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Garden Guru: A look at garden trends for 2014

By John Porter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's this time of year that you see everybody make review lists of the year we just finished, whether they are the best or worst moments of the year, best pictures, movies, music, and so on. I thought that it might be more helpful if we take a moment and look ahead at a list of things that are poised to make a splash in the gardening world. From the top plant award winners, to projected trends in the garden, I'll count down a few things that will affect the gardening world in the coming year.

Plants of the year: There are several different organizations that pick their own plants of the year, so I'll just mention a few. The Perennial Plant Association (www.perennialplant.org) chose an ornamental grass as the 'Perennial Plant of the Year' for 2014. Panicum virgatum 'Northwind' is a tall, native switchgrass that turns golden yellow in the fall.

All-America Selections (www.all-americaselections.org) is an organization that releases an annual list of vegetables and bedding plants based on variety trials around the country. This year, the national winners included the 'Mamma Mia Giallo' pepper, 'Fantastico' and 'Chef's Choice Orange' tomatoes, 'Mascotte' dwarf French bean, 'African Sunset' petunia (it's brilliant orange), and 'Sparkle White' guara, a delicate-looking yet tough, drought-resistant perennial.

The neat thing about the AAS program is that their winners are grown at display gardens around the country so you can get up close and personal with the plants. The only display garden in West Virginia is at Oglebay Resort near Wheeling, but you can also check them out at Franklin Park conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, the horticulture garden at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh.

Color of the year: Each year, the Pantone Color Institute (www.pantone.com), the company that acts as the standard-keepers for colors for everything from commercial printers to the U.S. Patent Office, selects its color of the year. This year the color is "Radiant Orchid," which is based on the purple-pink color in the Phalaenopis orchids you see in grocery stores and garden centers. While this color is most commonly seen in fashion and home decorating trends, you will also likely see an increase in the number of flowers at the garden centers this year with similar color profiles.

Sustainable gardening: The Garden Trends Report, which is released by the garden marketing and PR firm Garden Media (www.gardenmediagroup.com), lists composting as a top trend. More and more gardeners are interested in reducing the amounts of inputs they put in the garden -- from fertilizers to chemicals and more.

But gardeners are going beyond that and adding more sustainable practices, such as collecting rainwater, using recycled materials in the garden, and more. Sustainability is not just about being environmentally conscientious though. It's also about choosing practices that are more economically sound (cheaper) and thinking about your neighbors when you make decisions.

Growing more food: Vegetable and fruit gardening has been on the rise over the past five years now, and the trends looks to continue into 2014. The initial interest was fueled by the crashing economy, where people decided to be more self-reliant in the face of higher food costs and smaller paychecks. But the interest continues now that people are more interested in knowing where their food comes from and being more self-sufficient thanks to a rise in the DIY and homesteader attitude. So backyard vegetable gardens, edible landscapes and community gardens will continue to pop up at a good pace.

Drinking your garden: According to the Garden Trends report, this trend is twofold: Gardeners are growing more things to turn into juices and smoothies as well as things to ferment and turn into alcohol. There's big interest in both of these concepts, judging alone by the number of books on the shelves. Health-conscious gardeners are growing fruits and vegetables to add to their juicer machines and blenders at an increasing pace.

The new DIY trend, though, is to make your own alcohol, whether you are growing grapes and fruits to make your own wines, or hops (and even grains) to brew your own beer. People are also growing the ingredients you add to cocktails and flavorings to add to spirits. If you want to know what goes in your favorite drink, I suggest "The Drunken Botanist," by Amy Stewart, for a fun read.

Men in the garden: The Garden Trends report also states that more young men are starting to garden, and even spend $100 more per year on average than the basic gardener. The reasons? First, I'll refer you back to the section on drinking your garden. But the trend is also due to young guys liking to grill out and entertain their friends. It seems that they also enjoy growing hot peppers (the hotter the better) -- I'm not making this up, it's straight out of the report.

The report also states that these guy gardeners have a strong interest in workshops and classes. For a tongue-in-cheek look at why guys should be gardeners, check out my guest post last spring on the blog "Art of Manliness" at http://ow.ly/s2Rke.

Interesting outdoor spaces: The Garden Trends report also states that, more than ever, people see their gardens as a place to both relax and enjoy the outdoors and entertain. It seems that garden parties and outdoor entertaining are on the rise. As a result, you see more art in the garden and a bigger emphasis on creating outdoor rooms. It seems that straight and tidy lines are also out and curves are in, as are geometric shapes and broken lines.

Gardening for beneficials: Gardening for pollinators and wildlife is also on the rise, according to the Garden Trends report, and I can attest to this myself. Gardeners are interested in planting foods that feed native pollinators and incorporating habitat such as bee boxes for solitary bees. This is a great trend! While the number of beekeepers is up, Colony Collapse Disorder makes it harder and harder to keep hives of honeybees alive. We need all the pollination we can get!

John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.porter@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.


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