Retail may be in a drought, but for many garden supply stores, it has been a green season in many ways.
We're paying a lot more attention to beautifying our back yards, perhaps because we're traveling less. Americans are spending about 20 percent more than last year on planters, benches and outdoor accessories, according to online sales tracker CSN.
That's what often happens during a recession, apparently. Sharon Acocella, manager of Tony's Nurseries in Larchmont, N.Y., remembers her old boss saying years ago, "Economy's doing badly; we'd better buy heavy." She reports that although there has been a falloff in some categories — notably statuary and fancier items — there has been vigorous activity on other fronts.
"Blue and black glazed pots are more popular than ever," she says. "We've reordered those, and many of our square and rectangular containers, too."
Next door at Larchmont Nurseries, Gloria DeMatas and Donna Bianco echo the positive assessment. They've done well with wind chimes, window boxes and pottery.
Birdbaths are another brisk seller.
"Right now, people are enjoying staying at home," Bianco says. "Inside and out, they want to surround themselves with things that make them happy."
People investing the last of their discretionary cash in their gardens probably want to enjoy them for some time.
Pam Brooks, president of online retailer Arizona Pottery, likes the durability of polyresin planters, which resist weathering and are lightweight.
"They're crackproof, weatherproof, and will never fade like plastic," Brooks says.
A wide palette of hues, and styles ranging from classical to modern, make these a versatile choice.
For something a little different, Brooks suggests Vietnamese river clay pots, known for weather hardiness.
Terra cotta is often rejected by consumers as delicate, but Brooks says "clay's a natural material that, more than any other, creates a perfect ecological environment." The pots can dry out in Florida heat, however. Try painting the pots inside and out with an insulating liquid resin. And make sure your plantings are well "crocked" by adding a bottom layer of pebbles or broken pottery for drainage. Set saucered containers on pot feet and keep watering whenever the soil feels dry. Move potted perennials to a sheltered spot during harsh weather.
Fire bowls and pits are increasingly popular. Tabletop and floor model propane-fed heaters, long popular in the Southwest, have found a wider audience. There are many versions of the fire pit, some incorporating a coffee table or at least a ledge to support a s'mores stick.
There are other intriguing garden accents sturdy enough to take on the elements. Target's copper rain chain, an Asian garden fixture, channels runoff down its links from the edge of a structure.