As much as I respect the work of industry groups that like to help both clients and consumers by putting together nicely packaged trend reports—which I read—it just seems like the real world of gardeners is messier, more diverse, and more interesting. (At least gardening trend reports aren’t as silly as Pantone’s yearly color announcements.)
This year, I find that announced trends from Garden Media Group bear many similarities with reality as well as important differences. I feel more confident in saying this than in previous years, having conducted my own observations of 4,000 gardeners in our local Facebook group over the last eighteen months.
The most important piece of trend info is National Gardening Association’s survey showing that 16 million new gardeners joined our ranks during COVID-19, many of them under 35. I take all the NGA’s surveys with a grain of salt, but I’ll accept about two thirds of that number, which is still impressive. I don’t know about all the twenty-something gardeners coming online. Houseplants, yes, a resounding yes. Gardening outside? Not so much.
But, yes, there are many, many more people gardening in my region than there were before. They look to our group for information and advice from more experienced gardeners, which they receive. They also look to YouTube videos, memes, the Old Farmers Almanac (online) and a bunch of other websites, most very general and often misleading. I think the videos provide the best guidance. Do I wish more newbie gardeners would read books? Yes. Do I think they will? No.
Many of the incoming food growers are looking to seed-starting and seed swapping. They’re putting together inexpensive greenhouses, and, over the past six months, I have seen impressive baskets of vegetables posted by many. This was predicted years ago, but didn’t quite explode in the way it is now.
The other correctly identified trend of significance is providing habitat. You’ll never find a Certified Wildlife Habitat sign in my yard; I’d rather buy a couple pollinator-friendly perennials with the twenty bucks. My sense is that these incoming gardeners aren’t that interested in signs; what they do want to see are butterflies, bees, and birds, and they don’t mind planting a messy patch of swamp milkweed to help with that. Not too messy, though. Many of these gardeners want to leave perennial remains through the fall, but can’t stand the way it all looks. There is a congenital tendency toward neatness that is in eternal opposition to the desire to provide homes for wildlife. I don’t think this conflict will ever go away. I also don’t think the impulse to reach into the kitchen cabinet for Dawn soap, white vinegar, and Irish Spring as gardening helpers will ever go away either.
To make a sweeping generalization of my own, the new gardeners will experiment until they arrive at similar compromises to those of older generations. What’s too much trouble? What’s most attractive? What am I enjoying the most? The answers to those questions will always be too diverse to fit into a list of trends.