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A climate of change for gardeners

Posted: January 2, 2014 - 4:52pm  |  Updated: January 2, 2014 - 6:12pm

While many gardeners scan the newly arrived seed catalogs to plan their next growing season, the industry’s visionaries are pouring talent and resources into products and ideas they hope will be sown in years to come.

Evolutionary biology is just one aspect of flora development; plant resiliency, landscape design and education also are part of the creative mix.

So what are the prospects for gardening in the year 2020 and beyond? Some responses from the long-term thinkers:

Coach Mark Smallwood, executive director, Rodale Institute, Kutztown, Pa.:

“Organic gardening won’t be simply a niche market. It’s a $31 billion industry now and growing in double digits every year.

“There will be more food and fewer lawns. Urban food production will be up because a lot of open space is becoming available. With all the empty homes, you can create parks; you can create food production. Detroit is rebounding using not only open land but creating vertical hydroponic food production in abandoned industrial buildings.”

Jose Smith, chief executive officer, Costa Farms, Miami:

“We’re trying hard to bring more color to houseplants. Green is not a color. We’re also trying to create plants so they’re more of a lifestyle — a living home decor.”

Greg Ina, vice president, The Davey Institute, Kent, Ohio:

“We’re working to quantify the benefits of trees. People are beginning to go beyond the anecdotal understanding that trees are good — beyond beautification to natural functions like pollution and wellness.

“Another big scientific topic is resiliency. Improving early detection. Dealing with the invasion of exotic pests. Building resistance to climate change. That impacts what we plant and where we plant trees.”

Anthony Tesselaar, president and co-founder, Anthony Tesselaar Plants, Silvan, Australia:

“The gardening industry has been looking at plant size and multi-use aspects with increasing urbanization, and also such factors as increased disease resistance to reduce the needs for pesticides and other chemicals in a closed urban environment.

“Dwarf and clump plants are being developed for smaller-space gardening. There is also work on establishing more fastigiated (slender) trees and shrubs.”

George Ball, chairman and chief executive officer, W. Atlee Burpee & Co., Warminster, Pa.:

“All roads lead to the garden. Almost everybody is into gardening and vegetable gardening is the focus. Flowers are almost on the sidelines.

“Gardening feeds spinoff hobbies like cooking. People who grow things tend to become amateur cooks. If you cook at home, look at how much money you save.

“Gardening also impacts health. If you go to any clinic and talk to any dietician, the effects of vegetables are obvious. Choosing a diet high in vegetables makes you a lot healthier.”

“Parents of newborns are increasingly shying away from processed foods and are forcing companies such as Burpee to research high-yielding, relatively bland-tasting — still retaining all nutritious elements — soft-fruited elements.

“More than just an accent, herbs will soon occupy a more prominent role in American home-cooked cuisine, with far more flavorful leaves that will change recipes and food for the table. We see this happening at top-tier restaurants in major cities.

“Spurred by less space and the need to protect gardens from exploding populations of deer, every major home gardening company is working on developing a portfolio of vegetables for cultivation on patios and limited areas. Plants will be smaller but their yields higher.”

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