Garden Trends 2021

Photo by Simon Matzinger on

A Promising Year For Gardeners

By Teresa Woodard

Goodbye, 2020, and hello 2021! Thankfully, the new year is shaping up to be a bright one for the gardening world. Here are a few highlights of what’s to come.

More Gardeners

Experts report more than 20 million new growers took up their trowels in response to the pandemic. The nation went from 42 million gardeners to 63 million in the past year. And following the Black Lives Matter movement, the green industry is working to become more supportive and inclusive. Check out Black Girls With Gardens and Walter Hood’s new book, Black Landscapes Matter.

More Gardens

Public gardens are reporting record attendance figures with as much as a 300 percent boost in a pandemic year. Luckily, more public gardens are slated to open in 2021. Head to Detroit to see the Oudolf Garden Detroit opening this summer at Belle Isle. Last August, more than 26,000 plants were installed on the 2.6-acre site designed by internationally renowned Piet Oudolf in front of the Anne Scripps Witcomb Conservatory.  Visit Waterfront Botanical Gardens, a 23-acre urban garden being developed on a former landfill along the Ohio River in downtown Louisville. The visitor center, its surrounding gardens and Beargrass Creek Pathway are now open. Future plans include a Japanese garden, children’s garden, biopond, pollinator meadow and conservatory. Also, plan a trip to Kingwood Center, a historic garden in Mansfield, Ohio, to see the new visitor center and Gateway Gardens by Austin Eischeid, an Oudolf protege. While the matrix planting will take three years to reach its full potential, the new garden should be quite lovely by June.

New matrix plantings at Ouldolf Garden Detroit on Belle Isle; Image by Ryan Southern Photography

More Garden Content

The green industry has stepped up to provide stay-at-home gardeners with more online content.
Free of charge, I virtually toured English gardens through the UK’s National Garden Scheme, learned from garden masters at Garden Master Class Weekly Garden Chats and heard from new book authors at the Garden Conservancy’s Literary Series.

More insects

Every 17 years, a large brood of cicadas emerge in the Midwest and make big buzz – reaching up to 100 decibels — for five to six weeks. The brood will return this year in May. While there’s no need to spray chemicals, you may want to cover or delay planting new fruit trees this year. The stems are vulnerable spots for cicadas’ egg laying. In 2021, also be on the lookout for spotted lanternflies and viburnum leaf beetles.

Cicada Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki on

More New Plants

Gardeners will find new plants at the garden center this spring.  A few favorites include:

  • Better Boxwoods: NewGen™ boxwoods are promising higher resistance to boxwood blight and leafminers. In addition, Gem Box® inkberry holly by Proven Winners is a tougher native alternative to boxwood.
  • No-So-Basic Houseplants: No more simple snakeplants and pothos. This year’s houseplant darlings include tropical calatheas, sculptural mangaves and bold alocasias.
  • Super Veggies: Pack more nutrients and flavor in your garden crops with smart seed selections and soil amendments. See this article and video for more tips.
  • Color-Charged Annuals: Consumers can add instant eye candy to their landscapes with brilliant new annuals like Marvel II pom-pom marigolds, Double Delight begonias, Roller Coaster impatiens and Surprise Sparkle petunias.
  • Pollinator Favorites: The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden trials pollinator plants each year and posts its favorite annuals, perennials and shrubs.

For more pandemic trends, see our post on trend-spotting from the green industry’s trade show –Cultivate 2020.

Garden Resolutions

In 2021, we collectively hope to be meeting once again in person and sharing ideas for future blog posts. As we kick off our 10th year for Heartland Gardening, we are grateful for all who have joined us and continue to encourage us on this blogging journey. Happy New Year!

By Michael Leach

The tradition of setting goals and making resolutions for a new year is always fraught with uncertainty, something especially true for 2021. However, as the late comedienne Phyllis Diller observed, aim high and there’s less chance of shooting yourself in the foot. So each year, I aim for the stars.

Focus and finish  —  Surely there are others who start projects with the idea of quickly checking them off the to-do list. But sooner or later the focus blurs, and the projects are set aside (sometimes for years), because even more appealing or demanding issues arise.

