dwarf hydrangeas.

Among my favourite shrubs are a number of dwarf hydrangeas. Here 'Bobo' is illuminated by the sun and 'Little Lime' is the rose-colored hydrangea just behind it.

The flower-filled veggie garden.

Trend # 2 Moving away from Traditional Vegetable Gardens

While Baby Boomers have always grown a variety of flowers and vegetables, younger generations seem to be much more focused on growing edibles. Homegrown fruit and veggies have a practical appeal. You know how and where they were produced when you grow them yourself. Growing your own food also saves money. 

Here are two twists on the traditional veggie patch I've noted.

Unusual Edibles

Heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables have been popular for a number of years, but adventuresome gardeners are now experimenting with growing global types of produce. Spearheading this movement is Canadian garden writer Niki Jabbour. Recently her book Veggie Garden Remix won a prestigious award from the American Horticultural Society.

The Vegetable Garden that looks like a Flower Garden

Companion planting is nothing new, but take a look at these two pictures of Niki Jabbour's vegetable garden in Nova Scotia (here and here). Is this a vegetable garden or a flower garden? There are sunflowers, nasturtiums, flowering borage, zinnias and the long trailing panicles of Love-Lies-Bleeding. The flowers are there to attract pollinators and deter pests, but they also transform something practical into something beautiful. 

Here's another example– this time in Maine. On Alison's Instagram account named Finch and Folly there is again a wild mix of flowers and edibles (here and here). Every winter she draws up the prettiest watercolor plans for her summer garden.

Behind this explosion of flowers in the traditional vegetable patch is a deep concern for the decline of pollinators. In particular, climate change, parasites, pathogens and pesticides used in agriculture have all had a detrimental impact on numbers of honeybees, bumblebees and wild bee species.  

Gardening immerses you in the natural world, so it's no surprise that gardeners care deeply about environmental issues like this. Creating flower-rich habitats, even in a vegetable garden, is a trend that is likely to continue. 

One of the many YouTubers who post regular videos on houseplants.

Trend# 3 The Growing Popularity of Houseplants

The high cost of real estate has kept Millennials indoors where they "garden" with houseplants. This generation loves to search the internet for rare and exotic specimens to add to collections. Botanical names aren't geeky. Instead, they add to a plant's prestige. 

Decorating with houseplants has become hugely fashionable in the last few years. What makes this trend new and fresh is the large scale and the number of houseplants. When you squeeze 500 plants into a small apartment as Nick Pileggi as done (see above), your indoor space intentionally becomes a jungle.   

Another YouTuber who has become very popular is Amanda of Planterina. Amanda's a bit wacky, but viewers like her all the more for it.

Using houseplants to create an outdoor jungle.

Taking Houseplants Outdoors 

Moving houseplants outdoors for a summer vacation is nothing new. What I think is trendy is the scale and number of the houseplants being moved outside. 

If you have a moment, watch the video tour of Amanda's summer porch. It's an original take on gardening outdoors using houseplants. Amanda literally brings a garden right up to her back door.

Trend #4 An increased interest in Native Plants

Pollinators have given gardeners a whole new reason to take an interest in native plants. To attract bees and butterflies common to your state or province you need to plant specific types of plants. 

Butterflies and bees prefer certain flowers as sources of nectar. Butterflies also lay eggs on specific "host" plants. Last summer I noticed more butterflies in my garden. What made the difference? I have incorporated more native plants.

Trend #5 The Garden as a Bird and Wildlife-friendly Space

As the CBC reports in this article, North America has lost 3 billion birds since 1970. That's a staggering number! 

These weren't rare or endangered species, but rather familiar backyard birds like sparrows, juncos, starlings and warblers. This loss has ripple effects in local ecosystems as well. Birds perform vital roles in managing pests, pollinating flowers and spreading seeds. 

The Beauty bush where two Catbirds made their nest last summer.

 Do you see the nest hidden in the branches?

 Some bright blue plastic adorns the otherwise neutral nest. There are three babies crowded into the nest (though only two are visible).

The shy, grey-colored Catbird loves to mimic the sounds made by other animals. The cry it typically makes sounds a little like that of a domestic cat–hence the name.

What has caused the decline? The answer is not simple. A number of issues such as loss of habitat, urban sprawl, the fragmentation of forests, pesticide use and even the carnage caused by domestic cats. 

Already there is an army of volunteers who participate in annual backyard bird counts, but is there any further role we gardeners might play? I think this decline in bird populations is something that is going to garnish more and more attention in the coming years.

A nest in a garden I visited in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

2020–the start of a brand new decade! Despite some problems, I have a good feeling about what the next ten years will bring our way.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meet Bonnie Prince Charlie

Dearest Reader,

Thank you for stopping by. It's been many months since I last posted. A special thanks to all those who left comments or emailed me in my absence. I greatly appreciated the encouragement to return to blogging. After ten years (soon eleven) I was feeling a little burned out. I needed a break from social media, so I took some time for myself.

