Top Sustainable Garden Trends for 2021

Gardening ideas that were once on the margins are becoming more widely adopted.

Full palms of joy
The home-grown food trend may be here to stay. CoffeeAndMilk / Getty Images

I don't know about you, but I don't usually love garden trend articles. Often, they can be cloyingly superficial – focussing on color choices or whether a particular style such as "contemporary," "industrial," or "rustic" is popular. But trends are not just about cosmetics. Trends can tell us more important things about gardening, and how public perceptions, and society in general, are changing.

So in this article, I will focus on more important garden trends – sustainable garden trends that can inspire us, and give us hope for a better future. One great thing to come out of this terrible pandemic is that ideas that were previously on the fringe are becoming more mainstream. And more and more people are valuing their gardens and making the most of all that they can provide. 

Growing Food Forever

Last year, there was a boom in home food production, as a huge number of people took up growing food at home for the first time. Last spring, seed supplies ran short in some areas, and many garden companies struggled to keep up with orders. In fall, canning goods were in demand, showing that many people had kept up their efforts through to successful harvests.

This year, this trend continues. Anyone involved in gardening related industries knows that, already, people are looking forward to the spring and preparing to grow their own food – either continuing their gardening efforts or just now jumping on board.

But what we are also seeing is that this is not a short-term, knee-jerk reaction to circumstances. More and more, the trend is for people to look to the longer term. They are looking to grow their own food not just for a single season – put perpetually, over the years to come. Increasingly, gardening for food is not a whim, but a way of life. There is a shift in society – as people who had not previously considered food production or organic gardening seek to integrate these things into their lives.

As a garden designer, I have noticed an uptick of interest in perennial food production – perennial edibles, forest gardening, and perennial polyculture planting that combines the edible and the ornamental. This shift from simple rows of vegetables to holistic, long-term design (including permaculture concepts) is a trend I expect to continue over the coming year.

Permaculture Garden
Morning in a permaculture garden. mathiluke the crazy gardener / Getty Images

Integrating Indoors and Outdoors Spaces

Houseplants have been experiencing a resurgence in recent years. But building on the popularity of growing low maintenance succulents and other houseplants indoors, I have noticed a shift, again, towards more holistic thinking. Houseplants are increasingly seen not just as design features for home interiors, but as a way to bring the outside inside. A way to connect with nature, clean the air, and live in a more sustainable way in general.

Outdoors living has also been increasingly popular in recent years. And it comes as no surprise that during lockdowns, people have come to see their gardens more and more as extensions of their homes. Increasingly, people are attempting to create outdoor living spaces that blend holistically with planting and natural features – blending and blurring the lines between home and garden, between the human-built environment and the natural world.

Read more: Garden Rooms: Ideas and Inspiration

Making the Most of Every Inch

Since people are valuing and making use of their gardens more than ever before, I also expect the trends in small space gardening to continue. 2021 will continue to see the interest increase in small space container gardening and vertical gardening techniques that rose to mainstream interest in 2020.

People are increasingly recognizing that we can take steps to make the most of all our outside space – no matter how small our gardens may be. Those who took their first forays into growing their own food last year and looking for ways to increase their yield. And even those who did not think they had space to grow their own are making the effort to find ingenious ways to grow food in small spaces.

Making compost from leftovers
Making compost from leftovers in a small-space garden. svetikd / Getty Images

What Waste?

The zero waste movement – which eschews plastic packaging – also continues to grow, reaching many people who had not previously thought about waste or sustainability issues. Zero waste in 2021 will continue to reach beyond the kitchen and bathroom and out into the garden.

Upcycling and reuse in the garden are hot topics, which are set to become even more popular in 2021. From using food packing to start seeds and as containers, to composting food waste, to upcycling a range of quirky items to make beautiful garden beds and planters ... we will continue to see more and more people using waste in their gardens in new and ingenious ways.

Mainstream understanding of zero waste has largely, in recent years, centered around plastic waste. But an understanding of other forms of waste – food waste, water waste, etc. – is now also coming into more general consciousness. This will also inform gardening practices for many over the coming years.

Wildlife Awareness

Another concept becoming far more widely appreciated is biodiversity, and its loss. Organic gardeners have long been aware of the vital importance of preserving, protecting, and increasing biodiversity in a garden. But those who have not previously thought much about this topic are increasingly aware of wonderful wildlife and the benefits it brings.

Wildlife gardening – protecting and attracting pollinators, beneficial predators, and other life to gardens – is another key trend; one set to continue to grow over the coming year, and the years to come. People are planting for wildlife, and creating habitats in their gardens to allow a wide variety of creatures to thrive.

Read more: 10 Berries That Birds Love

As someone who has been working in sustainability and gardening fields for a number of years, I am heartened to see that ideas that were once on the margins are becoming more widely adopted. It gives hope that a growing cohort of sustainable gardeners will help us create a more ethical, eco-friendly, and sustainable future for all.