Anyone who gardens — whether it is growing some (or all) of our food or gardening for visual nourishment — knows how growing and caring for a garden can enhance our health as well as the value of our homes. Looking at gardening trends from the year that has passed shows that a whole lot of people discovered that fact as well.

According to the 2013 National Gardening Survey, for the second year in a row there has been an increase in lawn and garden participation. Do you count yourself among those numbers?

″At National Gardening Association, we're delighted to see more people doing lawn and garden activities for themselves and especially pleased to see an increase in lawn and garden sales for the second year in a row after being down the previous two years″ said Mike Metallo, NGA President.

The report shows that nationwide, household participation in do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities showed a welcome increase of 2 million more households (2 percent) in 2012 compared with the year before, translating into an extra $354 million (1 percent) in retail sales of lawn and garden products across the nation. In total, U.S. households spent $29.5 billion on their lawns and gardens last year. Average annual spending on lawn and garden activities per household remained flat at around $347 per year.

These totals don’t show, however, how much those millions of gardeners saved on their grocery bills with the fresh produce they grew. Many of us have heard about the “$64 tomato.” That was the title of a book about a catastrophe of a garden that calculated a pricey range of equipment and garden accommodations in order to grow vine-ripened tomatoes that turned out to cost upwards of $60 a pop.

While our tomatoes come far under that price tag, this past summer we experienced a catastrophic tomato failure. Had it not been for weeks of delicious cherry tomatoes, we would have been left sans tomatoes thanks to a tomato virus that destroyed all the plants and their contents in a flash. Even so, with cherry tomatoes at roughly $3 a pint, we netted many pounds total of luscious little ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes from one plant. That was before the full-sized tomato plants could produce ripe fruit, which were destroyed by the virus.

The cherry tomatoes were in addition to heads and heads of the most tender leaf lettuce ever, pounds of spinach, tons (Well maybe not, but it sure seemed like it.) of zucchini, a couple dozen ears of corn from one packet of seeds, cucumbers, garlic, several quarts of strawberries, pounds and pounds of green beans, cucumbers and assorted herbs. Naturally the tomato freaks in the family were completely disgusted with the take, but we pretty much ignore them when it comes to planting the garden. Every year we expect there will be at least one selection that does like the weather that particular year or catches a virus or we get a critter invasion — or something happens. This is gardening you know. So we plant a variety and hope for the best.

According to the Garden Writers Association, the average family with a vegetable garden spends $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables. According to a recent GWA Gardening Trends Research Report, among the 78 million gardening households that have a lawn, garden or grow plants in containers, more than half (54 percent) grew vegetables this year. The secret to optimizing the value of a vegetable garden is to select those varieties that you love and those grow best in your area. Concentrate on the ones that tend to be more expensive if purchased. For instance, although carrots are a regular at our house, I would never devote garden space to them because we are satisfied with the market selections which are also reasonably priced and widely available.

On the other hand, snow peas or green beans are easy to grow, are prolific and can be fairly costly to buy. Fresh from the garden snow peas or green beans beat grocery beans hands down every time. Of course the same can be said for tomatoes, and while this summer was the first in a long time that we had a crop failure, when they grow well they grow very well with plenty to share with friends and family while enjoying all we can eat and put by.

The good food, grown organically and harvested at its peak is one of the benefits of a garden. But there are other perks as well — the activity of exercise and the mental/emotional rewards a garden can deliver are others. This past year we heard more of the issues impacting honey bee and butterfly populations, and were reminded of the benefits that growing flowering plants can provide for those imperilled insects. As we incorporate environmentally-friendly gardening techniques into our horticultural practices, we have discovered the critical part we gardeners can play to help improve our world in many ways. Making such an impact is a pretty tall order, but those who garden are used to tipping balances and achieving great outcomes.

Wishing you and yours a great holiday season and an even better year to come in the garden. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the Garden Writers Association’s Silver Award of Achievement, and she gardens in Camden. Got questions, or comments? Visit her blog, and join in the conversation at: or ”friend” her on Facebook to see what’s new in the garden day-by-day.