Juggling several things is possible. I do this when preparing several different dishes for one meal. Unlike those forgotten projects, meal prep is clearly defined and time-sensitive: Sit down to a plate filled with various tasty foods at x’o’clock.  Perhaps if I see projects “finished” even before starting, just as I do with cooking dinner, more things will get done in 2021.

Ease back in —   I yearn for morning workouts and weekly yoga practice at the local  Y, plus the socializing that goes with such activities. Yet I must resist the urge to go from 0-to-60 when things finally allow.

The garden teaches moderation when digging in. Surely I am not alone when it comes to wanting to accomplish three months’ worth of work before lunch on that  first pleasant day of spring. That’s the day when the urge to go outside and play in the dirt is irresistible. Overdo in a few hours then, and you’ll spend the next 48 in aching misery. So it must be with moderation that I revive whatever routines I choose to bring back from pre-lockdown. Pacing is a must.

Socialize with a vengeance — I plan to share my garden sanctuary with special friends, probably only one at a time, as often as possible, even if it means foregoing working on a few of those first balmy spring days. Socializing happened too infrequently in 2020 and sometimes was foolishly considered too inconvenient before. Friends were so starved for real face time in 2020, we sat for hours talking. When we reluctantly agreed to part, legs were stiff. We gasped when checking the time. We were, however, so glad we did it. Now that I think about it, socializing should be the first and most important goal for 2021 — and all the years to come.

By Debra Knapke

I made a few resolutions with a smirk on my face:

  • To clean out my overfull email Inbox
  • To clean my office and keep everything on its place
  • To download and label all my pictures off my phone.

Then, wrote my real resolutions:

  • To keep my tools clean and sharp, really, especially the sharp part. Tired of hurting my body by working with dull tools.
  • Replacing our gas-powered lawn mower with a battery-operated mower that uses the same batteries as my battery- powered garden tools.
  • To add solar panels to our home to help with the power load of our home, greenhouse and battery-operated power tools.

And, finally, offer a few resolutions to challenge every gardener:

  • To make compost from vegetative kitchen scraps and disease and pest-free cleanings from the garden and add it to the garden whenever I plant or create new garden areas.
  • To sequester carbon by planting more trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, and by putting carbon into the soil through the use of biochar, and compost.

By Teresa Woodard

I’ve always loved reflecting on this day and looking forward to the future. For me, it always seemed to be about the numbers. How many articles I wrote or how many things I accomplished? But after this crazy pandemic year, I’m learning to measure success in quality more than quantity. As Einstein put it, “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Here are my 2020 gardening goals:

Grow fruits and vegetables. A highlight of 2020 was planting backyard gardens for families in a food insecure neighborhood. Back home, I gained a renewed passion for planting veggies — no longer looking at it as a novelty but as a privilege to grow and harvest fresh, delish and nutritious food from my own backyard. Bring on more tasty tomatoes, power-packed greens and heirloom beans.

Make friends with other gardeners. While gardening can be a welcomed solitary activity, I’ve also found joy in gardening with others. Together, tasks seem to go faster and feel less like work. Plus, friendships made in the garden are some of the best.

Visit other gardens for inspiration and learning. In 2021, I’m taking on a book project that will give me the opportunity to write about garden designers’ own gardens. So, I’m very excited to meet these gardeners across the country and share their garden stories with others.

Plant with a purpose. I love shopping for plants, and this year, I’m challenging myself to be more selective with my choices. Will this flower benefit pollinators? Will this plant persevere in my backyard and even prevent soil erosion or help absorb water in flooded areas? Will this plant offer shade, edible fruits or shelter for wildlife? And, yes, will this plant add beauty, fragrance or joy?

Happy New Year, gardening friends! We’d love to hear your gardening resolutions in the comments.

Happy Gardening to Me!

Deb gifts herself some power tools — battery-powered chainsaw and blower.

By Debra Knapke

First, I have to confess that chainsaws scare the bejeepers out of me. They are loud and incredibly dangerous, and I never thought I would own one. I always figured that If I couldn’t prune a tree or large shrub with a good handsaw, then it was time to call in the professionals. But this year’s drought and the loss of two dwarf conifers – one 16 years and the other 23+ years in the garden – changed that belief.

