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From hobby to mandate: The role of gardening in 2021 (Organic gardening in Kodiak, Alaska #1281)

At the beginning of 2020, gardening was well, gardening. But these days, it’s been embraced as part of the “new normal”. I’d go so far as to say that gardening has actually become a new mandate for surviving modern times.

So hop on and take a magic carpet ride with me to peek at the best of 2020 and what positive things to embrace in 2021.

Across the nation, gardening in 2020 grew by leaps and bounds. And it’s not slowing down. In fact, more than 20 million new growers picked up the trowel and pitchfork in response to the pandemic. The good news is that many newbies had such a good experience, they will be back in 2021.

If that sounds like a lot of marketing talk, you’re right.

Stay with me here, because it’s also about real numbers…

For over 15 years I’ve reviewed the annual Garden Media Trend report, searching for trends that apply to Alaska gardeners. (Pink lawn furniture and BBQ grills large enough to fit on the deck of a crab boat? I don’t think so). The brains behind the report is Katie Dubow, president of the award-winning lawn and garden public relations agency Garden Media Group.

[Hi. Marion Owen here to tell you that this article you’re reading was originally published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the hometown newspaper for Kodiak, Alaska. You can access the archive page for my past columns, written each week since 1986].

And what will folks be doing, garden-wise, in 2021? Let’s dig into 5 trends (and stories) to think about as we prepare for the 2021 growing season…

1. Leaf it to gardening

One thing researchers heard loud and clear is that the bliss of being in nature will be bigger than ever. (Of course, Kodiak Islanders know how lucky we are to have Ft. Abercrombie State Historical Park and Pillar Mountain as our backyards). People are increasingly turning to their yards for exercise, stress-relief, and a creative outlet.

I’ll talk about the bliss of gardening in future columns, but for now, it seems fairly universal that seasoned and new gardeners alike enjoy surrounding themselves with all manner of plants, from landscaping enhancements and indoor hydroponics to the “victory gardens” they started because of the pandemic—especially to help their neighbors.

How about you?

I need my friends, I need my house, I need my garden. — Miranda Richardson

Helping neighbors is something gardeners do ’round the world, whether it’s setting a bouquet of flowers on someone’s doorstep or sharing tips for how to grow broccoli.

A local gardener recently shared a special story on the “Kodiak Growers” Facebook group. Last summer,  he taught a buddy when and how to grow his own vegetables. “He was absolutely thrilled about what he grew and wants to do more this upcoming year,” he said.

And for Lori L., a gardener living outside of Anchorage, last summer presented a golden opportunity to reach out and help:

We grew veggies for six families who didn’t have space/time to grow. It was a wonderful experience for us all.

2. Home, home on the [garden] range

According to the garden trends report, one of the main reasons millions of newbies hit the gardening scene in 2020 was to grow their own food. No surprise really because since March 2020, the price of food has jumped an average of 3 percent, depending on where you live. Many gardeners took up the mantle to ease the pressure of costly food and provide food security.

For Lorne White, owner of Strawberry Fields Nursery, (our independent nursery that starts thousands of seedlings every year) enjoyed their best April ever, for sales of seedlings, perennials, shrubs, and fruiting trees.

Spending more time at home, and spending more of that time cooking, has led to a renewed interest in food gardening. What better way to discover where much of our food comes from, right? “Home food growing is a huge trend—that iconic Victory Garden is on everyone’s mind,” Dubow reports.

And for parents who have kids learning from home, growing edible plants is covering snack time, physical education, and science class in one fell swoop!

Speaking of landscapes, according to Dubow, “People are shifting away from ‘dead-looking’ landscapes to co-creating with nature.” In other words, people are looking for functional as well as beautiful landscapes.

There’s more to gardening than growing stuff…

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. —Khalil Gibran

Just remember, you have to make the effort!

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. — Rudyard Kipling

3. Having a bad hair day?

Gardening long been recognized as an ideal activity for managing stress and enhance wellness. After all, plants don’t care if you’re having a bad hair day. This past spring and summer though, gave fresh validation as people hugged opportunities to reconnect with their gardens or nearby green spaces.

Good news.

It’s predicted that in 2021, gardening will continue to provide a much-needed creative outlet. There will be a lot of interest in cultivating a backyard oasis, whether people are heading back to the office or continuing to work from home.

Yards need to be Zoom-background ready, hands-on learning zones to keep kids entertained, and space for adults to unwind as well. — Katie Dubow

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 become a marketing buzzword. It translates roughly to “open-air living,” perfect for achieving the sense of contentment one feels in a garden and the great outdoors.

Meanwhile, inside the home, houseplants have become the background of choice for virtual meetings, and demand for them will continue to rise. Interesting.

4. The early bird gets the seed

Last spring, gardeners worldwide experienced shortages in seed supplies. Favorite seed varieties were sold out online, and store seed racks were riddled with empty slots. Now is the time to start planning. Many seed companies couldn’t keep up in 2020, and early indications show the same will be true in 2021.

So, order early. Here’s what I discovered this fall…

I made a list and began ordering seeds online starting in October. I found that many 2021 seeds weren’t available yet. So, I simply kept track of what I’d successfully ordered and checked in now and then to finish my orders. Finally, in early December, the last items on my list became available online; but OOPS! some items were already out of stock.

5. The great escape

More than any other year, this 2021 garden trends report feels much more upbeat than in the past. All signs indicate that 2021 will be a time to fill your home with plenty of houseplants and your garden with nutritious edibles to feed not only your family but also those in need.

I choose to believe that the future is looking brighter and greener.

Finally, let’s check-in with Alaska gardener, Janann Kaufman…

“Gardening has always been my therapy. 2020 more than ever,” she texted. “Always distracted and happy with my hands in dirt and grandkids helping. This year it was the great escape. So glad to have it again as I dwell on seeds and placement.”

And then she added her own forecast: “I think 2021 will also be fraught with worry and uncertainty. I’m so glad my therapist (the plants and critter) will be there for me.”

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Happy 2021 to you, wherever you tend your garden,

P.S. In a year full of crazy surprises, what’s stood out for you?

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I’m getting there… Slowly but surely I’m posting over 1,200 articles that you can access here. For personal updates, sign up for my newsletter, the Garden Shed: All Things Organic Gardening. As a thank you for signing up, you’ll receive a FREE PDF: 220 Things You Can Compost. (I’m also on Facebook and Instagram). To get in touch by email: marion (at) marionowenalaska.com

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