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Gardening Trends for 2021

About this time last year, I sat down to write a blog post about trends for the coming gardening season. Who could have predicted that a global pandemic would sweep in and have such a profound effect on every aspect of our day-to-day lives? 

Here in Ontario, we emerged from that initial lockdown right around the time that most nurseries would kick into high gear for the spring season. Even though masks and social distancing made everyday errands, like trips to the grocery store, feel strange, I remember how happy I was to find myself strolling down the nursery isle on a fine June day looking at annuals that were literally fresh off the truck. That bright sunny morning, I snatched up as many plants as would fit in the trunk of my car, vowing to make a return visit to pick up a few more to round out my container plantings. 

Boy was I disappointed! When I finally made it back the following week the place looked like it had been ransacked. Most of the annuals were gone and the seed racks stood empty. Even the perennials, which I usually pick up on clearance much later in the season, had been sold out. 

In the midst of a global pandemic, while everyone was stuck at home worrying about future food insecurity and toilet paper supplies, so many people discovered a new passion for gardening. Mailorder companies and nurseries experienced record sales. 

As the CBC reported last May, many seed vendors had to suspend internet sales to deal with the backlog of orders. Canadian supplier, Vessey’s Seeds, saw an unprecedented increase in sales of 450% and that’s with over 80 years in the business! 

It’s interesting to note that the demographics for Vessey’s mailorder sales are typically consumers in the 50 to 65-year-old age group (with the second most popular group being in the 65+ bracket). In 2020, the majority of digital consumers were between the ages of 25 and 35. In other words, a whole new generation discovered gardening in 2020.

So what does 2021 have in store for us?  

Trend #1 More Backyard Food Gardens 

As we all know, the economy has taken a beating and we aren’t out of the woods yet. Here in the Toronto area, our lockdown (with its strict stay at home orders) has been extended into March. Depressingly enough, there is still talk of a third wave of infections. Vaccines are rolling out at a glacial pace. 

I think it is safe to say that, in Canada at least, many of the factors that drove last year’s sales of vegetable seeds and seedlings will still be in effect.  

Two books on vegetable gardening– one old, one new this spring: The Art of Vegetable Gardening by Matt Mattus from 2018 and the New Heirloom Garden: Designs, Recipes and Heirloom Plants for Cooks who love to Garden by Ellen Ecker Ogden.

New to vegetable gardening? Get inspired by Youtube gardening channels and learn some of the basics:
Garden Answer a very popular channel that needs little introduction
Growing your Greens growing vegetables organically
Epic Gardening vows to help you grow a green thumb
MIGardener Channel organic gardening in Michigan 
Lovely Greens  both backyard and allotment gardening set on the Isle of Man
Roots and Refuge Farm a small family farm in central Arkansas

A new series from Lee Valley Tools hosted by Canadian author Niki Jabbour. 

In this video, Niki talks about planning your vegetable garden.

Trend #2 Raised Beds

Raised vegetable garden beds have become hugely popular and will continue to be so this gardening season. 

It’s no wonder – they elevate the humble veggie garden by making them seem tidy and organized. Raised beds also allow you to garden in a small footprint.  

The soil in raised beds thaws drains and warms up earlier than soil in the ground making it possible to get a head start on cool-weather crops like peas, lettuce and beets. Because you fill a raised beds with fresh, nutrient-rich soil, you can garden almost anywhere; on top of gravel, clay or poor soil, pavement and even rooftops.

Raised beds make it easier for those gardeners who may have trouble bending over or kneeling down to plant and weed.

Thinking of adding a raised bed? Here is a video with some design inspiration:

Trend #3

What is the”it” flower that everyone seems to want to grow in 2021? It’s the dahlia. No surprise – they’re showy and come in such an amazing array of flower forms and colors. 

Looking for some inspiration? Floret’s newest book, Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms.

Trend #4 Backyard Greenhouses and other Season Extenders 

When I watched a popular thirty-something British influencer, who usually covers fashion and interiors, excitedly give her viewers a tour of her new Hartley Botanic greenhouse I was a bit shocked.  It was hard to imagine those perfectly manicured fingernails potting up plants in her new white and red brick greenhouse. I was less surprised when she announced at least half of the space was to be set aside for entertaining (lunches for all her girlfriends –  after COVID of course).
Laura, another well-known Youtuber (Garden Answer) is about to get a Hartley of her own. The over one million subscribers to her channel will watch the installation playout this spring with wonder mixed with a little bit of green envy. (I can’t think of anyone who works harder and deserves a deal on a greenhouse more than Laura!)
There is a greenhouse in my future as well– though a much more modest, scaled-down, DIY version.  It won’t be constructed using old windows, as you so often see. We are going to use painted 2×4’s for most of the main structure and plexiglass for the exterior.  It won’t be ready for use this spring, but I hope it will get lots of use going forward.
These examples may hardly seem like the basis of a trend, but I think there is a general desire to get more out of our outdoor spaces and extend the use of backyards into the colder months.
Private garden, Toronto, ON.
Thinking of adding a cold frame/greenhouse? Watch this Garden Answer video.

