"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

–Leonardo da Vinci

Part of Leonardo da Vinci's garden, Chateau Du Clos Luce in Val Du Loire, France

Part of Leonardo da Vinci's garden, Chateau Du Clos Luce in Val Du Loire, France

Remember when you used to put your ear on the railroad track to hear the murmur of an oncoming train? I used to do that when I was about 10 years old. We waited until our ears started to vibrate, and then a little longer until the train was in sight.  Although not very bright, I sure could tell what was coming!

Now many years later I am still keeping my head down, trying to discern the future. Fortunately, today I have a little help from my friends. One such friend is Anne Raver, an excellent garden writer for the New York Times. She also writes about what she sees coming down the tracks, and her thoughts about the interaction of people and gardens are similar to mine. She wrote her view of changes over 10 years ago. The sentiments rang true then and no less so now.

 “When baby boomers fell in love with gardening back in the late 1980s, the perennial border almost elbowed the swimming pool aside. Billowing masses of color and old roses were the rage. People dropped Latin names at cocktail parties and compared notes on their Wellies and hand-forged English garden tools from Smith & Hawken.

But after years of robust growth nurseries are reporting a decline in sales, purveyors of seed packets and garden supplies are quietly saying the same thing: although boomers are still gardening, they are slowing down. Their backs are giving out. They’re tired of expensive perennials that keel over in a drought.

Instead of bragging how well the foxgloves look among the roses, they are speaking of the serene effect of green on green. Their manic gardening has given way to calmer (although for some more profound) pleasures, like planting a grove of serviceberry trees and watching them change through the seasons.”

            I see these things happening all over the country. “Simplify” is the great battle cry of boomers and as it turns out - for almost everyone. I am not sure when the word “work” become associated with gardening, as in “I am going to work in the garden, get the ibuprofen ready”? Garden writers and others even managed to convince consumers that perennials were less maintenance than annuals, but people know better. Gardeners will always enjoy color (they may hire someone else to install it), but the idea of deadheading, dividing and supporting have definitely fallen out of favor. Low maintenance is not just the battle cry of the sunny-day decorator; it is the trumpet call of nearly all of us today.

Anne also had this to say. “As baby boomers bow out, a younger generation appears to be either uninterested or too busy with children and careers to pick up the trowel. ‘A lot of kids are brought up with things being done for them” . Matt Horn, the owner of Matterhorn Nursery in Spring Valley, New York, whose customer count was down 5 percent last year noted that boomers were focused on the environment in their youth, but today, “these kids aren't into the outdoors. They're into the Internet and doing business.”  We must simplify if today’s consumers, young and old, are going to garden.

I have been one of the foremost proponents of new crops, new cultivars, and new plants in general. I firmly believe that each new plant is an opportunity to choose something even better for the landscaper and gardener. However, just because 30 heucheras have been bred does not mean we have to put 30 heucheras (or petunias or New Guinea impatiens) in front of the consumer.

Another perception of the simplification trend is the movement to native plants. It is simply not true that all non-natives are bad and all natives are good, but they surely enhance pollinators and sustainability in our gardens. 

I am a gardener, always will be, but I have downsized significantly and enjoy my gardening activities even more.  I do not apologize for having less, because in reality I have more.


Visit Ann Raver's New York Times news articles here: