We came, we saw, we gardened in 2020. In fact, more than 20 million novice growers took up their trowels and pitchforks in response to the pandemic, according to Bonnie Plants CEO Mike Sutterer. We as a nation went from 42 million gardeners to 63 million in the past year, with the majority being males under 35, a fairly unique demographic. And there’s good news: Sutterer believes these newbies will be back in 2021.
“Our research would say 80% of the 21 million new folks who entered the category in 2020 are going to come back, regardless of what happens with COVID-19,” Sutterer says. “In fact, about half of that 80% actually say they want to even do more because they had such a great experience.”
And what will everyone be growing? For 2021, it’s clear that the bliss of being in nature, in general, will be bigger than ever, with people increasingly turning to their yards for exercise, stress-relief, and a creative outlet. Both seasoned and new gardeners are keen to surround themselves with beautiful plants, and they are looking for more unusual, adventurous species like tropicals. But they also want to keep up the “victory gardens” they started because of the pandemic, especially to help their neighbors.
1. Bigger and Better Food Gardens
One top reason millions of newbies hit the gardening scene in 2020 was to grow their own food. According to a recent Garden Media Trend report, edible gardening influencers such as Timothy Hammond of Big City Gardener saw as much as 400% growth on their platforms, due to an influx of followers and engagements with first-time gardeners looking for guidance. The report also notes that 67% of surveyed adults are “growing or plan to grow” edibles into 2021.
As the pandemic drags on, Sutterer thinks that this boom in homegrown produce is "not just about growing food for you and your family, and the benefits that it brings to you personally." He believes it's also about taking "a few extra zucchini, a few extra tomatoes, a few extra cucumbers, to my local food pantry to help those in my community as well.”
If you’re planning to get in on this trend, one resource to tap is Plant a Row for the Hungry. This nonprofit organization, affiliated with the Hunger and Health Coalition, encourages growers to sign up and donate their produce to those in need. The donation is tax deductible and can be gifted to local food pantries and food banks.
2. Turning Backyards into Outdoor Living Spaces
As we’ve all grown increasingly tired of staring at our own four walls while quarantining, one of the biggest trends for 2021 is bringing the indoors outside. Backyards are becoming the new living rooms, so it’s no wonder that the Norwegian term frilufsliv has hit Etsy trends for 2020 and into 2021. It translates roughly to “open air living,” perfect for achieving the sense of contentment one feels in a garden, says television host Joe Lamp'l.
“Why wouldn't you want to take what you've created inside and carry that out to your backyard, where you have this creative space, combined with the intangible that you really have no control over?” Lamp’l says. “You're taking what nature has to offer, which is pretty amazing in how you can feel out there, and then bringing in your elements to it: your lifestyle, your preferences for how you live your life, and just extending it to that environment to create an ideal living space.”
If you're looking to bring the indoors outside, Kate and Charles Sadler of King Garden, a landscaping firm in New York, recommend privacy screening with hedges or fencing, providing shade in summer and fire pits in the winter, and even screening movies outdoors.
3. Focusing on Bright, Bold Tropicals
After a year of chaos and global unrest, why not bring a little magic and brightness to your garden? 2021 will be the year of tropical plants as gardeners yearn to bring a little exotic flair to their landscapes. According to the Sadlers, we should plan to see tropical “nooks” in the landscape, filled with plants like bromeliads, elephant's ear with its large lush leaves, and banana plants.
“It's like reading fiction. Why do people read it?” says Charles. “ It's to have another experience. So the tropicals, I think they do that [for gardeners].”
Marianne Willburn, who has a book coming out in March about using tropicals indoors and out, suggests starting with what she calls a “Summer Romance” type. “It doesn’t have to be forever!” she explains. “Any tropical or subtropical plant can be used as an easy container annual to provide vigorous, dramatic foliage accents to create a vacation atmosphere on your patio or deck just for the growing season.”
Some of Willburn’s fast-growing foliage favorites for big containers include Red Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelli’) and Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ or Tropicanna® Gold. For outstanding tropical blooms, she recommends tuberose begonias and mandevilla vines.
4. Adventurous, Unusual Houseplants in Demand
While everyone has been at home more, we’ve also been ramping up our houseplant collections. Indoor plants have been in demand for several years, and 2021 will be no different, predicts plant influencer Summer Rayne Oakes. She thinks that easy-care aroids like philodendrons, anthuriums, and aglaonemas will be particularly popular, as well as plants in the Hoya genus.
“The houseplant trend was already booming pre-pandemic, but with everyone setting up home offices and the like, people are inevitably focusing on making their homes more livable and workable. Plants are a big part of that,” Oakes says.
All signs indicate that 2021 will be a time to fill your home with plenty of houseplants and your garden with lush tropicals and nutritious edibles to feed not only your family, but also those in need. The future is definitely looking greener.