Often I’m asked, “What’s the future of gardening?” Here is my short answer, so to speak.
First, the number of gardeners is growing, as baby boomers enter their 50s and 60s—the peak years of active home gardening. Gardeners inspire new gardeners, so children and even grandchildren are seeing—witnessing, you might say—more home gardens being grown each year.
Second, the garden seed, plant and tools industries have publicized many of the previously unknown or under-emphasized benefits of gardening to the general public. Mild stretching, bending, kneeling, and squatting are great workouts for middle-aged and elderly people who cannot endure long, hard exercise.
Dreaming about next year’s gardens and planning seed, plant and supply purchases involve mental routines similar to crossword puzzles and memorizing poetry. They keep the brain supple, even though gardeners regard the process as an exciting adventure.
Also, everyone knows that the fresh air of a garden is tonic. So many of us have acquired new, gadget-related indoor habits, even when the weather is pleasant and the birds are chirping.
Third, research from the renowned clinical psychologist Jeannette Haviland-Jones at Rutgers University on the effects of the “Duchenne smile”—the smile that reaches the eyes—is stimulated most often and deeply by the sight of fresh flowers. It’s as if happiness resulted from our co-evolution with flowering plants. Haviland-Jones has demonstrated that flowers not only make happy people happier, but also curb the effects of depression. In some cases freshly cut blooms work as well as prescribed medicines. (So, amidst the vegetable craze, don’t forget the flower beds.)
However, the largest and fastest growing area of home gardening today is vegetables, and the future of home garden vegetable, herb and fruit gardening is taking on new and innovative forms.
Specifically, everyone wants the full ripeness, succulence, taste and nutrient levels of home grown and freshly picked vegetables, not the bland and increasingly expensive store-boughts. People in a wide variety of habitats—downtown and uptown urban neighborhoods; the so-called “collar” communities bordering them; the rapidly expanding near and far suburbs; and even semi-rural and rural towns, villages and areas—are excitedly growing vegetable gardens.
What is the long term future of vegetable gardening? The answer is the same as it has always been, since plants were first domesticated over 12,000 years ago: innovation. Similar to the later inventions such as the telephone, automobile and light bulb, garden plants have always depended on continuous quantum leaps in improvement.
More nutrition? Traditional plant breeding has answered with the new broccolis, tomatoes, peppers and even cucumbers that possess up to 100% more antioxidants and vitamins when grown to full ripeness—and excellent levels of taste—in home gardens (Boost Collections, 2011 cover item). We plan to add new items to this category every year for the next decade.
Larger yields? In all of our vegetable breeding programs we select for both taste and yield. Gardeners want abundant harvests for the work they do. Furthermore, the recession of 2008 remains fresh in people’s memories, stock portfolios and home values. It spurred an enthusiasm for vegetable gardening that has not been seen since the enormous “back to the land” movement of the early 1970s. But now the savings produced by a large-sized patio container garden—and even much more in a proper ¼ acre vegetable patch—are astonishing. The future looks bright for “money gardens”.
Let’s do the math. Home-grown tomatoes? A patch of 25 plants will enable you not only to avoid the pale, tasteless, 1,000 mile shipped tomatoes at the supermarket, but to save you over $1,000, cash, and enjoy a quality of tomato no money can buy. In the future innovative varieties will be bred for small space-gardens and large patio tubs. Like ‘Bush Steak’ and ‘Big Daddy’ of today, they will yield even more luscious fruit in even less space. A vegetable patch including 25 tomato plants won’t be large, but small!
What applies to tomatoes applies to all vegetables. This quantum leap in plant yield will enable both city and country dwellers to share similar benefits. Gardens will grow not necessarily in overall size, but in output. Thus, the number of gardens and gardeners enjoying them will tremendously increase.
