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Gardens of earthy delights take hold at Canada Blooms festival

From graphic layouts to urban farming to (softer shades of) the colour purple, the coming season's garden trends encompass the bold, the beautiful and, most significantly, the practical. Above all, though, the touchstone quality of much contemporary landscaping continues to be environmental sensitivity: The green roofs and living walls that sprouted in gardens some years ago are gaining mainstream currency, while "habitat gardens" composed of native plants and pollination-encouraging blooms are bigger than ever. Here are some of the observations and innovations gleaned from nurseries, industry experts and the country's biggest plant and garden show, Canada Blooms, held recently in Toronto.

Gardens go graphic

Gardeners are going to extremes these days, adopting either a very naturalistic approach or going the other route: highly stylized, very graphic looks. Think crisply defined paths, brickwork patterns of all sorts, water features. Plantings, too, have a more studied look: Trees are being pleached into hedges or coppiced to control their growth. But don't think this aesthetic is somehow less authentic. Coppicing - repeatedly cutting young tree stems down to near ground level to maintain them at a juvenile stage - is a traditional woodland-management technique, while all that stonework is a boon to craftsmen and -women. It's a blast from the 17th-century past.

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Your habitat or mine

At the other end of the spectrum, habitat planting - the use of native plants indigenous to an area to create sustainable, fauna-friendly gardens - is an increasingly popular (and important) trend. As bees and bats disappear from many jurisdictions, the incorporation of trees, shrubs and plants that attract animals and insects and encourage mating and pollination lends an activist thrill to the act of gardening. One of the terms being tossed about to describe this phenomenon is "intentional gardening." Among the most beneficial plants are aromatic herbs, grasses and wildflowers that mimic uncultivated environments and trees, shrubs and plants with nectar- and pollen-rich blooms.

The incredible edible landscape

Last year, vegetable gardening (preferably in your front yard) became a hot trend. And it remains so this year. But now it's heritage vegetables that are filling those plots. Heritage-seed retailers that I've spoken to in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia report increased demand and sales. Urban farming - especially appealing in this age of rising food prices, uncertain sources and global food riots - is pretty much here to stay.

A lilac for several seasons

Not only is the shade lilac dueling with honeysuckle (a coral pink and Pantone's colour of 2011) for the title of hue du jour; fragrant Bloomerang lilac, a new re-blooming specimen that got dumped on by a national magazine last year, has garnered rave reviews from those who grew it and new cachet as today's hot plant, even if it is weird to smell lilac out of season. Foliage-wise, stripes are the new solids: A new striped Clivia (of flowering houseplant fame) is among the most coveted in the country (and if you can find one, it'll cost $100). Even the humble lily of the valley has stripes, although this one is more manageable than the fast-spreading plain one - it doesn't move quickly. But beware striped daylilies: They are fierce and will take a garden plot over.

Is that a shed?

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It's not exactly trompe l'oeil, but garden sheds that don't look like garden sheds - many now resemble miniature gazebos or teahouses - reflect a general trend toward disguising storage units. Also big: extravagantly shaped umbrellas, awnings and sails, a form of de facto sculpture. After all, even the most naturalistic gardens require a little structure.

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