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Gardening: How did your garden grow during 2002?; A new year brings new gardening challenges. Hannah Stephenson predicts the big horticultural hits of 2003.

Byline: Hannah Stephenson

It was a year when gardens all over the country went back to nature.

Traditional became trend-setting again in 2002.

Never have we been more protective of our little patches of green, and as city and road expansion continues, our gardens will become even more priceless in the global picture of things.

The major flower shows returned trends back to the wild. Who could forget the Prince of Wales's healing garden at Chelsea, or other prize-winning meadow-like exhibits at the show? There was barely a formal border or clipped lawn in sight in the array of show gardens. Plantings looked random (although of course it took months of planning to get them to look like wild meadows, with every nettle and every strand of catmint carefully positioned).

The year's 'in' colours in gardens throughout the UK were predominantly purples, lilacs, blues, greys and creams, with an abundance of alliums, catmint, foxgloves, hollyhocks and delphiniums, in borders which are much more natural-looking than those in recent years, as sky blue fences and decking have come and gone.

Minimalism went out of the window last year, but the many quick-fix gardening books published in 2002 indicated that there was demand from the younger generation, who have little time to garden, for easy solutions to make an outside haven for themselves. Gardening is no longer just a pursuit for the middle-aged and elderly, that's for sure.

I predict that this back-to-nature trend will continue well into this year - but what about plants?

Well, violas are likely to be the 'in' plants. The viola has been hailed as the plant of 2003 by the British Bedding and Pot Plant Association, with more new varieties being launched in the autumn.

Look out for the Rose of the Year, a beautiful floribunda (growing 1.2-1.5m high and wide) called Rhapsody In Blue, which has mauve-purple petals and should be widely available later this month.

This year, the popularity of the bamboo is also likely to continue. Watch out for Phyllostachys Nigra, a variety with shiny black stems which looks fabulous in a large terracotta pot.

I find it surprising that the pot chrysanthemum is the UK's best-selling houseplant when there are so many other more interesting alternatives on the market, but its longevity and variation in colours keep it a bestseller.

However, for a change, you might like a challenge with a vibrant orchid.

Bulbs in pots could also see a resurgence in popularity in the home. Crocuses, hyacinths, hippeastrums and oxalis may all soon find their way indoors in soft colours.

Impact can be maximised by potting the flowers in a bed of pale pastel-coloured sand and placing arrangements on or near fabrics such as satin or garden-fresh cotton.

Remember, though, that flower bulbs in pots last longer away from direct sunlight and heat, so keep them away from sunny areas and radiators and fireplaces.

But for me, the plant of 2002 - and the one that I think will continue to gain in popularity - was the allium, or ornamental onion.

Because of its high profile at last year's major horticultural shows, garden centres and nurseries had to order more bulbs to cope with demand.

For me, the most majestic is the giant A. giganteum, which grows to 4ft and produces lilac ball-shaped flowers spanning 4in in early summer. Most of them also provide parchment-coloured seedheads which dry well and can be used in dry flower arrangements. It really is a plant that no border should be without and will reappear year after year, although should be divided every three years or so.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 4, 2003
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