The real dirt on gardening trends

Gardening is always evolving. The reasons may be as numerous as the practitioners, but experts cite these three: consumer tastes, weather, and plant breeding advances.

Last year, the must-haves were vertical gardens and any orange flower. This year, low-water-need plants, perennial edibles, and plants for petite gardens are in demand.

“Gardens are smaller,” says Angela Treadwell-Palmer, trend-spotter and founder of Plants Nouveau LLC. “We’re more urban due to economic and social reasons; our gardens are becoming like those in Asian countries where space is at a premium.”

Susan McCoy of the Garden Media Group has been issuing a yearly gardening trend report for more than a decade, and she reveals that edible shrubs such as ‘Peach Sorbet’ blueberry (see p. 26) from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, which fit easily into the landscape, will be all the rage in 2013. Herbs, too, she says: “Their essence bursts with flavor, and they look gorgeous among flowers or in pots. Plus, you can bring them inside, sit them in a sunny window, and enjoy them in meals during the cold months.”

What these experts see is verified by Diane Blazek, director of the National Garden Bureau. She is privy to plant development by breeders and growers several years in advance of market debuts. “Also, drought-resistant, low-water-need annuals are coming in 2013,” she predicts.

“DRY” DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN “DULL”

Plant breeders recognize that our planet’s weather is becoming warmer, with droughts more prevalent, especially in places usually flush with rainfall. These drought-tolerant annuals provide maximum blooms when rain is at a minimum.

‘Sun Dance’ portulaca comes in five colors (cherry red, gold, lemon, pink, and white), grows upright into mounds 12 inches tall or higher, and has big flowers that last into the evening, unlike older varieties. The plant is heat-tolerant and excellent in flower beds and pots.

‘Magic Carpet’ yellow mecardonia is a new plant variety. The ground cover is smothered with yellow blooms and has proven to be durable in high-traffic areas, along paths, or between pavers. A native of Argentina, tough mecardonia is also heat-tolerant.

‘Blondie’ phormium grows 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide, with narrow, arching leaves. This New Zealand flax grows into huge mounds, making it a perfect centerpiece in small annual borders. Although it is heat-tolerant, it can not endure a freeze. The solution: Plant it in a container and bring it indoors for the winter.

UpTown zinnia is a strong, drought-proof upgrade of zinnias. Plants are covered with blooms, grow knee-high, and spread 2 feet or more. Colors for 2013 include a rosy pink champagne, white, and orange.

‘Senorita Blanca’ cleome needs no deadheading to bloom all season: White flowers with a hint of pale lavender cover the 2-foot-tall stems–not just the ends, as with other cleomes. The plants do not self-seed and are heat-tolerant.

‘Blue My Mind’ evolvulus features spreading gray-green foliage and blue flowers. It loves the heat and is perfect for ground cover or trailing over the side of a container.

ENTICING EDIBLES

Edible shrubs can enhance any backyard, from a bed around a patio to clusters of potted plants on a porch or balcony.

Healthy fruit such as raspberries and blueberries have been bred smaller for tight spaces, and they feature foliage and flower interest all season long.

‘Raspberry Shortcake’ thornless, dwarf raspberry is the first in a series of BrazelBerries. Shrubs are only 2 to 3 feet tall and mounded and fruit the first year. They’re ideal plants for containers (suited for Zones 5 to 7) or in small landscapes.

‘Peach Sorbet’ blueberry, another of the BrazelBerries, has four seasons of garden interest: new spring foliage ranging from peach to pink to orange and finally glossy green; plump berries that smother the 18-inch plants in the summer; and autumn foliage that turns a rich eggplant and stays on the plant throughout the winter. The berries have a hint of peach flavor, too. Hardy in Zones 5 to 10.

New herb varieties, too, have been bred for beauty in the ground or a container.

‘Boxwood’ basil is 12 to 16 inches tall, with tiny leaves and a mounding growth habit that can be pruned into a topiary. Highly fragrant, it’s perfect in containers by the kitchen door or as an aromatic edging along patios.

SMALL-SPACE SHOWSTOPPERS

Everyone needs an “Oh, wow! ” plant or two for the tiniest of gardens or indoors.

This year’s stunner is ‘Electric Coral’ Under Sea-series coleus. Serrated, frilled, highly colored leaves paint a picture that rivals any by Georgia O’Keeffe. It makes a splashy container plant, spreading wide and dominating the landscape or patio.

‘Revolution’ Everlasting hydrangea is a 2-foot ball of solid color. Huge flowers in pink or blue or a combination of the two colors (depending on soil pH) cover plants all season. It’s cold-hardy (Zones 5 to 10) and can be left in the garden or on a porch all winter.

‘Blue Zebra’ primrose, with its blue-and-white-striped flowers, is perfect for an early spring border or in a pot on the windowsill. It is hardy and will come back every season, if planted in a shady spot in the ground.

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