To be honest, I haven't entirely missed sitting at my computer writing and editing photos. In the late summer and fall, the garden kept me pretty busy. As the days got colder my focus shifted inside. Our quirky, old house is a fixer-upper that still needs work. This fall I tackled several projects– the biggest of which was our front and upstairs hallways.

There are a number of good reasons that I don't write a home decor blog. For one thing, I don't have the proper camera equipment for decent interior shots. More importantly, I am not at all convinced that my offbeat sense of interior decor is something anyone else might aspire to.

The first thing any good interior designer would have recommended is to paint out the dark woodwork in the front hallway. Certainly, it would help give our one-hundred-plus-year-old house a fresh, modern look–but even though I knew it was the tasteful thing to do, I just couldn't bring myself to paint the vintage woodwork (with one exception). Years ago, some mischevious children carved their initials and other crude drawings into the beadboard at the foot of the staircase, so I had to paint it out of necessity. Still, I stopped short of slapping white paint on everything.

By far the biggest part of the hallway renovation were the walls. Rather than remove old wallpaper, some previous owner stuccoed plaster over the paper. Then they painted the walls with a color I'd describe as "mochaccino". Underneath all that beige paint, the stucco was really crude with bumps, lumps and valleys.

To get rid of the entire mess, we would have had to strip the walls back to the studs. The construction is lath and plaster, so it would have been a huge job. Instead I elected to sand the bumps and fill the divots in the plasterwork. Even so, it was a really big job! Imagine, if you will, the clouds of plaster dust that have been a big part of our lives all through the fall!

You may note that I need to do a bit of touchup on the edge of the white paint. The dratted painter's tape ripped away some paint when I tried to remove it.

I painted the walls creamy-white. A darker color might have sat next to the dark woodwork better, but a soft white suited my contemporary artwork nicely.

The work is still ongoing. There is one large wall that needs to be completed. The pine floor and staircase need to be refinished (as evidenced in the photo above) and a runner needs to be installed on the staircase (I'd love to leave the stairs bare, but the dog's claws are really hard on the soft pine). Hopefully, this work can all be completed before the gardening season commences.

In other news, we have a new pup! Meet Charlie (named after the legendary Scottish figure "Bonnie Prince Charlie".

Scrap with Piper when he was just a pup.

About a year ago now, our senior dog Scrap passed away. The loss was hardest on Piper, who was then three years old. Scrap was a mentor and Piper's best friend in the world. Over time we all made adjustments, but daily life never felt quite the same.

Despite the unease, I resolved to stick with just one dog. My husband retires in a year and one pet would make our plans to to travel across Canada so much easier. I'd tell my husband to remind me of this resolve in one breath, and in the other, I'd scroll through online listings for Shetland Sheepdog puppies.

We finally went to see a puppy in the late summer, but something didn't feel right. I didn't like to number of dogs in the house or the size of the kennels. The puppy, in question, was scruffy looking and seemed disinterested in us. So we came home disappointed, but feeling like we had made the right choice.

A month or more passed before then I saw another listing for CKC registered pups in the city where we live. There was just one male pup left in the litter.

Charlie not long after we brought him home.

It was love at first sight when the breeder handed me little prince Charlie. He snuggled his warm little body right into the crock of my neck and fell asleep while we chatted about Shetland Sheepdogs with the breeder. 

A few weeks later we brought Charlie home. 

Every dog has a distinct personality.

Charlie is a quick learner. I don't think we've ever had such an easy time housetraining a puppy. After just two weeks, he had only a couple of accidents. At 18 weeks, Charlie obeys hand/voice commands to sit, lay, jump and rollover. We are still working on "stay".

Charlie taste-testing hostas in November (which thankfully are not poisonous).

As with most puppies, Charlie chews everything! Most worrisome is his fondness for eating vegetation. There are lots of poisonous plants in my garden. Hopefully, it's a phase he grows out of.

If not, I may have to rethink perennials like foxgloves. 

And how is Piper handling the little interloper? 

His excitement for having a new buddy made me glad I had reversed my decision to get a second dog. Piper loves Charlie and Charlie dotes on him. It's cute to see how much Charlie takes all his queues from the older dog.

That's not to say that Charlie doesn't give his elder some attitude. Piper's magnificent tail is looking a bit worse for wear after all the games of tug-of-war.

"Hey, let go of my tail!"

Like a Sumo wrestler, roly-poly Charlie hip-checks Piper and knocks him to the ground. In a wide-open show of teeth, big dog and little pup "gurr" playfully at one another and tumble around. Poor Piper puts up with a lot of love! 

So now you're all caught up on all my news. Thanks again for returning to my blog. I hope to resume regular posts going forward.