What bliss it was to spend my summer holiday in the garden. What a pain it was to get back to workaday realities and discover that anti-organics lobby had taken to bull manure slinging in the usually delightful and informative gardening column in The Listener. As I pottered in the garden on a week day (New Year’s resolution # 1 –spend more time in the garden – should be an easy one to keep) I got to thinking about the mile-wide gulf between plant-lovers and users and those who believe in a ‘better life through chemistry’.
It seems to me that the ‘chemophiliacs’ are in deep denial of a basic physical truth – that we evolved with plants and are dependent on them, and to interfere with this reality is a waste of time and money and may end up killing us all. Without plants to supply oxygen from their leaves, hold soil and water with their roots, and provide fruit, roots, seeds and leaves for food, animal life on earth would be impossible. For garden-lovers, this dependency is a joy, not a burden. As with all good relationships, it is not one of inferior and superior, but rather an inter-dependency. I feed the tree and the tree feeds me.
Right Food, Right Place, Right Time
As I trotted round the garden in the holidays giving the rhododendrons an (acidic) peat mulch, while the lilacs and philadelphus got slightly alkaline compost, I anticipated the delightful sight and scent of the flowers next spring, in the garden and in vases in the house. Planted in the right places, watered at the right time, and given the right compost and mulches, these trees will grow well without ever needing chemicals and will give me totally safe and inexpensive pleasure for years to come.
I know because I have created three lovely gardens this way already, and it is a thrill to get on to the next one, with the benefit of greater knowledge of plants and garden style.
Transforming Barren Land
In our current new garden at Port Levy, in just over a year we have added nearly 200 different species of shrubs and trees to the 1 hectare property (natives, fruit trees, ornamentals, roses) and expect to plant another 200 this year. Somewhere between 80-90 different species and varieties of perennials, bulbs and annuals have been planted since September last year, and more are added every week. So every week we move further away from the almost-monoculture of grass and a few old trees we first encountered and further towards the biologically diverse, ecologically stable, water, soil and nutrient conserving and recycling system we have planned.
The more plants there are in the garden, the happy and healthier they are and we are.
Moth Repellents & Other Natural Solutions
I don’t need chemical moth repellents for the linen cupboard and clothes drawers (did you know moth balls are deadly poisonous to pets?) when I have lavender, pennyroyal and artemisia which smell better and are safer. Chemical air-fresheners have been linked to miscarriage – fresh flowers, pot pourri and herbal oils smell better and are safer. Aloe vera heals sunburn and other burns more quickly and safely than chemical creams. I rarely get sick (could it be the organic vegetarian diet plus exercise in the garden?) but if I do there are plants to prevent or cure all the mundane ailments. I use calendula ointment for rashes and fungal infections on the skin, lavender oil for mild headaches and low moods and as a mild antiseptic, aloe vera for burns, chickweed poultices to draw out deep splinters, garlic when a cold threatens and lemon and ginger if it arrives.
I use plants to feed and treat plants (and the soil) too – compost, straw, seaweed and bark mulches, comfrey ‘tea’, insect-repellent and companion plants, green manures, herbal sprays. The satisfactions of knowing your plants, and how to look after them so that they can look after you, can hardly be beat. Certainly not by poisonous chemicals.
So next time you encounter a chemophiliac, ask them why they want to spray plants into submission instead of learning how to love them.