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Take it outside: Garden trends show rising interest in making most of outdoor spaces

The pandemic has had many downsides. One of the good things to come of it, however, is a rediscovery of the solaces of nature and the pleasures to be had in our own yards and gardens. A survey by the National Gardening Association found, in fact, that more than half of respondents are spending an extra two hours each day outside compared to pre-pandemic, and they expect that to continue into the upcoming gardening season.

Other surveys show similar results. The recently released Houzz & Home Study from the website Houzz reports that more than half of homeowners updated their outdoor spaces in 2021, with the most popular upgrades to beds and borders, lawns, fences and patios or terraces. Deck improvements were common, gazebos or pergolas and built-in kitchens are on the rise, with most popular product was lighting, followed by furniture, pillows and throws and fire-related features.

That translates into a continued interest in upgrading and trying out new things in the garden. We checked in with local and national garden experts and designers to see what’s on tap for 2022 and how you can make the most of your own outdoor space, whatever its size.

Outdoor oasis

“Many of us have embraced the outdoors as a result of the recent pandemic,” agrees designer Rachel Nelson of Concetti in Detroit. She has seen this in her own garden and in requests coming in from clients throughout Metro Detroit. “I’ve been asked to do more outdoor spaces, including lanais and outdoor covered patios… it really does seem to be a trend,” she explains, citing her own home as an example. “I have multiple outdoor spaces, including a sitting area with a fire pit and a dining pergola. “

One of the most extensive recent requests came from an Oakland County client, a rose gardening devotee. “When her mom passed she took a rose from her garden as a way of honoring that relationship,” she explained. Eventually, she decided to move her growing rose collection into a new greenhouse, which would also serve as her winter escape, says Nelson. “She wanted a place to get away from it all and a place where she could decompress and spend some time for herself,” she explains. The resulting 16-by- 30-foot greenhouse houses more than 20 raised beds of roses as well as a planting and seating area. “It’s become her home away from home,” Nelson says.

The fact that his yard measures just 25 by 42 feet didn’t stop interior designer Barry Harrison of Art Harrison Interiors from making the most of his city space. The center of his garden design features an impressive moat created to house the prized koi he raised in a pond on his Kentucky farm. The waters of the moat are accentuated with large granite slab “bridges” that define an outdoor space that can be easily converted for outdoor dining during summer parties, he says.

Al fresco fun

Nationwide, Lowe’s has reported an ongoing trend toward what they call “al fresco living” becoming increasingly popular, says spokesperson Colette Gelman. “Customers are expanding their favorite home spaces into the outdoors, from living rooms for relaxing to dining rooms for hosting,” she explains.

In response, the company has expanded their outdoor furniture offerings, including the new modern brand Origin 21 products, which she says “offer an elevated look at affordable prices.”  Even smaller spaces can benefit from a seating area or two, Gelman says. “Incorporating Adirondack chairs or a conversational set can help provide an inviting outdoor oasis,” she explains. Consider finishing it off with “string lights for ambiance and a rug to add a personal touch,” she recommends.   

And it’s not just the backyard that’s seeing renewed interest. The 2022 Garden Trends Report found that in 2021, social media mentions of front yards or front porches reached a five-year high.

“People are creating zones for personal use,” the report explained. “Front yards are the first zone, where you welcome friends… the front porch is the new destination. It’s like having a new room to enjoy, decorate and plant.”  Painting shutters and doors, hanging outdoor curtains, building window boxes and planters and planting trees, adding porches, couches and dining sets are among the many ways to make the most of that “new” space, the report says.

Healthy hobbies

The Garden Trends report also states that gardening attracted 18.3 million new participants in the past few years, with men under 35 surprisingly showing the most significant increase in participation. They dubbed these new gardeners “Backyard Aficionados,” and say that among them interest is high in growing edible plants, gardening for wildlife and gardening as a form of stress relief.

Gelman of Lowe’s agrees. “Seasonal planting is a hobby that many homeowners and renters look forward to each year,” she explains. “In a recent survey, Lowe’s asked 1,000 homeowners to rank their top 12 home projects that brighten moods and spark joy,” she reports. They found that yard maintenance, caring for plants, weeding and gardening all ranked in the top five.

Darrell Youngquest, hardy plant buyer for English Gardens, says interest is also “growing” in vegetables and other food sources. He attributes that rise to a number of factors, including more time at home, shortages in grocery stores, inflation and health concerns.

Peppers and tomatoes are consistent top sellers, although, with more time at home, people are more willing than ever to experiment. “There is definitely more interest in edibles than in the past because we are spending more time at home and in the garden,” he reports, and says gardeners are seeking out new varieties and plants to try beyond the staples, including tayberry, a raspberry/blackberry hybrid from Scotland.  “We can’t grow everything, but anything we can grow we are gobbling up,” he says of customers.  

Grow your own

Blake Farms’ manager Lonnie Decker has also seen skyrocketing numbers of people wanting fruits and vegetables.  “The pandemic really drove a customer shift in wanting fresh from-the-source options and we saw more people wanting to either pick or grow it themselves. We anticipate the same this year with more people wanting to grow gardens, spend time outdoors and reconnect with their food. Gardening is also a wonderful way to reconnect with family, friends, and ourselves,” she continues. “There is a sense of satisfaction and education you receive from nurturing a plant from a seed or seedling to harvesting it. It’s a great family activity that everyone can enjoy.”

The physical benefits are many, but gardening is also good for mental health, adds Lowe’s Gelman. “It’s also scientifically proven that just 30 minutes in pleasant weather can boost moods and happiness, so gardening continues to be a popular hobby among homeowners and renters.”  Lavender is considered a calming and medicinal herb and may help with health challenges such as anxiety, insomnia, mood issues, headaches, side effects of chemotherapy and more, says Decker. Blake’s July Lavender Market is among their most popular events.

Other top trends

Gelman also reports a rise in items related to pocket gardening, which enables green thumbs with limited space to enjoy time in the garden, she says.  “Customers are looking to brighten underutilized spaces with plants, regardless of their space size,” she explains. “Raised garden beds, railing planters  and garden boxes are great additions to any garden.”   Many customers are also looking to become more environmentally friendly, she says, citing an increase in organic products such as soil rich in nutrients and new Bloem pots and planters, which are made from 100-percent recycled materials.

English Gardens Youngquest says more gardeners are looking for plants that are pollinators and good for birds, butterflies and bees. He recommends checking out new colors of cone flower (Echinacea) and allium, including smaller ones such as “Millenium” “Serendipity” and “Medusa,” all beloved by bees.  He is among the many who keep bees, adding “it’s a pretty easy hobby and you get the benefit of fresh honey.” 

None of the experts expect the interest in gardening to wane if and when the pandemic finally does. “After the past couple years we’ve all gone through, people are eager to be outside as much as possible, get their hands dirty and disconnect from technology,” explains Lonnie Decker. “These simple pleasures of using our hands and engaging with nature can be so satisfying.” Rachel Nelson agrees.  “We used to overlook our outdoor spaces,” she says.  “Now we spending time figuring out how we can reimagine the spaces we do have and embrace them.”