Diarmuid Gavin: 'A peat-free, or peat-reduced, gardening future is, I believe, the only worthwhile gardening future'
My predictions for the biggest gardening trends in the year ahead
To begin a new year, today I'm gazing into my crystal ball to share some of my thoughts, predictions and hopes for the year ahead in gardening. I think that the major trend for 2019's gardens is already in evidence: the garden is increasingly being used as an additional room. Now, decorating that room with containers and garden ornaments such as lanterns is becoming as popular as planting it. And with continued political and social turbulence from our nearest neighbours on both sides, a retreat to the garden could again be a priority for our downtime in 2019.
Last year's beautiful summer weather encouraged us to think more about cooking and entertaining outdoors. Outdoor kitchens will continue to be a big trend, with high-end all-singing, all-dancing barbecues and pizza ovens being extremely popular.
LED lighting will continue to dominate garden illumination, and coloured lighting is on trend. Artificial lawns are becoming ever more popular, along with an increasing interest in quality artificial plants and green walls. New systems which allow a mix of real and artificial planting are catching on.
For planting, pleached trees - which are interwoven to create a striking boundary or screening effect - are on the up. There's also increased interest in mixing formal topiary spheres with grasses and perennials.
Thanks to the increasingly limited spaces in which people garden, coupled with a more adventurous spirit in terms of where we plant, pot and container gardens will be bigger than ever. They allow a certain flexibility, and planting in containers is one of the best ways for us to appreciate and explore different combinations of plants. A plant may be exquisite on its own, but its assets can be magnified when placed in a context with others that complement its colour, structure or textures. Due to its decimation by pests and disease, Box (Buxus, pictured left) has just about had its day. Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) and pittosporum are beginning to take its place instead.
Porcelain paving for outdoor flooring has arrived, and large sizes are now dominating the market. The primary reason for this is price, but also digital printing means almost any desired effect or finish can be reproduced on these tiles.
Houseplants (main photo) will continue their meteoric rise in popularity, becoming more mainstream and with a broader variety of plants available to buy from a greater range of shops.
Younger urban gardeners are looking for ultra-simple care advice for plants and instructions for gardening jobs, so apps and new digital technologies will have a bigger role to play in our gardens. Apps such as SmartPlant - which, among other functions, sends you notifications on when to water and feed your plants - bring innovation to the customer. Technology can help us to identify varieties, tell us what we need to do with our freshly purchased plants, and connect us to a host of experts ready to help us with our gardening issues through our phones, tablets or desktop computers.
In 2019, environmental concerns about plastic will have a growing impact on the way we garden and the way we buy plants. We'll see an increase in plastic alternatives and a greater desire from consumers to be able to recycle more of their plastic. It's becoming increasingly unacceptable to garden without respect for the wider eco-system - be that supporting wildlife or conserving water and using resources wisely.
The most important topic on the horizon is the use of peat in our gardens. The horticulture industry may want to dig its heels in on this, but they may not have a choice as gardeners are beginning to appreciate the damage being done to our natural environments by harvesting peat. A peat-free, or at least peat-reduced, gardening future is, I believe, the only worthwhile gardening future.
Looking back on 2018, I won't easily forget the summer drought. As a gardener who had undertaken substantial new planting in my home plot, it was a real issue. I didn't want to lose my beautiful ornamentals. For farmers and others who rely on a relatively regular supply of rain it was catastrophic.
There are debates about what is causing the increasingly dramatic weather patterns, both locally and worldwide, in other forums. What I do know is that trends for gardening in the most natural and least invasive ways possible are definitely the ones I'll be paying attention to this new year.
There's a movement towards creating edgy, urban gardens using industrial-style metal work and up-cycled elements. Adding outdoor bars and cooking areas in this style appeals to the younger and uber-cool gardener.