I planted a 12-inch tall Diane European larch in 2004, and here it is in April of 2019, a 6-foot tall graceful tree. We had several years of too much water in the winter and late spring into early summer. This killed a good part of the thyme lawn, but Diane grew beautifully or so I thought. Then we had drought in 2019 and 2020.  In mid-July of 2020, she turned yellow and dropped all of her needles. New needles appeared at the tips of the branches in early August, but they promptly dried up and dropped. By September, you could snap the branches.

Diane European larch in all her glory

Behind Diane larch, you can just see Glauca Nana Scotch pine I planted in the late 90s. It had been slowly declining due to a combination of water and temperature stress – too warm – followed by recurring infestations of pine needle scale and pine sawfly. By the summer of 2020, only one portion of the tree was “thriving”.

With my handsaw, I was able to prune the trees to their main trunks (see Glauca Nana skeleton), but the wood on both species had very tight rings which made sawing the trunks by hand an onerous task. Calling in an arborist seemed silly for a job this small.

The skeleton of Glauca Nana Scotch pine

I had recently seen an ad for a battery-operated chainsaw made by Stihl. Time to research battery-operated tools! I ended up comparing Stihl, Husqvarna and Makita chainsaws. The Makita chainsaw best fit my needs.

After going over the operation of the chainsaw with the excellent folks at Como Mower in Columbus and my husband, it was with some trepidation that I started her up. Yes, “her”; I have relationships with all of my tools and treat them with respect.

It was really cool and surprisingly empowering.

You can see that I need to refine my technique by the wonky cuts on the trunks below, but I will get better with practice. Never the less, the chainsaw surpassed my expectations on its ease of handling, manageable weight, noise level and cutting effectiveness.

 There are approximately 32 rings in the larger trunk.

I bet you are wondering how a blower ended up in the mix. Anyone who knows me knows I really dislike noisy, gas-operated blowers. However, the Makita blower, being electric, is relatively quiet, and it has a lot of power for its size.

I have three rock gardens that I clean out with a hand rake. This is becoming increasingly difficult and this blower will make that garden task easier to do.

And, there was this promotion that was difficult to resist!

Wishing you beautiful Christmas and New Year’s celebrations!

Spare Me the “S” Word

By Michael Leach

Alas! Once again it’s the season when weather predictions often include the four-letter “s” word. But there’s no cause for undue delight or despair.

This wee word, representing countless minute bits of frozen, white precipitation, is a subject celebrated in poems, lyrics, paintings, ski resort posters and greeting, cards. Yet it also appears in unflattering ways in ads touting warm, palmy places. The commercials generally switch from images of turquoise water and scanty swimwear on attractive bodies to a Dantesque nightmare of pale gray city streets awash with oily slush. Scattered in the gloom are hunched figures, swathed in mounds of drab coats and scarves, staggering against an arctic  gale.

This little word has divided Americans in northern areas far longer than political parties. Some love it, while others are rational and disdain it. I’ll grant the first snow transforms my garden into something of a living landscape painting. This view from the sunporch enhances morning coffee time and breaks between shoveling.

The ”s”  divide extends to weather forecasters. No matter how they attempt dispassionate predictions, It’s easy to tell who loves “s” and who doesn’t. Not so subtle clues give them away.

Those who can’t wait until the world becomes a floured mess are pixilated when the computer spews out parameters that include only the tiniest hint of “s”. From this, they paint scenarios maximizing the potential misery in terms of inches, duration and wind chill. Their lust for heavy frozen precip blinds them to the downsides: snarling traffic, slipping pedestrians and aching backs from shoveling. To be fair, there are a few winners, tow truck and plow drivers for instance. Oh, and let’s not forget that sales spike for heavy winter clothing to warm hunched figures in arctic gales.

The “s” enthusiasts put too much confidence in computer models. Sure, science tells about the inner workings of the atom, and Seri tells me where to go, but how about telling me what the weather will be 24 hours from now? Hmpf! It’s easier to predict the trajectory of a startled cat.

