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GARDEN MAIDEN: Gardening trends coming in 2020

Education, preservation, recreation districts and more

With an inch of slushy snow falling on All Hallow’s Eve, mental segue to hibernate indoors met with mad delight, a soulful intent to look ahead for clear vision in 2020.

I share with you today my recap of recent reports by Garden Media Group, University of Illinois Extension, Seed Your Future and other concurring experts predicting trends in gardening for the coming season.

As 2019 winds down ...

Last week, on the eve of our first snowfall of 2019, I spent the five hours prior to dusk diligently tending newly installed strawberry plants, pulling second coming rhubarb before putting it to bed for the winter and graduating the asparagus incubator patch to divisions of healthy, well-apportioned asparagus crowns to flourish as a hedgerow next spring.

I was not focused on the task at hand, but rather praised a still, nearly warm evening while celebrating legs that yet can lift mud ridden boots while leap frogging flakes of ice cubed straw without falling flat on my bum. It mattered not what I was doing, but that I was doing something outdoors to say goodbye to autumn. Strength. Agility. And a communion with these heritage perennials invoking the Koster era of our farm.

As the silent movie played sacredly across my mind’s eye, a babbling creek mellowed the distress of so much yet undone on the verge of winter weather. That babbling creek is what I remember most in my body. The calm. The vigor as the rest of the farm gets ready to sleep. The ability to withstand torrential rains and still harbor toads, heron and a few fish occasionally.

Coming home remains my most welcome, unexpected turn in my life, and garden trends for the coming season support the very truth I’ve created on our tiny farm. Experiential learning trumps being told how to do it. Hands-on learning from basics of canning to splicing flowers onto tomato stock offer us opportunities to explore, concoct, demystify and instill a passion for all things gardening. If you love to garden, do your part by sharing your experience with just one person. So they can share with just one more. Creating gardens ranks higher than ever as a reflection of personal growth and community development.

On the tailcoat of 2018’s prediction of a rise in gardening for therapy, self-care and mental wellness continue to be pivotal as baby boomers hire plant whisperers and rank caring for living herb kitchen walls right up there with keeping Fido alive. Gardening to heal and nurture manifests a group calling themselves Plant Parents.

Central Recreation Districts

If you’re an urbanite, or even visited for that matter, you likely notice the sudden shift in vibes. Paved walkways, streets lined with clicking meters and buzzing lights ever burning day or night. Bumper to bumper cars harmonizing their screeching tires and bellowing blowhorns between catcalls at pedestrians pacing to the clickity blink of the automated crosswalk. I chuckle recalling how this very energy fueled me once. And how Chicago’s congestion and exorbitant cost of living dwarfed neighborly charm and rush of the tenacious hustle to thrive. Yet, the need to escape urbanism is more real than ever with regional day trips limited by pressing schedules and thinly stretched billfolds. Enter CRD.

Do you recall the veering arrow pointing toward a Central Business District (CBD)? In a nationwide effort to increase urban property value and attract millennials, you might soon spy designated areas of Central Recreational Districts (CRD). According to Garden Media Group’s “Seeing 20/20” report on annual garden trends, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. Elevating the enchantment of self-care through garden therapy to a core essential of choosing an urban lifestyle, CRD frontlines personal harmony with nature as a must-have for potential residents and developers.

Think of an oasis landscape architecture offering therapy by marrying nature with functionality. Municipalities are combining strategic effort to manage stormwater runoff, for example, with residential demand for landmarks and parks that offer reprieve from the urban hustle. City growth centered around community gardens and nature conservation fuel these CRD, critical to de-energizing the digital age of constant connectivity with living, tranquil space for self-connection. Retiring from the farm down the road seems less painful already.

Beautiful communities

For those of us digging in the dirt nearly 100% of our waking hours, all we do is plenty good enough as trends shift from global grassroots, save-the-earth, grant-driven projects toward simply acknowledging effort to preserve beauty through growing gardens in our own front yards. You may have heard about America in Bloom when Ottawa clutched the Most Impressive New Project or Program award in 2018.

For 2020, the national organization is encouraging municipalities to enhance botanical interest while promoting community volunteerism and launching a new self-assessment program, Growing Vibrant Communities. It’s a supplement to existing programs where individuals and small groups get to steward environmental health and celebrate heritage through all things botanical. For an annual registration fee of $299, GVC groups gain access to resources and tools such as an assigned professional gardening advisor and a Growing Vibrant Community certification.

Green jobs, education and preservation

If taking your green thumb to a professional effort tops your bucket list in 2020, you’re not alone. Just when I imagined all the green terms were taken, on the eco scene comes a sector colloquially conferencing in as Green Collar Jobs. In a nutshell, populating the term is a push for vocational programs and on-the-farm trainings to earn credibility and commensurate pay. Though the “Seeing 20/20” report pipes demand for horticulture jobs twice as high as graduates to fill them, there is equal need for businesses and organizations to increase the value of gardening roles.

As I reviewed statistics, I was reminded of hosting an urban food security camp where children found it difficult to match potatoes as the source of french fries. Adults in the room struggled to identify kale, eggplant and tomatillos. To them, heritage “Moon and Stars” watermelon with its blotched shell and yellow insides seemed wrong and a lab concocted anomaly. The black and blue heirloom tomatoes attracted more flies than forks where the only thing being tasted was snubbery and disgust.

Several trendsetting reports beckon educational institutes and skill-driven community programming to recognize the urgency for solidifying passion for pollinators and plants into a well-developed curriculum ranking alongside other specialty ag careers. On-the-job training gets to gain credibility where our greatest farm educators are valued doing what they love best. And being compensated for it. Debbie Hamrick, director of specialty crops with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, during her presentation on green infrastructure at AmericanHort Cultivate ’19 purports, “The world needs an army of ecological landscape practitioners steeped in horticulture and ecological land stewardship. And, they need to be valued, demanded (or mandated) and supported in their work.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many gardeners relish in neighborly bragging rights as the ultimate compensation for gardening. A return to what once was often drives our ambition to grow fascinating rare heirlooms or to tweak conditions endlessly producing prize-winning standbys. We do in our gardens what dirt-at-large begs. Conserve. Preserve. Restore. Repeat.

Regenerative farming, thus named by Rodale Institute in the 1980s, is a sub-sector of organic cultivation in which holistic land management, including husbandry and perimeter common areas, supercedes the yield-driven extractive method of agriculture. Building soil and reducing runoff are getting a bit more attention as large-scale corporate farms backtrack in an effort to sustain their businesses. The United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization reports that soil as we know it (rich and healthy) will be extinct by 2050 without tailored attention to regenerative practices. Though the big guys often get a bad rap, major players like General Mills is getting on board with a commitment to fund farm trainings and regenerate 1 million U.S. farm acres over the next decade.

A touch of color

Though it may take me another decade to pursue it, 2020’s garden color trend of indigo has me eyeing Polygonum tinctoria, commonly called Japanese Indigo, a frost tender wildflower in the knotweed family whose steeped, fermented leaves produce an all-natural, rich, rare indigo blue dye largely considered a lost art in the age and ease of petroleum-based artificial dyes.

What do you have planned for 2020? Share your garden visions with me at gardenmaiden.com.

SOURCES for information in this column include growingvibrantcommunities.com and Garden Media Group's 2020 Garden Trends Report: “Seeing 20/20.”

HOLLY KOSTER is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener who resides in Grand Ridge. She can be reached by emailing tsloup@shawmedia.com; via Twitter, @gardenmaiden9; or on Facebook, facebook.com/gardenmaiden9.

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