6 gardening trends to watch for on P.E.I. this spring

April showers are about to bring May flowers to P.E.I. gardens, and vegetables will come soon after that — plenty of vegetables, if garden experts' predictions hold true. We look at six of the emerging garden trends for P.E.I. in 2016.

'People are just itching for spring'

Vegetable plant sales have been steadily increasing the last several years, say greenhouse businesses on P.E.I. (Getty Images)

April showers are about to bring May flowers to P.E.I. gardens, and vegetables will come soon after that — plenty of vegetables, if garden experts' predictions hold true. 

As the last of the snow melts under the trees, Islanders are getting out into their gardens, seeing the bulbs they planted last fall poke their green shoots through the mulch and checking on what's survived the winter and might need to be replaced. 

"People are just itching for spring," said VanKampen's sales manager Peter Meijer. 

We asked some in the industry what growing trends are emerging for 2016, including Lynn Brooks, president of the Atlantic Master Gardeners Association, John's Greenhouses co-owner Christopher Vriends, Wade Doiron of Doiron's Landscaping and Garden Centre in Charlottetown, and VanKampen's Meijer. 

1. Vegetable gardening is back

"There is a big trend the last three to four years, probably a 20 to 30 per cent increase yearly in vegetable transplants and fruit trees and bushes," said Vriends. Customers tell Vriends they're trying to reduce their grocery bills, and want to know how their food has been grown — with a special interest in reducing pesticide use. 

There's an increasing appetite on P.E.I. for vegetable transplants like these 10 varieties of peppers at John's Greenhouses. (Submitted by Jennifer Vriends)

Experts agree more Islanders are opting to grow from vegetable plant transfers, not from seed or tiny bedding plants.

"Forty years ago when my grandfather used to run this place, it was big gardens, people with big families — people didn't mind working to maintain them," said Vriends. The last 15 years, people shifted away from vegetables, but in the last few years he said they have made a "strong comeback." 

"We're just doing more volume on veggies, even if it's just [growing] a bowl of lettuce," agrees VanKampen's Meijer. 

"A new group of younger gardeners — well, they're struggling to be gardeners — but they're extremely interested in growing vegetables again, which is wonderful," said Brooks. "They're quite concerned about food security. Some of them want to have chickens, the whole thing."

The problem many young gardeners have, Brooks said, is that they are several generations removed from farming, and have lost gardening know-how. 

2. Container gardening

As huge decks take over yards, more people are opting for low-maintenance container gardens for everything from shrubs to vegetables.

Container vegetable gardening has led to more demand for miniature varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers — even a tiny version of eggplant that grows to about two inches, said Meijer.

Kevin and Christopher Vriends of John's Greenhouses Summerside, P.E.I. have expanded to meet increasing demand for vegetable plants. (Submitted by Jennifer Vriends)

"Now, people spend more money, but they might come in, grab a couple hanging baskets, a couple planters already done up, throw it at the yard — they're done," said Vriends. 

Brooks is concerned, she said, with people losing touch with the earth as they transform back yards to lounge areas full of amenities. 

3. Pansies and hydrangeas

"A lot of new varieties of pansies that are coming out are extremely popular right now," said Vriends, along with grasses in patio planters. 

Hydrangeas are still very popular, added Doiron, with many different varieties: Little Lime, Masja, Tiny Tuff Stuff, Bobo, BloomStruck, Pinky Winky , Strawberry Sundae, Twist-n-Shout and more.

"They've been hybridizing those things so there's so many kinds of hydrangeas now you can buy," said Brooks. "I think that has a lot to do with what people are seeing in magazines."

Doiron is keeping an eye on a brand new perennial hitting the market: echibeckia is a cross between echinacea and rudebeckia. "Should be interesting," Doiron said.

4. Low-maintenance lawns

"People are moving away from caring about lawns," said Brooks. "We're becoming a little more relaxed about that, which is a healthy trend." A few weeds are no longer seen as a faux pas. 

5. Smaller is better

Most subdivisions lots are much smaller these days, noted Doiron, so trees with smaller branch spans are becoming increasingly popular including Red Rocket maple, Prince Regal oak, Pyramidal hornbeam and Pyramidal mountain ash.

6. Tried and true

"Tried, tested and true is what sells on P.E.I." said Meijer. 

Hanging baskets and geraniums are a P.E.I. favourite. (Submitted by Jennifer Vriends)

Hanging baskets featuring geraniums and wave petunias will always be top sellers at John's Greenhouses in Summerside, agreed Vriends, adding it's very difficult to predict what will be popular from one year to the next.

"One year you could sell thousands of a new plant, and the next year it could be only 200," he said. He introduces 40 to 50 new plant varieties a year while phasing out others. 

"Last year everyone wanted blight-resistant tomatoes, and they had terrible luck with them," noted Meijer, saying customers complained about the flavour, or the plants got blight anyway.