Such variability is especially true of winter weather. A wind gust here, a dry spot there, some 50-mile wobble in the path of a storm stretching across half the Midwest and voila! We can have an icy glaze or a few drops of rain or 12 inches of “s” or some combination of all the above or nothing. To put this in gardening terms — during a drought, would any of us  skip watering the wilting tomatoes when a 100 percent chance of an inch of rain is forecast? Not hardly. Such experience keeps panic at bay no matter how dire the weather prediction.

Plus, I’ve learned a coping mechanism that can help you regardless of your weather preferences. Check TV channels and scan weather websites to find a forecast echoing your desires. After discovering such a prediction, believe it. At least until something better comes along.

The Native, Not Native Plant Debate: Is It Valid?

By Debra Knapke

Late fall is my time for contemplation, for this question and so many more. The leaves are down, the garden beds are put-to-bed – as much as I do that anymore. The days are moody with short periods of transcendent blue skies bracketed by gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

I look out into my garden and consider… what delighted me? what did not? what worked? what did not?

My ideas and gardening have changed considerably over the years. From collecting and figuring out where everything could fit to needing to understand how nature works. It isn’t about the quantity, but the quality of plants, plant communities and soil – the foundation of everything.

Purpose – the concept that must underlie all garden creation and maintenance. Why are you doing it? For these times when our climate is changing, our food systems are insecure, and we know that we must support each other and the Earth. My garden’s purpose is to support all life that comes to it, and to supplement our diet. These are my primary gardening intentions.

For the first intention, using native plants is essential. Native plants – those that belong to an ecological niche, have not been introduced by humans and have been here longer than us (I’ll let you determine who “us” is) – native animals, and soil systems have evolved together. At every step of the way, change has been a part of this relationship, so the native plant of 500 years ago may not be the native plant of today, but the relationships remain.

For the second intention, many of us would be hard-pressed to live off the land in Ohio. There are too many of us and we have become accustomed to having luscious tomatoes, spicy basil, and our pick of culinary delights. Fortunately, many of these food plants from other lands also have relationships with their animal counterparts, and often, these relationships work for our native insects and others.

Yes, there is the question of fitness: does a non-native plant offer as good a resource to our animals? I believe the jury is still out on this question. We have studies (Mt. Cuba, Cornell, and other institutions) that show that our native insects prefer our native plants as shown by their visitation rate. But I am waiting for the brilliant researcher who is able to figure out how to ask a bumblebee the question: “Which of these offers the best nutrition for you, false sunflower or Black Adder anise hyssop?”

Bumbles on our native false sunflower (Heliopsis sp.) and on Black Adder anise hyssop, a hybrid of our native Agastache foeniculum and European native A. rugosum

So, my title and question: the native, not native plant debate: Is it valid? My answer is yes and no…  It depends on Why You Garden – a topic for another time.

To  help you figure out where you stand in the native/non-native debate, I offer a rating scale by the brilliant J. C. Raulston who looked for plants that performed well in the landscape and who may have introduced plants that are in your garden.



By J. C. Raulston – 1996

To help understand where others (and you) stand in the very wide spectrum of the horrific and unending native vs. exotic plant “mud-wrestling debate” – the following scale is offered tongue-in-cheek for humor to laugh at ourselves on this admittedly serious issue. Where are YOU in this range??

1-2: Encourage maximum population growth; burn, bulldoze and kill all existing vegetation and build everywhere; plant only those ugly aggressive noxious exotic plants with no redeeming values (e.g. – hybrid tea roses, Leyland cypresses or ‘Bradford’ pears); eat only kiwis, mangos and rice; live in rosewood lumber homes with plastic furniture; demand “Chemplush” (TM) lush iridescent green lawns everywhere and in all seasons.

2-4: Burn, bulldoze and kill most existing vegetation – but save old historic trees slept under by great presidents; maintain cryogenic tissue samples of native flowers germplasm just in case someone ever wants to sample for a pimple cure; eat olives and figs, with one bowl of beans a month; live in a redwood home with a basket woven of local reeds; weed and feed lawn monthly and mow weekly.

