Trends in garden design

Published 8:54 am Thursday, December 22, 2016

It might be cold and dreary at times, but it’s never too cold or dreary to think about what to do in the garden once the weather cooperates. And for me, January and February are usually the best months for dreaming and planning. The garden design forecasters have been especially busy recently trying to identify new trends that we’ll want to follow in 2017. Here’s a glimpse of what some of them are predicting.

For several years, high-end gardens have been very modernistic with hard edges — lots of concrete and spare modern designs. As might be expected, the pendulum is now moving in the opposite directions. This year is all about more naturalistic designs and materials. Both rustic and the do-it-yourself look are back. If you’ve been dreaming about that childhood swing you used to have, then this is the year to make a cushioned swinging platform to seat two. Forget about fancy paved pathways; just use local gravel or slate. If you’ve been dreaming about a pergola, build a rustic one using cedar logs for supports. Railroad ties are even back in style.

Yes, think local now extends from eating locally-grown food to using locally-sourced garden materials, such as slate from Buckingham and plants that are native to our area. Why try to grow something that is only going to sulk here seems to be the new mantra.

In a related trend, lawns are continuing to shrink because houses are being built on smaller lots and because gardeners are replacing traditional expanses of manicured grass with informal meadows of native grasses and wildflowers. This movement away from lawns is part of the ongoing interest in supporting local wildlife and being a good steward of the environment. It also reflects the needs of our aging population and the limited amount of time and energy that many people can devote to gardening. So … if you’re downsizing to a smaller house and garden, plant less grass and consider using smaller varieties of the shrubs you’ve always loved. Many conifers and hydrangeas, for example, are now available in very small sizes that are quite attractive.

And since everything old is new again, it’s not surprising that houseplants are back — maybe not your grandmother’s aspidistra and African violets, but lots and lots of interesting plants used in every room. Think about foliage rather than blooms and think about color and texture, plants like succulents and bromeliads. The silver dollar plant and the string of pearls are perfect. Put them in the oddest containers you can find and you’ll be on trend. Recycle an old paint can by making a whimsical new label for it; use an egg carton; or even several small drawers stacked on top of each other.

Yes, 2017 is going to be an interesting year in the garden. You can’t possibly get anything wrong. Mix up what you currently have with several new ideas that you’ve always wanted to try and your garden will be the height of sophistication. Nothing is totally wrong.

Cynthia Wood is a master gardener who writes two columns for The Herald. Her email address is