Gazing into my crystal ball: gardening trends for 2018

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, January 18, 2018

A New Year and a new opportunity for gardening. What more could anyone want. January is when the horticultural prognosticators reveal what they think we’ll be interested in this year. Some of what they’re seeing in their crystal balls isn’t surprising. Native plants, for example, have been a major preoccupation for several years and 2018 isn’t likely to see that interest diminish. Urban areas are now exploring how to use native flowers and grasses on street corners and in medians. Charlottesville has some beautiful and relatively low maintenance plantings on the Downtown Mall and near the University of Virginia Hospital. The combinations of plants being used are always beautiful and practical and well worth a visit.

Similarly, the interest in small gardens is expected to remain strong as boomers continue to retire and millennials explore gardening via small projects. For the past several years, gardeners have been interested in creating outdoor rooms, especially kitchens and dining areas. Walls of all types have been popular. This year forecasters are saying that gardeners will still want to create rooms, but that the emphasis will shift from cooking to smaller, more informal spaces for reading or meditating. It’s that movement to smaller, cozier gardens again. Rather than building permanent walls, however, gardeners are expected to shift to softer screens created with tall grasses, shrubs and assortments of potted plants that can be modified to reflect seasonal needs.

More than ever the experts anticipate that gardeners will want one feature that just says wow. Fountains, art and pots are expected to be popular. A small fountain near a sitting area offers pleasant, relaxing sounds and visual interest. An original piece of art can be used to stimulate conversation, serve as a focal point for an entry or call attention to a specific part of a garden. A large mixed container planting strategically located near a gate or the front door is also effective. Imagine a banana tree under planted with brightly colored plants and grasses or even a hand built pot of hooded pitcher plants.

Interest in houseplants is still strong. In urban areas, there are shops with consulting services where neophyte gardeners can purchase plants and receive ongoing coaching to help them keep their plants alive and healthy. Some shops even offer to replace plants if customers manage to kill them within 30 days of purchase. More surprising, however, is that some young couples view the purchase and nurturing of a houseplant as the first step along a gradual path to parenthood. If they can keep a plant alive and happy, then they progress to a pet and ultimately to a human baby. Who knew that owning a houseplant could be so serious? Perhaps I should check on those begonias that are sulking on my kitchen windowsill.

For individuals who have multiple houseplants, there is interiorscaping, meaning the arrangement of similar houseplants so that they form a natural looking tableau and help create a continuum between the outdoors and the interior of a dwelling. Bringing the outdoors inside is supposed to help stressed humans relax. Succulents of all shapes and sizes seem to be the most popular choice for houseplants, but orchids also have their fans. What’s not to like about an orchid named the Great Googa Mooga.

The weather has been seriously erratic so far in 2018. One day the temperature hovers near

70 F and then several days’ later drops below zero. Both plants and gardeners are confused. No matter: spring is coming, and gardeners are rarely stopped by Mother Nature’s tantrums. Here’s to a fabulous year in the garden — lots of old favorite plants, interesting new ones and time to relax and enjoy both.

CYNTHIA WOOD is a master gardener. She can be reached at