4-6: Live life in moderation; plant and enjoy useful plants; protect native habitats; eat everything in sight regardless of origin (Raulston’s Rule); recycle paper, homes, and other products – and use local plantation grown lumber to build; weed & feed lawn annually and mow monthly if it needs it; worry endlessly about everything ’cause you don’t have a final perfect answer to Earth’s problems like everyone else seems to.

6-8: Eliminate aggressive invasive exotic plants; work politically and financially to protect native habitats; urge population control; use low maintenance native plants appropriate to environment and culture; eat beans, corn, blueberries and an occasional cantaloupe in season; live in hand-hewn pine cabin from lumber you grew yourself; use all native oak furniture built from lightening killed trees and enjoy a mahogany rocking chair inherited from your Indonesian great-grandfather; let goats graze whatever grass or other stuff comes up out front – then eat goat (if not vegetarian or animal rights).

8-10: Eliminate all plant species not growing when and where they existed as colonists arrived; remove all physical construction not in use in 1492 and reduce human population levels to that time with appropriate attention to native American ethnic purity; eliminate all travel and exchange of products and/or technology; eat only the foods botanically existing on your specific habitat (no cheating with imported Mexican corn or Maine blueberries) – mushrooms are recommended as they don’t reproduce easily or spread aggressively; live in caves to protect trees from destruction; wear no clothing or use any tools; if there is no tree removal, there is no sun, and therefore no summer grass = no lawn maintenance sweat.

Weekend Garden Tour

Huntington Gardens at Schiller Park in German Village

By Teresa Woodard

Looking for a (safe) escape this Labor Day weekend? Consider a trip to historic German Village just south of downtown Columbus, Ohio to tour Huntington Gardens of Schiller Park. The  tree-lined brick promenade is filled with three 100-foot perennial beds now in late-summer glory! And don’t forget to look up . . . the park is host to the “Suspension: Balancing Art, Nature and Culture, ” an exhibit of  19 high-wire sculptures by artist Jerry Jotka Kedziora.

According to Kedziora, “Art must get out of museums and reach the people.” Born in 1947, Kedziora is a sculptor, painter, designer and teacher from Poland.  He has installed his gravity-defying sculptures in public spaces around the world including Abu Dhabi, Miami, Krakow and Vienna. Check out this video of his work.

While the 23-acre Schiller Park was founded in the late 1800s, the Huntington Gardens were only added in 1993 as part of a park revitalization. The promenade leads from the park’s west entrance to the base of the statue of German poet Frederick Von Schiller. The statue was a gift to the park and the citizens of Columbus in 1891 from German-born residents of the neighborhood. Granite stones inscribed with quotes from Schiller’s literacy works line the walkway.

Today, the gardens are maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers and feature a wonderful selection of perennials.

Extend your visit with a picnic lunch from Brown Bag Deli just north of the park. There’s also Jeni’s Ice Cream beside the deli. Other favorites within walking distance of the park include Barcelona (try brunch or dinner on the patio) and Fox in the Snow coffee shop.

Back-to-School Challenge

Crowd-Sourcing Native Plant Ideas for School Landscape

By Michael Leach

Please put on your thinking caps. We’re looking for plants native to central Ohio that meet several requirements. The goal is a more environmentally friendly and educationally enhanced school landscape.  Yes, we have our native go-tos – I adore oaks, Deb loves royal catchfly, native ferns and spicebush, and Teresa is a fan of coneflowers and Joe Pye weed. But, for this project, we’d love to hear from you.

A new middle school is to be built near my home. Fortunately plans call for preserving a 200-year-old oak tree. Already there’s an orange, plastic mesh fence around this grand tree.

The schools superintendent is open to my making suggestions to the landscape planners for native Ohio plants that may be used on the site. We discussed the possibility of white pines to screen the football field and track. These trees have been used before on school sites. It’s a toehold.

For now there’s little chance of doing more than a few trees and perhaps some shrubs, the typical local school landscape. Low maintenance — primarily mowing — is preferred. So no pollinator strips, recreated prairies or woodland preserves need apply.

