Debbie Arrington

What’s coming in 2018? Crazy good tomatoes and sunflowers

Sun-Fill green hybrid sunflower is among Burpee’s six new sunflowers for 2018.
Sun-Fill green hybrid sunflower is among Burpee’s six new sunflowers for 2018.

What will 2018 bring to your garden? Expect tomatoes and sunflowers like you’ve never seen before.

That’s a prediction from George Ball, chairman of seed giant W. Atlee Burpee Co.

Most of all, expect to see more people of all ages getting their hands dirty in the year ahead.

“I don’t see one single trend for 2018, but a continuation of mega-trends that we’ve seen effecting gardening the last few years,” Ball said in a phone interview this week. “No. 1: The revival of interest in gardening is profound. Particularly among millennials, we’re seeing a massive influx of young people interested in gardening.”

These millennials are starting families, buying homes and sharing their love of growing things with their children, Ball noted. This trend could assure that gardening’s resurgence continues for at least another generation.

Young families may not have much room for a big garden, so Burpee is focused on compact or dwarf varieties. Among its new 2018 introductions are two tomatoes that fit that bill: Atlas and Shimmer.

“Atlas will be a real big deal for us,” Ball said. “It’s the first time we’ve released a large meaty beefsteak tomato that grows on a patio-container plant. In a whiskey barrel tub or large plastic pot, it will produce big, beautiful, delicious full-sized tomatoes.

“My personal favorite for 2018 is Shimmer,” he added. “It’s an almond-shaped (striped plum) tomato. It’s a pretty thing with this embroidery of gold. You see it and go, ‘Wow!’ But it’s flavor is also out of this world.”

While millennials’ interest may have been triggered by food, these young gardeners are branching out beyond the vegetable garden, particularly into fruit and flowers. So are older gardeners.

“Another big trend is fruit,” Ball said. “The last couple of years, we’ve seen what’s happening in fruit demand; it’s just skyrocketed, it’s so amazing. In particular, young people love fruit and they want to grow their own. They’re eschewing chocolate and high saturated fat sweets for wonderful fresh fruit. They want blueberries, strawberries, all sorts of things. We’re even selling goji berries now.”

Besides growing edibles, gardeners also want something to feed their souls, he added.

“What people don’t realize is the importance of flowers,” Ball said. “People talk veggies, veggies, veggies, but flowers are just as important and significant for their own virtues.”

Ball cited a study by Rutgers’ Jeannette Haviland-Jones on how flowers can trigger positive emotions.

“It’s absolutely shocking,” Ball said, “but she showed that fresh, good quality live plants and flowers trigger the same kind of response as the average anti-depressant medication.”

In other words, sunflowers really can make you smile. And they help pollinators, too.

“Sunflowers have been trending up for about 20 years and there’s no stopping,” Ball added. “They’re like marigolds in the ’60s. We’ll sell all we can grow.”

Newbie gardeners love sunflowers because they’re super easy to grow, he noted. Among its 2018 introductions, Burpee has six new varieties including two real head-turners: Sun-Fill and Sunray.

“I wanted to name (Sun-Fill) ‘Alien’ because it’s so freaky good,” Ball said of the big green sunflower. “It’s so strange looking, you can’t take your eyes off it. It will take off in the florist trade.

“One plant that will love California is Sunray,” he added. “It’s a sensational dwarf sunflower, only 22 inches tall; multiheaded, prolific and petite. This small plant holds a whole bouquet of sunflowers, shin high. Along a walkway or border, it looks just stunning.”