Trends to Watch & Where to Go to Learn More

NHLA has been here to help members meet members, share common goals, and solve common problems. Education and professional development opportunities are important building blocks of the organization, and through this Newsletter we bring ideas and developments in the industry to you with each issue. With a new year, the theme is “what to look out for and what to consider for your business development.” Where are your customers going for their ideas? What can you bring to them that is unique to your business? How can you get their attention and interest in your services?

Trends to watch this year include the ways people are enjoying their outdoor spaces even more, after nearly a year of the pandemic with its “Stay at Home” orders and conscientiousness about social distancing, the outdoors, and staying further away from each other. You’ll be seeing more in the way of fire pits, outdoor kitchen and convenience areas with small fridges, if not a full cooking area. More permanent outdoor furniture areas will mean you have an opportunity to work with those suppliers, and with designs in those areas incorporating lighting as well as water features. A water feature, flowing in the winter, can be a focal point, with the juxtaposition of snow and water intriguing and not needing as much care as in years past, due to the minimal equipment needed to keep the water flowing and area safe to view.

Outdoor seating areas can be enhanced by container gardens, which can be changed season-to-season, to go from the spring frost-tolerant pansies, to color palettes matching upholstery, to winter interest with evergreens and bright dogwood stems. These outdoor areas also lend themselves to elevated beds, to help define and delineate the space.

Raised beds have been popular for quite a while now, and the materials have changed dramatically, for the beds themselves to be a part of the garden design. While wooden sides are the most common, the fixtures at the corners help give a design flair to the beds. Hardware for raised beds can either blend in or add dramatic definition to the rectilinear nature of a raised bed. A blacksmith, or more rough hewn type of hardware used in the construction of the bed may help accentuate a sleek garden style or a farmhouse garden style, depending on the plants chosen in the bed.

Raised beds have now also come to be used for “elevated beds” which are no longer just for those clients requesting adaptive gardening accommodations.Elevated beds now belong to the whole gardening and landscape design community, for the interest they can add at eye level along with the ways they can be placed on otherwise difficult areas. An elevated bed can help delineate a play area in a driveway from the car parking area, or help cordon off casual conversation from the bbq grill area. Elevated beds, while they are essential for health and well-being for gardeners for whom bending, stooping, lifting and cutting flowers, herbs, or vegetables from the garden, are also making their way in to all garden, patio, and deck designs.

There are several ways we’re seeing elevated beds trend to convention in outdoor spaces. From galvanized beds, on wood or metal legs, the galvanized and sometimes corrugated sides add interest for the color, texture and sleek appearance they bring to the area. Elevated beds also offer kitchen gardens a huge makeover! Cooking with the convenience of gathering a fresh veggie to use right then and there in an outdoor dinner, or snipping fresh herbs to augment a cocktail, is growing in its retro-appeal! A raised bed can benefit everyone in its vicinity. Check with your customers to learn their end goal for an elevated bed. There are some with a deep “V” shape, to allow plants with longer roots (think carrots, even) to be grown in an elevated bed.

Your design skills and even sales skills, can come in to play with conversations about the ways your clients will be looking to use their outdoor spaces as extensions of their indoor spaces – even more as the pandemic continues to menace, even while introducing all of us to richer, calmer, and cozier lifestyles that could be here to stay.

Several purposes can be covered with containers, traditional raised beds, which are flat on the earth, or in raised beds. By embedding a larger pot in an elevated bed, you can gain a lot of height and interest without necessarily going with plants with tall growth habits. The straight lines of the bed can be broken with the same flowers, with some in a raised pot within the bed. You can suggest designs and plant combinations which will soften the straight lines of the bed or you can suggest plants that will augment the austere simplicity of the bed’s inherent shape.

Again, this is the skill you have as an experienced landscaper or a landscaper who is zero’ed in on communication skills and shows a readiness to learn and grow with customers’ interests and the trends that are catching on.

With succulents gaining in popularity, you may discover that an elevated bed could be the first step in helping a client cultivate that interest, by the way the bed can offer some shade and offer a staging area to help showcase picture-perfect plants and collectable containers and pots.

There’s a growing trend in pots and containers with ethnic color combinations and shapes, from traditions in other cultures, perhaps since we can’t readily travel to places and have been at home for a while. People are getting interested in the colors and mosaics of southern Spain and Portugal, and the geometric shapes from Northern Africa, to bring a nostalgia of travel from previous years, or show an interest in resuming travel in the year to come.

With outdoor spaces trending as they are, it will be important for landscape professionals to cultivate knowledge or working relationships with hardscape designers and installers, irrigation techniques, experts in irrigation solutions (the drought taught us a lot and demanded a swift change in thinking!), and container garden experts. Knowing the soils to use, and how to replenish or augment soils in beds is essential for your customers’ satisfaction and pride in their outdoor areas, as well as for the ease with which you and your crews can maintain the fresh vigor of the plants in the outdoor areas as the season wears on. Don’t be put off when you learn a client wants to switch things up and is asking about minimizing some lawn area – that remodel will include these trends that you can stay ahead of, learn more about, and thus become known as a great listener, communicator, and expert at making that client feel even more “at home.”

by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

The Roller Coaster Ride of 2020

by Phil Caldwell

In 2020 nurseries and garden centers nationwide experienced a rollercoaster ride of unexpected dread and some thrills. The December issue of Digger Magazine, published monthly by the Oregon Association of Nurseries, answered many questions I’d had about the affects of COVID on the Green Industry.

The early spring brought much uncertainty due to COVID related shutdowns, but nurseries, garden centers, and landscapers were very fortunate to be considered essential businesses and allowed to stay open resulting in very good spring and summer sales. Many growers said they had to hustle to restock inventory for fall sales.

As the 2021 season approaches some wholesale growers, and not just those in Oregon, are predicting a shortage of some plants, but with slight adjustments everything will work out. One example listed was maybe using a 5 1/2-foot Arborvitae for a hedge rather than a 6-foot plant. COVID did hit all of us from a cost of production standpoint. Worker spacing, and hopefully following other safety measures, all take more time and cost more money. Customers should expect to see a rise in prices.

Considering the huge lines at many food pantries and people waiting in their cars for unemployment checks, I think many of us in the landscape industry have been very fortunate. We are in an industry that serves white-collar customers who have been able to hold onto jobs by working from home as much as possible. Many customers may have opted for a garden expansion rather than a long summer trip that couldn’t be taken. The number of landscape jobs I’ve seen in the very few travels I’ve made seems to be about the norm, much to my surprise. Vegetable gardens and canning have certainly made a strong comeback.

Hopefully, now that several COVID vaccines are starting to be given, and a new, more stable President is in office, 2021 will be an easier and less stressful year for us all. We are starting to see the light in what has been a long tunnel.

— Phil Caldwell is a past president of NHLA (1989) who now lives and works in Maine.