Plant parameters are:

Toughness — Have to tolerate full sun, wind, little care and Midwest extremes common in Central Ohio, Zone 6;

Coexistence — Must be able to handle competition from lawn and withstand mowers running over root zones;

Visual appeal — Seasonal interest, such as fall color, a plus, because people are using the school, but no  messy fruits;

Acquisition — Be readily available in 2-inch caliper plants;

Education — While school gardens offer diverse learning opportunities, these tend to flourish only with teachers who are also gardeners. No outdoor classroom is on the horizon at the moment. Ideally trees and shrubs should be those that: had/have a variety of uses for Native Americans and/or European settlers, support a range of wildlife, and have other qualities that make them resources for creative teachers.

Please send your suggestions and comments by August 20. 

Pandemic Garden Trends

Trade Show Reveals New Plants and Gardening’s Future

By Teresa Woodard

If there’s a silver lining to COVID for the green industry, it’s the 16 million new gardeners that discovered plants during the stay-at-home orders. At last month’s Cultivate virtual show for horticulture pros, Heartland Gardening got a sneak peek at trends from the Garden Trends Report 2020 and preview of new plants to entice both new and long-time gardeners.

  • New plants: Plant breeders continue to find ways to make plants tougher, more compact for smaller spaces and more varied in colors.  Standouts include coneflowers (Sombrero® and Artisan™ series) in new ombre sunset hues, larger Marvel II™ African marigolds, dwarf Fire Light Tidbit™ panicle hydrangeas (2-3’), a new ‘Primavera’ Spanish lavender, Zesty zinnias and Whispurr™ catmints. Wave petunias celebrates their 25thyear with new Shock Wave® Purple Tie Dye and Pink Passion cultivars.
  • Mini Houseplants: While houseplants remain hot, collectors are running out of space to grow them.  The solution . . . focus on mini houseplants to squeeze more plants in tighter spaces. Look for String of Pearls succulents or mini African violets.
  • Community gardening: In 2020, the power of collective action has never been stronger whether protesting #BlackLivesMatter or wearing face masks to flatten the COVID curve. Community gardens also appreciate collectivity of attracting diverse groups to sustain neighbors with fresh food, plus build community. Check out how in this New York Times piece covering ways community gardens are adapting with social distancing.
  • Growing food: Victory gardens are making a comeback amid fears of food shortages just like those inspired by WWII food rations. No doubt this spring, seed companies saw a spike in vegetable seed sales and sold out of many varieties.
  • Embracing nature: During lock-down, the outdoors has been one place people can still go. Instead of working out at the gym, neighbors met to walk or run at social distances. Visitors flocked to hike at local, state and national parks. Others took on backyard projects and embraced outdoor hobbies like bird watching and gardening. This renewed interest in nature is spilling over into more pollinator gardens and abundant landscapes to support wildlife.

Rain, Rain Come Play Today

By Michael Leach

Splish! splish! Rain drops in the night were surely a dream that would fade with the sunrise of another white-hot day.

The rain, however, wasn’t a dream. A haze of drops, blending into the pale gray clouds, still fell when the alarm rang. It was a special rain that conjured summer memories and inspired daydreaming. 

Such rain comes without wind or sizzling lightening. I savored this delightful precipitation from the comfort of a rocking chair near a screened window. A porch swing would have been ideal, but even this perch afforded leisurely coffee sipping and unexpected peace.

All the flowers in the garden are bejeweled with rain.

When my sister and I were small, and such a rainy day came along, Mother had us change into our bathing suits to go “swimming” in the backyard. Raindrops and the wet, silky grass weren’t at all like the community swimming pool we went to most summer afternoons. Didn’t matter. We romped and screamed delightedly.

Turning faces skyward and mouths open wide, we tried to catch rain drops on our tongues. We did the same thing in winter for snowflakes. Usually we tired of such exuberant play long before the saturated clouds drifted further east. Then came a dry bath towel, a change back to play clothes and renewed efforts at Monopoly or other indoor games. At least Mother got a reprieve from complaints about the missed day at the swimming pool.

