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Most Canadian gardeners spend about half the year tending their gardens and the other half planning for next year. Unlike the home fashion industry, where new fabrics and colours are rolled out every year and touted as the latest style, gardening trends evolve over several years.

Sure, there are new annuals and perennials introduced every year (everyone seems to be looking at black petunias this year), and new plant colours get some publicity (black and white schemes are big, as is purple) but the overall trends have been unfolding for some time.

Gardening author Mark Cullen says preservation of the environment is No. 1. "This is no longer considered a trend but a part of gardening life in Canada," he says. "We are looking for gardening techniques that save water, minimize insect and disease problems, enhance the environment and improve our soil. The sale of the following products over the last 10 years has growth dramatically: rain barrels, seeping/weeping garden hoses, state-of-the-art lawn sprinklers, natural mulches (especially softwood bark mulch), native plants, grass seed (hardy seed used to eliminate weeds by squeezing them out of existence), compost, composting bins" and natural soil additives.

The use of chemicals on lawns and gardens is frowned upon and now is illegal in many municipalities. Lawns are being replaced by natural plants and ground covers that require little maintenance. Ornamental grasses and succulents (water-retaining plants) look great and don't need much attention.

Lawns are also being replaced by vegetable gardens, part of another major trend that the Philadelphia-based Garden Media Group calls "gardening with a purpose". In the U.S., the number of vegetable gardens being planted is up by 20 per cent and urban community gardens are also on the rise. Cullen sees the same trends in Canada.

"Canadians are not only growing more of their own vegetables and fruit but they are asking many questions that members of the farming community can answer," he says. Farmers markets have become increasingly popular in Canadian cities and farmers are being asked to share their growing tips with urban gardeners.

At the recent Canada Blooms garden show in Toronto, the Backyard Urban Farm Company introduced its Raised-Raised Bed, which "features hip-high gardening." The pedestal units are made from eastern white cedar logs and come in two standard sizes – the largest is 4 X 4 feet. The growing area holds up to 10 inches of soil, which the company says is "perfect for a huge variety of vegetables." There's a storage area in the bottom of the pedestal for gardening tools.

"At three feet tall, the Raised-Raised Bed is kitchen counter height for the lowest impact gardening you could possibly experience," the company says. It's designed for use on balconies, decks and patios and is "a saviour for people in wheelchairs," BUFCO says.

Container gardening also remains popular, not only for condos and apartments but for use on decks and indoors. Herbs like basil, rosemary and thyme are being grown in or near the kitchen so they can be picked fresh and used for cooking. People are also growing vegetables in containers or mixing vegetables and perennials. "There have been great improvements made in container soils (otherwise called 'soilless mix') and water retaining soil additives that have contributed to the growing demand for containers and the plants that go into them," says Cullen.

Although gardening has long been associated with older people and retirees, the Gardening Writers Association, which has a chapter in Canada, recently released a survey that says younger generations are gardening in numbers similar to other age groups.

"No longer should we assume that Generation Y or Z are bypassing gardening until they reach middle age or older," says the association. "The survey shows that those in the 25-40 age group is just as engaged in gardening as older folks. Those 18-24, while fewer are gardening, are showing an impressive number as well."

Other garden and landscaping trends to watch:

  • Green roofs have been used mostly in commercial installations and are mandatory on new commercial and industrial buildings in Toronto. Homeowners are starting to experiment with the green roof concept for flat garage and shed roofs. If you're thinking of expanding your garden space to a roof, think safety first. Make sure the roof can handle the increased weight of the garden and the extra moisture from watering it. The roof also needs to be easily accessible.
  • Green or "living" walls are also beginning to appear. Climbing plants look great and can be used to provide privacy and to hide an ugly wall or fence.
  • Gardens designed to attract bees, which pollinate the plants, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds are popular.
  • More outdoor living rooms that combine lighting, seating, a barbecue area and usually a water feature are being installed.

If you live in Southern Ontario, each year Landscape Ontario and the University of Guelph host a public open house at the annual and perennial trial gardens, where new bedding plants are introduced and tested every year. The event usually takes place in August and provides a sneak preview of what you'll see in the garden centres next year. For information, click here.

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