'Tis the season of the garden shows, and I have been on the circuit talking about the soil food web and a certain book I think every gardener needs to read. As I walk around trying to avoid being hit by the aloe people who want to sell hand cream and the gutter guard guys who want to keep pine needles from filling up my rain gutters, I like to look for gardening trends at these shows. This year there are several.
Let's start with chickens! I have always said that birdwatching is part of gardening, but this may be carrying things too far. It turns out that not only do people love whales, they love chickens. Clearly the idea of growing your own eggs and chicken nuggets has reached high trend status.
Show display gardens are just as apt to have a chicken coop in them as they are big, blown-glass sculptures, which have become another trend. The Northwest Flower and Garden Show featured a garden with an abandoned VW bus that had been converted into a chicken coop. You should have seen the gardeners clucking about it.
Now, I grew up with chickens and frankly, this is one trend I do not understand. I know many gardeners who dream of living on a farm and who want to grow and raise their own healthy, organic food. And I know that others have read that chickens will eat slugs and keep the cabbages and hostas free of holes. I can tell you that keeping chickens is a lot of work and not an inexpensive, simple hobby. They get out. They get eaten by foxes, cats and dogs. They poop a lot and they are not all that bright insofar as pets go.
Still, it is a trend proven by the dozen new books on Amazon on keeping chickens. ("A Chicken in Every Yard," "The Small Scale Poultry Flock" and "Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard" to name a few.) It stuns me to see how many people stop and look at them at garden show book displays. I have even seen baby chicks for sale along with chicken feed at several shows.Those fryers, if you can emotionally part with them, can end up costing mega bucks per pound.
I have mentioned the trend spotted a couple of years back of blown-glass, garden sculptures. And I have asserted I am not a fan, believing glass ultimately breaks and garden soil and yards are never the same, in my opinion. I must be in a distinct minority. Lots of Dale Chihuly, Seattle-style glass bowls are found all across the country, as are long, five- and six-foot, sword leaves and things designed to move in the wind. They are everywhere from the display gardens to the product booths.
It is a bit early to tell, but mason bees may becoming a trend. I have seen them sold at the Seattle show for years, but now they are elsewhere, perhaps because of concerns about disappearing honey bees. I've always been intrigued by the idea of keeping a small hive of these gentle, bumble-bee-like pollinators. They live in cigarette-size tubes bundled together in a can or box. Vendors tell me that they will do just fine in Alaska. My sense of impending "trendom" is the fact that there are so many books out there on the subject. Again, Google is your guide.
Heirlooms are getting bigger, in terms of being a trend. Much of the seed sale activity seems to center around them. In addition to heirloom vegetables, seed flowers are now getting heirloomy. I even saw a special display of heritage potatoes for sale. They are not nearly as beautiful as the tomatoes, however, and Alaska gardeners are urged to only use Alaska grown potatoes for the health of our soil reasons.
And, finally, could it be that growing yacons tubers is becoming a trend? Not only does Nichols Garden Nursery (NicholsGardenNursery.com)carry them, but they are featured at the Seeds of Change Booth (SeedsOfChange.com.) If they are a trend, we don't want to miss out. It is time to reserve some for your Alaska garden.
Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com.