As a gardener, this particular morning was even more rewarding. Several chores were scratched off the do-do list the night before, never mind the fatigue. There were check marks beside everything, from tucking in some transplants to spreading weed preventer in the cracks of the brick paving. One more thing would have made this morning perfect — having the houseplants outside. But the rain wasn’t predicted, hadn’t been for days, and wasn’t foreseen for several more to come. A last look before bed showed nothing on radar. It was only my hunch (hope?) about rain.

Rain polishes houseplant foliage.

Still, it would have been good to put the houseplants outside. There’s nothing like rain to bring freshness. Dust washes away, along with tap water salts in the soil (particularly in downpours). But this morning was too fine to spoil by a soggy chore, no matter how beneficial. Same with attempting more transplanting. No!  The rain washed away plans for the morning walk, gardening and errands. 

From the window, I watched the narrow leaves on phlox and other towering perennials bounce up and down, as if played by invisible fingers making music too faint to hear. On the west window, where a bit of breeze had spattered rain, some of the crystal drops slowly  zigzagged their way down the glass. 

Crystal droplets decorate the window pane.

By making me pause during the busy season, this rainy day refreshed the gardener as much as any houseplant fortunate enough to be outdoors. The next day’s weather was to be bright and hot again, with perhaps a few popup storms. What better reason to spend moments of cool peace and ease, while making a new memory of a rainy summer day?

Eva Monheim on Hedgerows

Heartland Gardening recently talked with Eva Monheim, author of “Shrubs and Hedges” (Cool Springs Press, March 2020) about the under-appreciated hedgerow – its rich history, diversity and ecological value. Eva teaches at world renown Longwood Gardens as well as the Barnes Arboretum at St. Joseph’s University. She is co-founder of Verdant Earth Educators, a horticulture education and consulting firm, and was assistant professor at Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture for over 12 years.

The valuable large trees in the ancient hedgerow provided valuable shade for early farmers as a place for rest out of the hot summer sun.

What is a hedgerow?

If we look back into history, hedgerows were first developed after humankind transitioned from hunter gathers to the agrarian lifestyle. Woodlands were cut down to create fields to grow crops and strips of the ancient forest were left to protect the crops from wind and other elements. Small narrow lanes were created between the hedgerows, so wagons could pull crops to local villages to store. So, when we think of hedgerows, they were first used for farming. They were also used to protect the crops from animals. As man began herding animals, they also used hedgerows for keeping animals in a field, while trying to keep other undomesticated animals out. More complex hedgerows developed – especially in England where pleaching was developed. Trees were cut halfway through and snapped. These half-felled trees began sprouting and then the sprouts were braided into an intricate lattice structure. This design further curtailed unwanted animals from moving in or farm animals from wandering out.

A farmer maintains a hedgerow in England.

What was their initial ecological appeal?

Early farmers knew hedgerow’s diversity provided pollinators for crops and habitat for birds. Hedgerows here in the U.S. are one of the most threatened habitats, especially by new constructions projects. The first thing to go is usually the hedgerow. Most people think they are junky, but they are anything but junky. They also are critical to prevent flooding downstream, protecting farmers from the elements, and providing additional food sources, like berries and other small fruits. Their structure contains large trees, layers of shrubs and ground covers, perennials, annual plants, and seed store.

Mixed hedgerows develop over time. They don’t have to be perfectly clipped in order to provide valuable services for wildlife. 

How is it different from a hedge?

Hedges came about to define boundary lines other than fields. Hedgerows were a form of protection from the elements, keeping snow on the fields for deep watering before the crops were planted. Hedges came about as gentry began pushing farmers off the land and securing land for themselves. Usually one or two species were used to make a hedge of thick green walls impenetrable to passersby. Hedges are still used like this today as a delineation between me and you – owner and non-owner. In Europe, there is a crossover between hedges and hedgerows. Here, 600- and 700-year-old hedges are called “hedgerows” as they gain a mix of species over time.

What is the value of hedgerows today?

