There has been more change in the world of gardening in the last couple of years than I can remember in my 16-year garden-based career. The pandemic, the climate crisis and growing awareness of nature loss have all impacted on how we value and use our gardens.
During the pandemic people started to value their outdoor spaces. Not only were they a space to escape to, they provided activity and exercise. With the change to more home-working people do seem to have a little more time to work in and enjoy their gardens and I do hope this continues.
More people seem to be aware of the importance of using peat-free compost to reduce the environment damage and release of carbon that it’s extraction creates. All of the local nurseries and garden centres offer peat-free compost (some even offer plastic-free) and so really there is no reason to use anything else. Currently it is a bit more expensive than peat-based ones, however to save cost, you can make your own compost and either mix that with a little garden soil or some bought peat-free compost to make it go further. Peat-free compost might need a little extra feed throughout the summer but otherwise performs well. It’s a shame the government cannot put fiscal measures in place so that peat-free is more attractive to consumers, or put in place mandatory point of sale labelling so that people are aware of what they are buying, as it’s not always obvious to those who are starting out in gardening.
There seems to be a greater interest in having wilder areas in the garden to share with our local wildlife – small and large areas sown with wildflower seeds, grass left long, log piles, hedgehog houses and ponds. No-mow May run by the charity Plantlife seemed to be very popular and walking around Ampthill in May I saw lots of fabulous front gardens with long grass and wildflowers.
Growing more fruit and vegetables is becoming very popular. It is an activity that many people discovered in lockdown, when they had more time on their hands. But more than that, perhaps a fear of high food prices and poor availability, and a general sense of doing something that connects us with nature. Whatever the reason, almost all of my clients have been interested in growing at least some fruit and veg or at the least wanting to incorporate an apple tree or a few herbs.
Plastic use is on the wane. There are more and more products out there that are made from natural or recycled materials, and more local suppliers offering to take back pots and trays for re-use or recycling. Unfortunately, there does seem to be plastic lawns popping up aswell. I do hope this is a fad that people grow tired of. There are some instances where I can see that this is useful e.g. if you have a physical disability, but other than that, I just don’t understand why people want to put plastic sheeting down in their garden – hot underfoot, still needs cleaning, dogs often don’t like it, isn’t recyclable in any local facilities (even though some claim otherwise), can still get weeds in it, feels wrong, smells wrong and destroys all life beneath it! If you really don’t have time or are physically unable to mow a lawn look to employ a local gardener to do it for you. If you don’t need the space to be a flat surface, using low maintenance ground cover plants such as Pachysandra terminalis, or slightly larger shrubs like Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’ or Hebe Rakaiensis is much cheaper, better environmentally and looks far better than a ruffled plastic sheet.
More planting, less hard landscaping. There is a definite trend to wanting just enough paving for dining and entertaining, whilst adding a good amount of planting, especially trees to create a soft, natural look and a sense of enclosure. Whilst some hard landscaping is inevitable if you want a space in which to sit and enjoy your garden, it all has an environmental impact, whether because it is quarried, dredged from the sea or transported thousands of miles. Cement also creates a lot of carbon emissions. On top of that, sealing the soil off from the air destroys the multitudes of life that is below the soil surface and can make flooding worse. There is often a fear of having too much planting because of the maintenance, but some plants make great groundcover and need very little maintenance (in fact less than cleaning your patio every year) and an interesting varied landscape can be created with just a small palette of plants.
Things to look out for in 2022 and beyond:
More no-dig gardening and protecting and enhancing the health of our soil. This is not often talked about but good soil health is vital for healthy plants and good food crops as well as being a fantastic carbon store and helping in times of drought and flood. I always practice and advise no-dig practices. It is so much easier and far better at protecting the life under the soil. A good mulch of well-rotted green waste helps keep the soil healthy, improves its texture, feeds the life below ground, helps the soil retain moisture and reduces maintenance as it reduces weed growth.
More home-grown cut flowers and arrangements of dried flowers. Although some local florists sell locally grown stock, many cut flowers are transported long distances and are even flown in from abroad. Yet, so many garden plants are great for cutting. Think foliage and stems as well as flowers. Even when the flowers have faded, some of the flower heads, such as Alliums, make great house decoration. It’s a great way to flex your creative muscles without having to spend the earth – even one flower stem popped in a small jar can look great.