Welcome to our first informal roundtable, in which various Ranters opine on garden-related issues. We chose trends for the inaugural discussion, because a few of us had just received interesting surveys and trend reports. Not all Ranters will join these, necessarily—just whoever has time and is in the mood.

On to the first roundtable question:

Ranters get trend reports regularly, usually from marketing groups. As a gardener who writes, what are the one or two biggest trends you’ve personally noticed over the past couple years?

Marianne: Houseplants is of course the biggest one. It’s a trend that I completely support as someone who has had houseplants for pretty much all of my adult life; however I wish there was some way to divest the smart mental/physical aspects of it—the common sense of it, if you will—from the rampant consumerism and bizarre anthropomorphizing that allows a $549.00 price tag on a small variegated monstera (or even $50 on a 4-inch pot of something less rare) to become a thing. That’s a lot of cash for something that may very well perish, and from the reports we also get about the extreme financial situations of the 24 to 38-year-olds who, overall, are driving this trend, it just doesn’t make sense.  My twenties and thirties were so focused on frugality to get out from under student loan debt, raise kids, and be able to buy some land that I couldn’t imagine paying even $10 for a plant at that time.

Anne: What about gardening is good for your “mental health?” It’s largely nonsense and partly true. Having worked with people suffering from real mental illness, I would say it helps psychosis not one little bit and I’d not want someone having a psychotic episode, or in a manic phase of bipolar wandering around with a pair of shears. And for those of us who are not suffering in those ways, gardening may cheer us up and may render us totally miserable, depending on what is going on in the garden and with the enemies of gardening such as diseases and rampant pests.  While I have great sympathy with people in distress, there seems to be an increasing tendency to conflate ordinary human misery with mental illness. I don’t think that helps people suffering with either.

Susan: “Leave the Leaves” is EVERYWHERE now—more of it every year. And the COVID-related increase in new gardeners. But I pooh-pooh trend reports as a general rule because what do I care about them? Turns out my 9-year-old paint color choice of grey-green for my living room is right on trend—for 2022!

Elizabeth: I love the houseplant trend (fabulous WNY houseplant nursery shown at top). I remember being mocked on this very blog for my boring houseplants. Connected to this, I also notice more plant buying on Etsy and eBay. (Not sure that’s a great thing, as few of the vendors are seasoned nursery people.) Finally, gardening education is increasingly being driven by social media.

Anne is happy to emulate Piet Oudolf (Lurie Garden close-up above).

Is there a major way your gardening practice has changed over that time?

Marianne: I’m loving the increased power and durability of battery powered tools, the use of which is definitely trending.  Frugality and dislike of noise/smoke of gas-powered tools always drove me to use manual tools for most of my hedge clipping and weed whacking, etc., but realizing what could be accomplished in a much shorter amount of time with less noise and no emissions during use has made me a convert. 

Anne: My approach to garden design has definitely been influenced by the new perennial movement—Piet Oudolf and co.—and the move towards more relaxed gardening.

Susan: None.  Since covid, I’m just grateful my passion is gardening, not choral singing.

Elizabeth: As I get older, I am increasingly aware of the brevity of everything. I am much more likely to give up on badly performing plants earlier and make changes quicker.

What are recent movements/developments in the gardening world that you are less than positive about?

Marianne: Native vs. Non-Native. Meadows vs. Lawns. Wildlife vs. Aesthetics. The “vs.” that always seems to creep into the conversation. I’m increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to look at things as either black or white—my side vs. your side.  There’s little room for gray areas in a moralistic, righteous framework, and that makes it incredibly tough for new gardeners trying to find their way with limited knowledge and limited resources.  It’s turned a lot of common-sense issues into points of contention and in my opinion, plays to the religious instinct of the human condition.  It’s not good.

Anne: I’m not at all positive about the relentless moralizing and preaching.

Susan: Memes and even longer-form advice with no reference/credit cited. When there IS one, like the Xerces article recommending leaving the leaves, we find out there’s ONE anecdote given by their source—and it was the author’s own experience with woodland plants, with no mention of what kind of leaves he left. Another example is that the original National Wildlife Federation article recommending leaving the leaves specified (toward the END of the article) that it referred to woodland gardens only.

Elizabeth: There seems to be much more heedless jumping on whatever bandwagon is coming along.

Name a trend that isn’t happening but should be.

Marianne: I’d like to see a cultural trend towards using less plastic in the garden.  We’re starting to see more of this in the home with things like laundry detergent sheets and cardboard packaging, but I think the garden is still an untapped market. I certainly do not advocate bans on plastics, as their use makes a lot of things much easier and more accessible to more people; I’d just like to see more reliance on using bulk materials, natural materials, reusable materials, and the recycling of plastic. And when I say ‘recycling’ I mean in your own garden—NOT as Someone Else’s Problem (which is what we do when we drop things off at the recycle bin.

Anne: Taking gardens seriously as an art form.

Susan: Communication about gardening relying on research, recognizing that this is SCIENCE, not macrame.

Elizabeth: I learned about gardening mainly from books. Can we get back to this? Otherwise, I’d like to see more education happening at reputable garden centers and nurseries, maybe trying to make it fun, with refreshments or whatever it takes. Beginning gardeners are getting terrible information online. Many of the big websites—I refuse to name them—are far too general to help with zone- and region-specific issues, not to mention that they are mainly content farms looking for clicks.