Next, motherhood has recently become a more health-conscious time in family life. Many mothers and fathers grow vegetables rather than use store-bought ones to amend their infant’s and toddler’s baby food. This trend will increase as breeders focus on relatively mild-tasting (yet still retaining all nutritious elements), and particularly soft-fruited vegetables at full ripeness stage. Specially selected and traditionally bred peas, melons, squash, and even the more challenging carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, are in test phases as we speak. Softer, juicier, milder—perfect both for the baby’s health and the parents’ satisfaction.
Future gardeners will want more excitement. If the public wants a giant sized paste tomato, it can order ‘SuperSauce’ from our catalogue in a couple of weeks. If the public wants a sweet corn to grow on decks and patios, they will have it in ‘On Deck’. A broccoli that thrives in high heat and full sun? The new ‘Sun King’. A naturally mutating chive growing in a test field that our breeder found one day? ‘Cha-Cha’ chive—exclusive from The Cook’s Garden—has two sources of herbs: the normal stems and a head that produces young shoots instead of flowers. The reddish-purple flower petals have been transformed into hundreds of tiny shoots that have an even spicier taste. Two chives in one! Cha-Cha innovates the entire world of chives. That is excitement.
Environmental awareness and responsibility? Again, The Cook’s Garden presents a bit of the future now. For 2013, The Cook’s Garden is the only company to sell certified organically grown heirloom plants raised from certified organically grown seed, of our top heirloom selections, carefully studied over a period of 17 years in comparative test gardens of thousands of old heirloom varieties.
Next, let’s consider a game-changing future innovation. The Cook’s Garden is developing brand new types of herbs. Herbs have become overexposed, even a bit clichéd in recent years. To reawaken gardeners’ and diners’ senses—as well as sensibilities—we need to revolutionize herbs.
Herbs respond to the same “terroir” as do wine grapes, but only generally at the present time. We discovered that the interaction of a herb’s root system with soil, water and air, is very much like “terroir”, only affecting oils, rather than fruit sugars.
The excitement is that, today, most people view herbs as one-dimensional flavors—a common view that will be hard to shake off. The challenge will be to prove, first, that our Pinnacle Herb plants taste better because they have more flavor. They are stronger, but not overbearingly so. So, people who buy these potted herb plants—ideal for patios—will be able to use fewer clippings if they want the “same” flavor. But we believe most will opt for the richer “terroir” flavor, because that’s the fulfillment of herbs, both naturally and in the kitchen. For example, oregano “blooms” into a new flavor when heated, and yet another, still newer variation of flavor when soaked in vinegar. Different flavors of oregano! Why not cultivate all herbs to possess such diversity?
In conclusion, whether for taste, yield, nutrition, getting out in the fresh air, smiling deeply when surrounded by fresh flowers in the yard or in the home, having a connected family activity—gardens will play an increasingly essential role in our nation’s long-term future.
Call it the slow reinvention of gardening. We depend on annual weather cycles. Yet, today, more of us wish to move at nature’s pace, whether our garden is in the “back 40” in rural America, or on a roof in urban America, or just a large patio garden in Pennsylvania that used to be in the yard until the deer destroyed it.
Gardening moves forward. And it is innovation in plant research—along with luck—that is the human engine of this positive movement.
Finally, in 1972 David Burpee was asked by the press about the future of gardening. He excitedly told the newspaper interviewer that he was thrilled that, soon, new planets would yield new botanical worlds, and—subject to scientific quarantines and other protocols—we here on Earth would be able to grow new crops. He regretted he probably would not be alive to see it. But he was, of course, quite serious as well as deeply passionate about this future development. “DB”, as he was known, was a very forward-thinking genius. It was under his leadership that ‘Big Boy’ was introduced. By being easy-to-grow, very tasty, high-yielding, and relatively compact for 1948, ‘Big Boy’ revolutionized home gardening from a chore to a pleasure. He could see the future. And, after all, it was only three years since the moon landing.
I cannot think that far ahead, but I present above a small glimpse into the foreseeable future.