With the few hedgerow remnants remaining in the U.S., they are even more important today. If you are concerned about pollinators – hedgerows are critical for their preservation. Swarms of bees can live in hollowed out trees and old tree stumps. If there are no large woodlands around, these areas are even more valuable. The exposed sides of the hedgerow have valuable habitat for in-ground native bees and other pollinators like bats that roost in the trees. Old snags and logs become a haven for beetles that provide invaluable services for our gardens and crops. Birds also use these habitats for nesting and some birds can live their entire lives in the hedgerow which provides food and protection from the elements. I can go on and on about the value hedgerows – it’s the unseen that is the most valuable – the enormous opportunity for seed store that contributes to diversity. They should not look clean and tidy. They should be strips of diversity.

Where is a good place to add a hedgerow?

While a typical hedgerow can’t be built (it’s an evolutionary process), you can make a pseudo-hedgerow along a property line by creating a layered plant community or buffer. Start with trees. You can start all your plants out small and let them grow into place then slowly fill in with varied understory small trees and shrubs. It would be like building a woodland – but in a narrow strip 10’-25’ wide.

What shrubs do you recommend for a pseudo-hedgerow?

Depending on where you are building your buffer – along a stream or along a boundary, the species will vary depending on the site:

  • Viburnum acerifolium – maple leaf viburnum
  • Viburnum prunifolium – blackhaw viburnum
  • Viburnum dentatum – arrowwood viburnum
  • Viburnum nudum – possumhaw viburnum
  • Prunus virginiana – chokecherry
  • Ilex verticillata – winterberry holly
  • Ilex glabra – inkberry holly
  • Ilex opaca – American holly
  • Lindera benzoin – spicebush
  • Taxus canadensis – American yew
  • Amelanchier sp. – serviceberry
  • Chionanthus virginicus – fringe tree
  • Vaccinium corymbosum – highbush blueberries (needs low pH)
  • Vaccinium angustifolium – lowbush blueberries
  • Hydrangea arborescens – smooth leafhydrangea and there are lots of cultivars too! (you can also use other hydrangea like Hydrangea macrophylla – bigleaf hydrangea and Hydrangea serrata – mountain hydrangea)
  • Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis or (syn. Sambucus canadensis) – American black elderberry
  • Aesculus parviflora – bottlebrush buckeye
  • Aesculus pavia – red buckeye
  • Rhus aromatica – Fragrant sumac
  • Rhus typhina – staghorn sumac

Some Trees  

  • Maclura pomifera – Osage orange
  • Quercus imbricaria – shingle oak
  • Quercus stellata – post oak
  • Quercus phellos – willow oak
  • Quercus macrocarpa – burr oak 
  • Sassafras albidum – sassafras

How do you go about installing a hedgerow?

I would typically start by planting trees — both deciduous trees and conifers. Remember you are building a remnant of a woodland. There is no need to move or remove any soil or remove any lawn. Plant your trees as if you were planting them in your lawn and plant your shrubs in between. (Make sure to plant long-lived species such as oaks as well as short-lived species such as cherries.) When you have planted all that you can, use newspaper and cardboard over the entire area making sure all the paper products overlap. (There is an art form in doing this. Start at one end and work to the other. Mulch the entire area with triple ground hardwood or woodchips or combinations of mulch. Pine straw is great, too!) Allow the area to settle in for a year to kill weeds and invasive plants and then you can go in and plant additional shrubs and trees and plant bulbs, native woodland flowers and ground covers. Lay a few logs in the mix too for beetle habitat.

How do you expand the hedgerow?

When planting a hedge make sure to leave a well cultivated area around the hedge. They can be planted like the hedgerow (described above) leaving the lawn intact. Make sure to be generous and methodical about using newspaper and cardboard in between, in front and behind the hedge, and cover with triple-ground hardwood (no dyed mulch – too many chemicals in them). A more refined mulch will create a good sound cover. The following year, you can plant perennials, bulbs, or annuals or a combination along the edge to provide a more diverse habitat.You can also use several different types of plants to make your hedge and instead of creating a straight line of plants stagger them – in and out. Plant them the same way as you did the above. The following year, you can plant bulbs, perennials and annuals in the alcoves that were created, maybe even some shorter shrubs that will add different seasonal interest to the hedge.

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