When garden industry experts release a list of prevailing trends for the coming year, a layperson might expect to see mentions of the newest decking material, soil innovation or rosebush. But Garden Media Group's crystal ball uses a wide-angle lens that looks beyond the backyard.
"For years we've identified shifts in habits and growth that affect both consumer and professional horticulture," says Katie Dubow, creative director at Garden Media Group, a boutique PR and marketing firm which produces the annual Garden Trends Report. "From the way we design our cities to the people who work in them, the 'green' industry will be at the forefront of urban growth and development in 2020."
According to the report, this year's trends are "reinventions from a bygone era — helping to reconnect us with nature, rejuvenate the soil and lead us to a more thoughtful approach to life."
Here are the eight trends from the report, and some of the ways you can immerse yourself in these aspects of nature.
1. CITIES OF THE FUTURE
* What it means: According to the report, 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050 — already more than half do. With urbanization comes a longing for nature, which will give rise to central recreational districts where residents can escape the hustle of the city. In some cities, these "Instagrammable" urban areas may contain parks, historic places, landmarks or tourist destinations.
* Local level: The nonprofit Tennessee Interstate Conservancy announced plans in January for a local interstate beautification project that will soften U.S. Highway 27's hard lines with botanical eye candy. Called the "Gateway to Chattanooga" project, the extensive relandscaping of 22 acres along the M.L. King Boulevard and Fourth Street interchanges will plant 1,000 trees, 1,300 daylilies, 1,200 blue iris and four acres of wildflowers. The conservancy is partnering with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, local governments, businesses and others to make Chattanooga a model for such projects statewide.
"We're trying to get elements of an ornamental landscape design with a dynamic geometry so it looks as good from the sky and buildings as it does from the ground," says Brett Smith, vice president of Ragan-Smith, TDOT's on-call landscape contractor.
Landscaping efforts will begin when the Highway 27 widening project is complete, which is expected to be this fall.
2. CIRCULAR ECONOMY
* What it means: Circular cities look "green," says the report. A circular economy minimizes waste and makes the most of resources. It replaces an end-of-life concept with restoration.
* Local level: Start with your pots. Plastic garden containers are often not accepted for conventional recycling, but two major home stores put them back to use.
In a 2019 news release, Home Depot announced that it was "moving toward a circular economy" with a recycling program that accepts empty plastic garden pots for the store's growers to refill. When the pots are no longer reusable, the retailer sends them to a plastics company to be turned into new pots, trays and hanging baskets.
Likewise, Lowe's offers in-store recycling for plastic plant trays, pots and tags from previous purchases.
3. GREEN-COLLAR JOBS
* What it means: According to Euromonitor, gardening in the U.S. grew 6% in 2018 to reach $40.2 billion in industry receipts. Gardening is expected to reach $49.3 billion by 2023. The Garden Trends Report says there are double the number of jobs available than students to fill them. Jobs in horticulture outnumber graduates 2-to-1.
* Local level: Local colleges and universities offer a range of horticulture related career training, including Chattanooga State Community College's Landscape & Turf Management program and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's environmental science majors.
Chance Howard, president of Chattanooga's Howard Landscape Group, got his start in the industry as an 8-year-old mowing lawns in the neighborhood, and at 16 spent his last dollars on a lawn mower, weed eater and leaf blower to begin a full-fledged lawn care business. He continued working in lawn care and studying business administration before launching Howard Landscape Group seven years ago.
Twelve employees later, he says, "we don't mow lawns anymore." Instead, his focus has shifted from maintenance to design-build.
"The biggest thing right now is outdoor living," he says, which can include everything from outdoor kitchens to water features that enhance the experience of being outside.
"Twenty years ago, I would have said you'd have been crazy to put a kitchen in the backyard," says Howard. "Now it's the coolest thing in the neighborhood. ... That's been a trend over the last five years, and it continues to grow."
The multibillion-dollar horticulture industry offers many entry points, he says, but his niche offers "something different every day. It's extremely creative. It's extremely custom. ... There's no project alike."
4. ENDANGERED SOIL
* What it means: "Soil is our great green hope," says the report, but a new operating system is needed.
Before the 20th century, soil was healthy and organically dense. Food was rich in vitamins and minerals.
Today, erosion and deforestation have washed away one-third of the world's topsoil, and soil has been stripped of nutrients. If current trends continue, soil as we know it — or more importantly, as we need it — will be gone by 2050, according to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.
* Local level: You don't have to be a farmer for a soil test to be useful. Whatever size your patch of ground is, a soil test can help you determine the soil's fertility so you'll know what nutrients your lawn or plants need.
Test kits are available for free at the University of Tennessee/Hamilton County Extension office off of Bonny Oaks Drive, or you can download the forms online. You'll then pay to have the soil analyzed at the UT Soil, Plant and Pest Center in Nashville.
Amanda Gearing Sanders, with the Hamilton County Extension, says there are multiple tests that can be conducted but most homeowners choose the nutrient analysis, which is $15. Instructions for gathering your samples are included in the kit. You can call the Extension office at 423-855-6113 for help interpreting the results.
* What it means: Houseplants have been shown to clean the air, reduce stress, bring life to a room, enhance creativity and connect us with nature, says Garden Media. Climate focused younger generations are especially attuned to the benefits of houseplants. In fact, seven in 10 millennials identify as "plant parents," according to a new OnePoll/Article study.
According to Euromonitor, the largest proportion of plants sold are succulents. Tall indoor plants are also popular.
* Local level: "People in the know are definitely becoming more eco-conscious," says Bill Haley, education outreach coordinator at the Tennessee Aquarium and founder of a yearly plant giveaway at his church, Daisy United Methodist.
