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Trends toward Green

by Kathryn Boughton

For nearly 14,000 years, man has been tied to the rhythms of the natural world. Neolithic farmers planted wheat, barley, peas, lentils and other crops, while the Chinese domesticated rice, mung, azuki and soy beans.

These plants sustained life and promoted civilization by tying nomadic peoples to the ground. But man is an aesthetic creature, and cultivated plants soon were sought out for beauty as well as utility. Kitchen gardens, where medicinal and cooking herbs were grown, soon were home to plants of no practical use. By1260 Dominican friar Albertus Magnus wrote De Vegetabilibus et Plantis, the first description of a pleasure garden.

The die had truly been cast and ornamental plantings have never since gone out of fashion. But styles do change and Bruce Bennett, owner of Kent Greenhouse and Garden Center, has observed some contemporary shifts in popular taste.

“I’ve seen three shifts,” he said. “First, people want their own vegetable gardens, at least to a modest degree—even people you would least expect. There is a big movement toward healthier living and they want to know where their food comes from and what chemicals have been sprayed on them. I see people putting tomato plants into their landscaping and herbs continue to be a big thing—particularly herbs used in cooking.”

Continuing the interest in the health of the environment, he says many of his clients are interested in promoting the bee population. This often involves planting wildflowers and other “weeds” that bees favor. “A lot of wildflowers have been eliminated from the area,” he observed. “We’re getting more and more woods and fewer meadows, so there are fewer flowers. People have been putting plants into their gardens that are valuable to bees.”

He said that within the past week he had two patrons call to ask about lavender plantings to support beehives.

“I have not heard of it, but I am about to plunge into research,” he said. “I would love to see it as a trend. Lavender is a borderline hardy plant in our region and it would be beautiful.”

Bennet confessed that, “I love green, but I don’t love multiple or gaudy flowers.” Happily for him, green is a coming trend for homeowners. “Shrubs make a nice configuration,” he said.

“There is a trend toward boxwood, myrtle and pachysandra rather than big flashy flowers like rhododendron. When installing a landscape, people are more willing to do green on green, more begonia leaves and fern plantings that don’t necessarily have big blooms.”

A number of shrubs have been cultivated as dwarf specimens. “There is much less pruning than there used to be,” he said.

Large beds of ornamental grasses, “arrays of green and creamy yellow, are being added to landscapes,” he said. “That brings less maintenance. It’s pretty easy—even with a severe drought, grass goes dormant, but comes right back.”

In Great Barrington MA, Ward’s Nursery spokesman Jody Cahillane said that new trends are “the perennial question.”

“I see a continuing trend toward raised gardens and container plantings,” she continued. She explained that raised gardens offer a number of benefits, including fertile soils that readily grow plants. “You can install the beds right over the top of marginal soils,” she said. “And you don’t step on it, so it doesn’t get compacted. People find raised beds more controllable.”

She, too, noted that tomatoes are a popular backyard plant. “There are so many varieties,” she said, “some more prolific than others. People have to decide what they want. If they want to put the plant in a container on the patio, they probably want one with smaller fruit, but if they want one with vines, they can have that, too.”

In the realm of what was old is new again, she said people are reverting to plants popular in the 1970s—but with a twist. Among the old favorites that are back in style are geraniums. “They bloom all summer and are drought tolerant,” Cahillane said. “It used to be that they only came in red and white, but now they have come up with forms that are really attractive, like Salmon Splash. There are all these watermelon, pinky, coral colors that are really different.”

Ward’s is offering a series of lectures this spring to assist gardeners. Topics are:

March 11th, 10 AM – Spring Garden Problem-solving; 2 PM—Container Gardening
March 12th, 1 PM—Planting and Maintaining Strawberries, Raspberries and Blueberries.
This Class is Standing Room Only. Sign-up is for the waiting list only.
March 18th, 10 AM—Native and Non-native Shrubs and Trees; 2 PM—Principles of Pruning.
March 19th, 1 PM—Designing an Easy-care Garden.
March 25th, 10 AM—Shady Characters in the Garden; 2 PM—Birds of a Feather – Flora, Homes and Food to Attract Breeding and Migrating Songbirds.
March 26th, 1 PM—Consider the Hardscapes.
April 1st, 10 AM—Mushrooms of the Berkshires.