And speaking of season extenders, Niki Jabbour has a new book out on the topic. Growing Under Cover is an in-depth guide on how to use small cloches, row covers, shade cloth, cold frames, hoop houses, as well as protective structures like polytunnels and greenhouses to grow amazing vegetables. 
Look for a book review and giveaway in the coming months.

Trend #5 Unusual or New Varieties of Common Flowers

Serious gardeners have always loved unusual plants, but these days just about everyone has more time on their hands to pour over seed listings looking for something different. 
All seeds are in high demand, but I see rare or unusual seeds of common flower varieties becoming much sought after items in 2021.
These are just a few flowers that piqued my own interest: Rudbeckia ‘Sahra’, Borage ‘Alba’, Orchid Cream Nasturtium.
ProCut® White Lite and ProCut® Plum Sunflowers. Pro-cut® Sunflowers are a pollen-free, single stem series that was bred for the cut flower market but might make an interesting addition to any garden. They flower in as little as 50 days.
Sunflowers are a good example of this trend. Yellow flowers are classic, but interesting options, like the two shown above, offer gardeners something a little different. 

Trend #6  The Backyard as a Multifunctional Outdoor Living Space

Money that once went into a vacation is now being poured into making the backyard a destination.  With nowhere to go, homeowners are seeing their outdoor spaces with fresh eyes. A garden is a perfect place to read, relax, exercise and dine. 

Expect sales of pools, solariums and fireplaces to continue to soar in 2021. 

Private garden in Hamilton, ON.
Private garden, Hamilton, ON.
Private garden, Hamilton, ON.

Trend #7 Earth-Friendly Gardening

I am loath to think that nature and eco-friendly practices might ever be considered “trendy”, but I do think environmental concerns are important issues for most gardeners. Improving the soil, composting and using organic weed and pest controls are practices most gardeners want to follow.

Declining populations of songbirds, Monarch butterflies and bees have been dominate environmental issues in recent years. As a result, pollinator gardens have become hugely popular. 

The issue I see moving more to the forefront in 2021 and beyond is single-use plastics. At present, it’s confusing which plastic pots can and can’t be recycled. Black plastic pots are not recyclable, while pots marked 1, 2 and 5 on the bottom are (trying to find the designation isn’t always easy). Any pots that go into the recycling bin must also be clean and free of any metal or handles. Sorting pots that wind up in recycling programs is time-consuming and therefore expensive. 

Single-use plastics are a huge issue that has nursery companies looking for creative solutions. Expect to see more discussion of the problem going forward.

Trend #8 The Cut Flower Boom

It’s not surprising more people will be interested in growing flowers in 2021. When everything around you feels grim, flowers are such a great pick-me-up. Homegrown vegetables are practical. Flowers are for the soul. 

Two older books you might find at the library to inspire your floral creations: The Flower Recipe Book by Alethea Harampolis and Jill Ruzzo from 2013 and Vintage Flowers by Vic Brotherson from 2018.

I treated myself to this book at Christmas time. Canadian Christin Geall is a gardener, floral designer. photographer, writer and teacher. As one reviewer wrote, “It’s floral design as an art.”

Arranging what you grow is both fun and creative. Normally, we might not have the time to devote to displaying flowers, but our restless energy needs a creative outlet these days.

Trend #9 Themed Gardens

It’s going to be a while before many traditional gardeners (the over 50 age group) feel comfortable enough to travel overseas. Introducing touches of faraway places into our humble backyard spaces is a way to travel without packing a suitcase. I can see themed gardens inspired by faraway places becoming increasingly popular.

For more novice gardeners, choosing a particular style or color theme gives selecting hardscaping, decorative accessories and plants a helpful focus.

The look of an English cottage garden reduced to suit a small backyard in Rosedale, ON.
A Japanese inspired pond in a private backyard.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments if any trends are inspiring your spring projects this year.