He says the church has seen "more interest every year" for the plant giveaway. "Last year, for the very first time, we completely ran out of plants ... and we started with a LOT of plants."
"Free" does play a part in the event's success, he acknowledges. Any comer can claim three plants at no cost. However, for the past couple of years, organizers have offered an option to buy up to five more plants for $2 each to meet the demand of "folks [who] wanted more than three free plants," Haley says.
For anyone looking to grow their garden, he recommends native plants, which occur naturally in an area. Native plants are adapted to local soils and climate conditions, so they generally require less watering and fertilization than non-natives do.
6. FROG WHISPERING
* What it means: A garden filled with amphibians indicates balance and a healthy ecosystem. The absence may indicate problems. Frogs and toads are an effective, natural form of pest control — amphibian predators that will feast on mosquitoes, slugs and plant-damaging beetles.
* Local level: The Chattanooga Zoo is a chapter of FrogWatch USA, a free citizen science program that trains participants to listen and report the breeding calls of frogs and toads in the area. Their observations help scientists understand which frog and toad populations are increasing or declining. The organization estimates that at least one-third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction.
To attract frogs and toads to your own yard, GardeningChannel.com recommends a water source large enough for them to submerge for hydration and spawn their offspring; a pesticide-free habitat filled with long, thin plants such as reeds, rushes and sedges; and damp, shady areas for shelter.
"Take the 'if you build it, they will come' approach," the Garden Media report advises. Provide the right conditions, "and over time, local amphibians will find you."
Hear the calls of common species at https://soundcloud.com/frogwatch-usa.
7. FABULOUS FUNGI
* What it means: Mushrooms are one of the most health-promoting superfoods that exist, boosting immune system health and longevity, improving digestion and reducing weight, according to researchers. But their potent powers go far beyond nutrition.
World-renowned mycologist Paul Stamets says mushrooms are potentially capable of solving some of the world's most pressing problems. Among mushrooms' many uses are cleaning up oil spills, absorbing pollution, fighting off smallpox and flu viruses, even eating plastic in landfills.
But the bottom line is this: "If they didn't exist, plants wouldn't either," the Garden Media report says, "because mushrooms break down organic matter and create rich soil."
* Local level: To buy sustainably grown 'shrooms or get more information on cultivating your own crop, Harrison based 2 Angels Mushroom Farm operates a booth at the Ooltewah Farmers Market, open Thursdays year-round, and at the Check Into Cash Employee Farmers Market in Cleveland, open one Friday a month in season.
Owner Angel Miller says her passion for growing gourmet mushrooms stemmed from her hobby of harvesting edible wild mushrooms she found while hiking. The company currently grows more than 20 types of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms.
8. INDIGO HUES
* What it means: The Garden Media Group says blue plants "are always the most sought-after hue in the garden" and notes that stores often use blue bloomers such as hydrangeas and salvia to draw customers. One reason for their popularity may be because there are fewer naturally occurring blue flowers compared to other colors.
* Local level: Any garden center can help you find blue blooms, whether you're looking to soften or energize the landscape, though the current trend is toward deep-indigo blossoms.
But don't stop there. Tom Stebbins, a UT/Hamilton County Extension agent, says to also consider blue pots for container gardening, a practice he highly recommends. Rather than large, labor-intensive swaths of plants and grasses, start with a few container plants, something that "takes five minutes instead of one or two hours" to tend.
A blue container, he says, "sets off any color flower you want to use, even in a vegetable garden."
Save the date
Some upcoming gardening events to put on your calendar.
* March 1: Final day of Tri-State Home Show at Chattanooga Convention Center. Vendors include gardening and landscaping experts.
* March 10, 17, 24, 31: Beginner & Newcomer Gardening Class, annual series presented by Master Gardeners of Hamilton County. $50 fee. Space limited to 35. Register at mghc.org.
* March 14: Wild Ones Tennessee Valley Chapter hosts ninth annual Plant Natives from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in UTC’s University Center. Includes symposium speakers (registration and fee required) and a native-plant marketplace (free).
* March 14: Pruning Intensive Workshop, hands-on with landscape architect Matt Whitaker, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Crabtree Farms. $59 with lunch (must register by March 6); $45 without.
* March 21: Tennessee Tree Day. Must order seedlings by March 1 to be picked up on Tree Day for planting on your property in statewide effort to add 100,000 native trees to the landscape. Seedlings available on a donation basis of $2.49 to $4.99 per tree, based on species. Find order information and pickup locations at tectn.org/tennesseetreeday.html.
* March 21: “Trees: A How-To,” next in a monthly series of free gardening classes on various topics presented by the Master Gardeners of Hamilton County. Classes meet 10 a.m. to noon on third Saturdays at the Hamilton County Extension office. See a schedule at mghc.org.
* March 21: FrogWatch USA training, 6:30 p.m. at Chattanooga Zoo. Participants will learn to identify and collect data to help conserve native wildlife.
* April 11: Ninth annual Plant Giveaway, 10 a.m. at Daisy United Methodist Church, 9508 Dayton Pike in Soddy-Daisy.
* April 17-18: Native Plant Sale at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center. Coincides with Earth Day Festival on Saturday.
* April 17-19, 25: Crabtree Farms’ Spring Plant Sale & Festival. Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and both Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Sale is focused only on plants April 17 and 25. April 18-19 includes festival activities.
* April 18-19: Master Your Garden expo at Camp Jordan Arena in East Ridge. Includes workshops, exhibits, demos, educational activities and vendors. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
* April 24-27: City Nature Challenge. Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center is the local host for this Friday-Monday global bioblitz to observe species in a 16-county area around Chattanooga. To participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.