As you contemplate starting your home garden, it may not have occurred to you that there are trends in the seed industry that reflect a flourishing concern among gardeners about growing their own food, as well as attracting natural pollinators. Yet what is available this spring is in part a continuation of the concept of self-sufficiency that germinated during the recent economic downturn, according to Renee Shepherd, president of the Home Garden Seed Association, a national organization based in California.
“The economic reality led to people trying to do more for themselves and to developing real-life skills like canning. This is particularly true for millennials,” said Shepherd, who is also the owner of Renee’s Garden seed company. “We have seen an influx of younger gardeners who are very concerned about the quality, flavor, safety and nutritional value of their food. It is reflected in the philosophy that the more fresh and local the better.”
What are they growing? Shepherd said that a popular trend is to grow ornamental edibles that are both aesthetic and practical. “It used to be that gardeners had their vegetable garden out back, but now they are interested in mixing them with flowers for a colorful garden. People like to grow chard, which is available in eight different colors, and eggplants.”
Shepherd recommended edging garden beds with lettuces and planting basil among petunias. While you’re at it, she suggested adding the number one selling herb, cilantro. “It is a favorite because Mexican and South American foods are more mainstream now so people are familiar with the flavor.”
But there’s no need to sow these edible gardens solely in beds. Donna W. Moramarco, education director of Martin Viette Nurseries in East Norwich, said that another growing trend is container gardening in which you can plant a salad garden, herbs and flowers in a large pot. This is particularly helpful if you have limited space.
“Even if you have only small amounts of sunny space available to garden, people can take advantage of it by growing in containers: planters, window boxes, hanging baskets,” she said. “If there’s a sunny spot, people find a way to grow their favorites—even on a small scale.”
Another variation, according to Shepherd, is vertical gardening: plants that grow up and provide maximum space, like pole beans, little pumpkins, tomatoes and summer squash. These, too, can be grown in containers.
In addition, Shepherd said that people are growing ornamental fruits like blueberries and flowers for bouquets. Root vegetables such as rainbow-colored carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas have also taken root as they have become trendy in restaurants and are usually served roasted.
Gardening for pollinators is also part of a larger movement. “More people are aware of the crisis with bees and want to grow a garden that supports hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects,” said Shepherd.
To that end, try growing basil, dill, thyme, parsley and cilantro together. If these culinary herbs are allowed
to bloom, the blossoms attract pollinators. Also, a wide range of flowers like zinnias, cosmos and alyssum become a garden that Shepherd said nourishes a whole ecosystem.
According to Rick Van Bourgondien of Van Bourgondien Nursery in Dix Hills, what continues to be popular are heirloom seeds, an open-pollinated variety unchanged through hybridization that have been around for more
than 50 years, like various tomatoes and peppers. If you’re not sure where to start, Moramarco said that tomatoes are always on the list. Tomatoes can meet every trend: they can be part of your edible, container, vertical garden that attracts pollinators, and there are numerous heirloom varieties. But the best part? Eating them, of course.
“There are so many to try from small to large fruits and there are so many things you can do with them: make a paste, slice, add them to salad,” Moramarco said. “I like to recommend slicing varieties and then planting basil to go with them.”
One only has to imagine a harvest of those tomatoes and basil several months from now—and adding fresh mozzarella and olive oil—to join the trend to grow your own food.
For tips on how to start your own garden, please click here.