How Gardens are Adapting to Reflect Our Changing World


If the pandemic has shown us anything, it's to appreciate the simple things in life and to value the here and now. A garden can help us do both, so perhaps it's little wonder that spending time in outdoor spaces and strengthening our connection with the natural world has experienced a huge surge in popularity over the last couple of years. 

Whether it's having a small balcony in a high-rise flat, a townhouse with a patio or living in the country with a large rambling garden, there are things designers and architects can do to maximize and be creative with any available spaces outside.

When it comes to the latest trends in gardening, "2022 is all about celebrating our gardens as living, natural spaces that we share with wildlife," according to a recent article. For sure, there's a stronger emphasis than ever before on sustainability. And, with climate change now becoming a reality that can no longer be ignored, our gardens have a big role to play in keeping us healthy as individuals, both physically and mentally, and in supporting the environment.

Color me beautiful

How Gardens are Adapting to Reflect Our Changing World

Color is making a welcome return. Cover plants and brightly colored flowers such as nasturtiums, calendula, chamomile, feverfew and many more are brilliant for attracting pollinators, while the diversity taps into the natural resilience of the plant world and makes it harder for pests and diseases to take hold and cause damage. It's an eco-friendly, low-maintenance way of gardening that's both fun and intelligent.

Daring plant colors include reds, oranges and purples seen in crocosmia, salvia and canna. Must-have plants for 2022 also include bold architectural alliums such as the award-winning Allium 'Lavender Bubbles' which features masses of dusky purple flowers that seem to float like bubbles over lush evergreen foliage.

Slow planting instead of instant gratification

Slow living is "a soulful theme that inspires us to slow down and appreciate the world around us. Muted tones and colors that change with the light mirror the way nature around us ebbs and flows," explains the Horticultural Director at Dobbies Garden Centers. In the garden, this means leaning into the natural cycle and enjoying watching plants grow and the overall designs evolve.

It's the opposite approach to plug-and-go gardening, with instant results that require next to nothing in the way of plant care. The epitome of such 'instant gratification' gardening must surely be artificial lawns - a maintenance-free manmade solution that does absolutely nothing for the natural world. 

Lawn, what lawn?

How Gardens are Adapting to Reflect Our Changing World

Traditional garden designs that revolve around a central lawn are losing their appeal. 'Broken plan' designs, garden rooms and a more naturalistic style of planting appear to be replacing the open plan concept. As our garden spaces are becoming an extension of the home, doubling up as living, working, play and entertainment areas, modern garden design is reflecting our changing lifestyles.

"Oak sleepers make attractive retaining walls and vertical walls and are a great material for garden steps and walkways," explains one expert. Weatherproof aluminium pergolas come with adjustable overhead louvres, side vents and glass doors. Outdoor kitchens, fire pits and chimineas are popular additions for multifunctional garden spaces for year-round use, while garden lighting creates a welcoming atmosphere in the evening.

Garden design for climate change

Traditional garden design is giving way to sustainable gardening. This can be a wildlife-friendly garden that creates its own ecosystem and helps insects, birds, hedgehogs, frogs and more. Planting for wildlife can take many forms and could include a wildflower meadow that will play host to butterflies, bees and other insects, or digging a pond that will benefit different communities of wildlife including fish, water-loving insects, birds, amphibians and small mammals.

A sustainable garden at its heart takes into account the changing climate and adapts to it. Think of incorporating elements of a rain garden into the design. Plant up damp, boggy areas with water-loving plants or add drainage to a water feature or pond. Rain gardens are a great idea to cut down on water usage and reduce flooding.

The garden as a sanctuary

How Gardens are Adapting to Reflect Our Changing World

Container and balcony gardening are showing innovative ways to tend small spaces including the use of planters, tubs and quirky containers, to vertical gardening, green walls and green roofs. Small gardens and patios can be turned into spaces to relax, play and entertain without compromising on climate consciousness, functionality or style.

Take Japanese zen garden ideas with soft, curvy shapes and a pared-back color scheme. Plant Acer palmatum 'Katsura' or Ilex crenata 'Kinme' to add some tranquility into the space. Or take inspiration from an English cottage garden with Delphinium light in blue or white, Echinacea 'Sensation Pink' or Digiplexis 'Falcon Fire'.

Engage the senses, heal the mind

Finally, the benefits of a garden go much deeper than mere aesthetics or practicalities. A garden, however small, can also be a place that nourishes your well-being. Gardening puts you in direct touch with nature - it's an experience that truly engages all your senses. Adding elemental features can support a multi-sensorial experience through the sound and reflective qualities of water, the warmth and flickering light of an outdoor fire pit, the heady fragrance from aromatic planting, or the riot of colors and textures in your planting choices.

According to the mental health charity Mind, getting outdoors has been one of the most popular ways to deal with pandemic-induced anxiety. Medical and therapeutic professionals everywhere agree that the Great Outdoors can help with all sorts of physical and mental issues. "There is robust evidence which irrefutably demonstrates that being in gardens can enhance all aspects of well-being. The sights, sounds, and scents of a garden can reduce blood pressure, improve serotonin levels, and reduce cortisol and the need for pain relief. It is a proven, powerful tonic," explains the co-founder of Horatio's Garden, a charity dedicated to looking after sensory gardens in NHS spinal injury centers.

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