Life Gardens

Saturday 23 June 2018

Diarmuid Gavin: Purple patch

From 'Ultra Violet' planting schemes to Japanese forest bathing, the gardening trends worth adopting in 2018

Garden with lavendar
Garden with lavendar
Penstemon Pensham Czar Flowers

Diarmuid Gavin

Now that we've wrestled January into submission and endured the damp windy weather and waves of flu, it's time to look forward and begin to anticipate our gardening world in 2018. These are some of my predictions and resolutions for the coming year.

It'll certainly be a busy year for the garden industry, at last homes are being created again and many will have gardens. But their plots are becoming increasingly smaller so what's required from designers and garden planners are new ideas for small spaces, including balconies and roof terraces.

Community gardening in cities and suburban places will become increasingly important, repurposing abandoned or neglected spaces for the benefit of local residents and wildlife.

I forecast that habits and practices which are widely accepted now will be challenged. Weed killers have been, or soon will be, banned, and it may be time to loosen our obsession with 'tidy' gardening habits - nature isn't tidy, it takes a relaxed view of where plants spread and spring up.

Chemicals designed to inhibit green growth generally don't do us, or the environment, a lot of good so it will soon be time to examine what we want - perfection or health?

Water as a resource will become more valuable. And though most of us won't pay through a metered system, we should still be aware of how we use it and conserve as much as possible.

And our use of plastics is in the spotlight. How as gardeners will we respond? Can we reduce our consumption and help our environment?

People love trends and every year a new colour is promoted as being the one to follow. For 2017, Pantone declared 'Greenery' their colour of the year. A fresh zesty green, it hit all the right notes, particularly for gardeners and was adopted by many interior designers as outdoor themes, patterns and colours were brought inside. Their colour for 2018 is 'Ultra Violet'. Flowers on the violet to purple spectrum are very beautiful and useful in the garden as they seem to go with or complement most other flower colours. Along with lavender, salvias are becoming increasingly popular with varieties such as 'Mainacht', 'Amistad' and 'Caradonna' all performing well with long-lasting flowers. There are some beautiful purple penstemons ('Pensham Czar' pictured right), a really deep one being 'Purple Passion', and stalwart performers such as hardy geraniums and nepeta that will bloom prolifically.

However, I'm not sure 'Ultra Violet' will work as a paint colour for our outdoor schemes - it's a light tone of the colour purple and in our northern light we need stronger colours to be effective. Aubergine works well in gardens, it's a very dark purple, and leaf, bark and flower are often shown off to great effect with it as a backdrop.

Looking at it in a more symbolic way, the colour purple is often associated with creativity, originality, non-conformity and mystical and spiritual qualities. As we look to the year ahead in gardening, we could adopt any one of these attributes as our theme.

Gardening is the ideal arena for self-expression, individuality and connecting with nature, and is being increasingly recognised as beneficial to mental and physical well-being. Whether a novice or experienced gardener, there are tangible benefits to spending time outdoors, nurturing and tending our plots.

Even if you don't have any outdoor space yourself, or perhaps just a small balcony area, make 2018 the year you give yourself more time to appreciate nature and the great outdoors. The Japanese have a concept called Shinrin-yoku which translates as 'forest bathing' - this is the practice of taking a short, leisurely walk to a forest for health benefits. Visit local parks, botanic gardens, woodlands; we have a very rich heritage of gardens to admire and draw inspiration from.

In your own garden, in keeping with the emphasis on mindfulness and living in the present, consider creating a contemplative area just for you to rest or meditate in - a bench or comfortable seat with a restful focal point to gaze upon such as a beautiful tree, piece of sculpture or calming water feature.

Growing more veg is always top of my New Year's resolutions. Rainbow eating is the latest health trend - eating as many different coloured fruit and veg as possible to incorporate all the vitamins and minerals you need. While it's best to be careful about fads, it's interesting to try new things.

Inspired by the purple theme, I could grow purple potatoes which are supposed to be so much richer in antioxidants, containing three times more polyphenols than their white counterparts. 'Purple Majesty' is an early maincrop variety so now is the time to get buying and chitting in early January to be ready for a March planting. Other purple superfoods containing health-boosting anthocyanins include purple broccoli, cabbage and kale, so I'll starting browsing the veg catalogues for spring planting selections.

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