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Garden shows are meant to display all that is new, green and alluring. Tiptoe through the colourful tulips, past the exotic palms and along the grassy pathways and you’ll discover some of the season’s freshest garden looks. From the Gardening World Cup held last fall in Nagasaki, Japan, to the Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs until Sunday, these are some of the season’s top trends in garden design. In Toronto, Canada Blooms opens March 13 with a playful theme that includes pollinator playgrounds and an outdoor fitness garden.

Plants are once again the main focus of gardens this spring.

Plants take centre stage

Finally, gardens are all about plants again. Hardscaping elements – think giant boulders, cut stone patios and flagstone walkways – are playing a supporting role to the plants starring in beds and borders. Complex geometric patterns mix colourful perennials and annuals with dramatic grasses, lacy ferns and bold groundcovers. At the Philadelphia Flower Show, the world’s largest indoor flower show, truckloads of palms, bromeliads and cordy-lines were used to create lush plantings amid the blossom-packed feature gardens.

The exhibit by Hunter Hayes Landscape Design, of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, is inspired by the film"The Parent Trap." (Photo by Stephen Ladner)

Take me home

Call it sanctuary or haven – backyard gardens are where you’ll find that feeling of the security of home. In the award-winning gardens of British designer Paul Hervey-Brookes, getting to the heart of the garden is a journey along floral waypoints. “It’s all about creating spaces of refuge,” he says. In the show garden Hervey-Brookes created at the Gardening World Cup in Japan, bamboo screens framed flowering pathways leading to a sunken garden where “the perspective changes and you can get rid of life’s noise.” Among the sanctuaries at the Philadelphia Flower Show are a rustic cabin by a watering hole, a Persian pavilion enveloped by tropical plants and a rusted-out secret hideout in a dystopian landscape.

The garden exhibit by Leon Kluge is inspired by the film"Maleficent." (Photo by Rob Cardillo)

Still waters

Water is everywhere, but nary a drop can be heard. Gone are gushing waterfalls and rushing streams tumbling over rocky outcrops. Ponds are tranquil, pools are still and water gurgles softly from bubblers and spouts. At the Gardening World Cup, Toronto-based landscape architects from b sq. Design Studio created a vertical mesh screen where water quietly rippled into a basin below. At the Philadelphia Flower Show, South African designer Leon Kluge won three top awards for a stunning garden featuring serpentine pools of calm reflecting slender fountains of trickling water.

A detail from the exhibit by Leon Kluge, of South Africa. (Photo courtesy of PHS)

Nature, enhanced

Rugged boulders and weathered wood are everywhere, but many designers are playing with these natural elements to create something new. While planning his movie-themed Philadelphia show garden, Michael Petrie of Philadelphia-area Handmade Gardens found some abandoned weathered cedar fence railings, which he placed on end to line a grassy pathway in his Into The Woods garden. And Kluge threaded twigs onto metal posts to create a low fence to bound his Maleficent-themed garden.

It's easy to roll out the green carpet with perennial sedum mats like this one. Cut them to cushion a wrought iron bench, cloak an elegant urn or decorate an outdoor table.

Roll out the green carpet

There were few green roofs and walls at these shows, despite their growing popularity in many public and some residential gardens. But at the Philadelphia Flower Show’s Marketplace, Amabel Chan of Marvin Gardens in Connecticut is selling green carpets densely planted with drought-tolerant sedums. Backed with moisture-retaining coir, these plant mats can be cut to cover a birdhouse roof, blanket a fairy garden or line an elegant urn planted with a pot of spring crocuses.