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Garden Trends


It’s finally happened! Spring has sprung and we are enjoying our first week of balmy temperatures. At last we can feel confident about putting our plants in the ground, letting them stretch their toes out into rich, welcoming earth.

It is not a season without its concerns, according to Barbara Pierson of White Flower Farm, which has an extensive mail-order service as well as a retail outlet on Route 63 in Morris. “I’m very concerned for the fruit trees,” she revealed. “The bees have not been able to pollinate. The rain just washes the pollen off.”

But when it comes to gardening, she said the outlook is good. Retail sales are ahead of last year. “People have been buying despite the weather,” she said. “People go through the long winter and are dying to get their hands in the soil.”

So, what are people looking for in their gardens? According to Pierson, raised bed and container gardening are “huge.” “There is a big trend toward vegetables raised in beds and containers because, guess what, anyone can have a container,” she continued. “You can raise tomatoes, squash—there’s even a cucumber called the Patio Snacker. We’ve been shipping tomato plants for seven weeks now. The Super Gold tomato is super-productive and you will get a lot of tomatoes from one pot.”

Pierson, who is available to give talks, has a Power Point presentation illustrating the “many cool varieties of containers.”

“That’s what people want to hear about,” she said. “You can have color on your deck.”

Many of us are not visionary when it comes to planning a garden but White Flower Farm has help for that, too. “We have pre-planned gardens now,” she revealed. “They are located on the website in the perennials section under Garden Designs. There are even pre-planned container designs and you can buy perennial mixes.”

She hastens to add, “Gardening is not about right or wrong. It’s what works for you—you can do this! We just want to make it as easy as possible.”

But gardeners must be nimble and willing to change with the changing climate. “Each town is different according to the hardiness zone maps done in 2012, partially because of warming,” Pierson said. “Even Litchfield County has a variety of zones. And I think there are micro-climates within towns. Are you in a valley? Up on a hill? On a slope? Do you have drainage? It’s so complicated now. Even a stand of trees can change things. You can’t generalize—every yard is different.”

And some of the old favorites might be struggling with the new reality. “With the winters warmer and the amount of rain we have had in the past two years, plants that don’t like wet feet are having trouble,” she said. “We are losing roses, lavender and buddleia (butterfly bush)—plants that are sensitive to water. We recommend that you think of drainage when planning your garden. Standing water in winter is affecting the success for perennials, depending on the site.”

Another thing affecting garden planning is the boxwood blight that blew into the region last year. Clive Lodge of Cornwall, an English garden designer who has designed landscapes for the likes of Oscar de La Renta in Kent, said the trend in formal gardening in New England is going to change. “Boxwood is such a standard on estates,” he said. “It’s an evergreen that gives color and structure year-round. But the blight came in last year and spread like wildfire. There is no cure and it kills the boxwood. It can’t be replaced because the disease will be there for 30 years. I’ve dug out thousands of dollars-worth of boxwood. Rhododendrons are affected, too.”

He said his firm has had to adopt strict hygiene regimens to prevent further spread of the blight. “It’s changing the whole face of planning a garden,” he said. “We’re looking for alternatives. Growers have come along with a couple of alternatives but they are not deer proof. You can use Japanese holly near the coastline where it’s milder but in the mountains it suffers.”

Evergreens are also being affected by the changing weather. Lodge said that the past winter did not offer enough snow to insulate tree roots. “We had strong winds and frozen root systems,” he reported. “It’s decimated evergreens. The changing weather conditions are biting into what we are doing in our gardens.”

Lodge said part of the problem is that we have brought plants from other countries. “These plants should not be here,” he said. “There is a big move toward indigenous plants with natural resistance but we don’t want those—we want the pretty things from other parts.”

If gardeners insist on non-native plants his recommendation is to attend to your plants’ health. “A healthy plant is more resistant,” he said. “Pay attention to fertilization and care more because of the stress of the weather. In general, you need to put in plants that are hardier and resistant to the fantastic weather changes.”

Pierson agreed, although she said the boxwood blight does not appear to be as much of a problem in northern Litchfield County. “We’re not currently selling boxwood,” she reported, “but we sell lots of other shrubs. There’s been huge growth in that area, especially in hydrangeas.”

To replace the boxwoods that have traditionally been used to create “rooms” in gardens, she suggests that some evergreens can be trimmed to shape. “If you want a walled garden, you can use some evergreen species,” she suggests. “I think you will see people going back to old varieties like the privet hedge. That fell out of favor but it will fall back in. But it’s hard to find something that looks like boxwood.”

She noted that extremes of weather are happening more than in the past and that this restricts the ability to plant exotic plants. She echoes Lodge in saying there is a big movement toward “natives and nativars (cultivated forms and hybrids of native species).” But sometimes it is a hard sell. “Some natives are not attractive,” she admitted, “and some are wild and wooly.”

“People are looking for plants that feed the local wildlife, that are rock-solid hardy for the area and do the multipurpose thing of being easy care. People don’t have time to be super fussy. I would like to see more grasses grown. They give a more natural look to gardens.”

Speaking of natural, there is a trend toward meadow gardens which reflects both the move to native flowers and ease of care. While a meadow garden might provide a home for ticks, she said exposure to them is less. “Ticks will definitely be there, but the whole point is easy care. Guess what, you don’t have to do maintenance. You are not in there constantly.”

White Flower Farms sees a growing awareness of ecological health among gardeners. “Buyers are caring about the pollinators and not using pesticides,” Pierson reported. She said at White Flower beneficial insects are used in the greenhouse to prevent predation by other bugs. “All the growers are realizing at this point that people don’t want plants loaded with chemicals. People are really into it.”