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Jeff Lowenfels: What's in -- and out -- in this year's gardening trends

This is the time of year for garden shows. Go to any major city in the country and there is probably some sort of assembly of nurseries, suppliers of garden tools, seeds and clothing, authors, landscapers and just plain old (and young) gardeners. These are usually accompanied by seminars and demonstrations. I know because I attend my fair share of these events lecturing on organic gardening.

One of the virtues of these garden shows is that they show where gardening is trending. I suppose somewhere there is a Twitter feed that contains people's remarks about what is new at these shows, but as of yet, I have not found it. So, I go around and try and divine where the market is heading. Here are some of my thoughts, shared so that we don't miss the boat up here.

The first trend, and there is no disputing it, is filling the yard, patio and deck with what I will call "furniture." When I was a kid growing up, American yards had a few Adirondack chairs mixed in with newfangled, web-laced loungers and chairs and a dark red picnic table with two benches.

That was it. Oh, perhaps there was a swing set, too.

Not now.

First of all, yard furniture has been designed to literally stay out of the closet. No longer are there folding aluminum chairs to put away. Today's wares can withstand rain, snow, hail and sleet. Besides, they can often be too heavy to lug around.

Second, everyone is trying to get into the act. It is now not just gas barbecue grills and ovens. There are displays that include outdoor television rooms and even outdoor bedrooms. And, of course, every yard needs an outdoor fire pit, a trend that should be peaking one of these days. Each display at every garden show I've attended this year features at least one fire pit. One display I saw even had a special, second fire pit for the kids so they can roast marshmallows and watch TV outdoors without disturbing the adults, I guess. Personally, I think the fire pit is a good trend.

Metal sculptures are really "in" this year. Some are literally big, some are small. Some are painted with bright colors (another trend) and others just left to rust. These are everywhere at every conceivable price. There are kinetic sculptures that twist in the wind and some have glass attached. There are abstract sculptures and very exact ones.

As for plants, sedums are really big. And why not? Who doesn't love these terrific, fleshy-lobed plants. They come in all manner of colors, shapes and sizes and grow by themselves. Break off a branch or a lobe and you simply stick it in soil and it roots. And, in small plastic pots or even seedling trays, they are so easy to take home from a garden show.

Heirlooms are in, of course. We know that here. (Some guy keeps lecturing about them!) And, thankfully, organic gardening is firmly entrenched at all of the shows. Those I attended so far this year have been void of any pesticide, herbicide or chemical fertilizer displays or sales. Wow.

Instead there are now companies offering mulches for sale and companies pitching their services to blow these on your garden beds. And it isn't rubber mulch, a trend that failed, thank goodness. Nut shells, barks even wood chips are all in vogue. And, thankfully this year, not one display of red or blue mulch, another trend that failed.

Coming up out of nowhere are table gardens. I am not really sure that is the proper name for it. Normally, I would say the trend is one of raised bed gardens, but I am not talking about raised beds per se, where soil is piled on the ground and then surrounded by boards, but rather really, really raised beds. Think tables with gardens on them. You can sit in a wheelchair or stand by the table and garden without any bending. I even saw some "table" cold frames that would be of great use here in the far north.

Just as important, there are trends that have gone missing. The first I notice are chickens. What a silly idea for a suburban area. Good riddance, I say. Water features, while still around, seem to have declined, perhaps due to the work required both in installation and in running. And Chihuly-inspired glass spheres, rods and tongues have disappeared.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar

Tenth Annual Spring Garden Conference: March 19. There's a fee and limited space. Visit the Alaska Botanical Garden's website,, for more information.

Seed starting workshop: March 23, Alaska Botanical Garden. Fee. Limited space. Go to for more information.

Houseplants: Check for bugs.

Jeff Lowenfels has been writing this column for 40 years and never missed a week. He is the author of the best-selling, award-winning books "Teaming with Microbes" and "Teaming With Nutrients."

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