2014 in the garden

My last Spectrum column for the year:

What happened in the garden in 2014? We grew stuff to eat. Often this was kale, briefly creating a worldwide seed shortage of this suddenly fashionable old trooper. But our love of grow-your-own is way bigger than a trend; it has the momentum of a movement. David Gillard at Newtown Garden Market says that sales of edibles just keep on increasing. He puts it down to people living with smaller outdoor areas. “People are choosing the plants that offer the biggest benefits,” he says. Food is the prioritised benefit and the big new discovery in Gillard’s neighbourhood is the blueberry. “People just didn’t realise that they grow on a small shrub that is well-suited to a pot, doesn’t need full sun all year, is easy-care and very productive.” (Sold? Look for ‘Blueberry Burst’, which has especially large fruit. Pot into a premium camellia/azalea potting mix to get the right pH.)

Eating the harvest may be the obvious benefit of grow-your-own, but perhaps not the one that really gets people hooked. Richard Unsworth, landscape designer at Garden Life, noted the increasing desire in 2104 to incorporate edibles into garden spaces and reckons it’s about the whole experience, not just what ends up on the plate. We want to get grubby and live the various satisfactions of growing things: the connection with the earth, the seasons, nature and each other. Unsworth himself has put rhubarb, sorrel, parsley and a bunch of other edibles into the front garden of his Paddington house and loves the interaction it offers with the neighbours and passers-by.

Growing food is more lifestyle shift than fashion trend, but fashion still waved its flamboyant flag in 2014. Having a fashion moment almost as long as Kate Moss is the fiddle-leaf fig, Ficus lyrata, which is now so sought-after there’s a waiting list. While people wait for their fiddle-leaf fig to arrive, they are assuaging their need for green by bringing other plants indoors. Greening the interior has not been so big since the ‘70s. A big-box hardware store sells little potted ferns for about the price of a coffee; terrariums are everywhere; and hipsters are hanging plants in macramé hangers. Plants that hang are a fashion all their own, launched on the back of the move to green walls. The desire for vertical gardens “is partly that people are looking to beautify an ugly blank wall,” says Simon Ainsworth from Eden Gardens, “but also that smaller spaces are encouraging people to think about gardening in a new dimension.”

So instead of death notices for the garden being delivered by the steady demise of the quarter-acre block, urban dwellers are finding new ways to connect with a garden. That helped make 2104 a year when more of us discovered the joy of growing plants. Some we ate, some we killed, some we decorated with, and all offered simple pleasures. Expect more of the same in 2015.

See you then!


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