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.


  1. I really love all of your content, but especially seeing what different gardeners do with their spaces. As an almost 65 year old, I'm enlarging my beds!And growing less veggies. Can't wait to see your new plants for 2020. I also watch Garden Answer to see what she is showing.

    1. Thanks Cindy! I am 61 so we are approximately the same vintage. LOL! My Mom gardened well into her eighties, so I am hoping there is still lots of gardening in my future. My garden is already huge, so think I am at my limit. That being said, there is lots I want to improve upon or redo. There are even a few new features I'd like to add. Gardening is an evolving process and that is what I think we all love so much about it. P.S. I enjoy Laura's videos as well. I didn't include any only because she is already so well known.


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