There is a wonderfully self-satisfied confidence in many gardeners that their hobby is good for the environment and that they are working with nature. On the contrary, too often gardening is in direct opposition to nature and many gardeners are guilty of environmental crimes. This has probably escalated considerably since the 1960s when all manner of nasties became available to the home gardener in order to control the excesses of nature.
Lawns are arguably the greatest gardening crime against the environment. Edwin Budding would have had no idea of what he was unleashing on the world in 1827 when he invented the lawnmower. It took until much later in the century before a motor mower appeared. Until then, all grass was cut by scythe and would have been grass, not lawn as we know it. Now we prize lawns that resemble lush bowling greens, but at what cost?
Take a demerit point if you remove all clippings from your lawn but then turn around and fertilise it regularly to compensate. At least buy a mulcher mower next time you replace your machine. If you mulch your clippings back into the lawn, you don’t need to buy fertiliser to give it a boost.
Take three demerit points if you put your lawn clippings out with the green waste or in your wheelie bin. There can be no justification for the public sector having to dispose of domestic lawn clippings.
More demerit points can be added if you insist on spraying your lawn with hormone sprays (which of course means you cannot remove the clippings to the compost heap but must find some other way of getting rid of them for the next six months). The most common spring time enquiry we receive about distorted leaf growth on deciduous trees, particular magnolias, is directly attributable to the use of hormone sprays on lawns. Quadruple your demerit points if you are one of the environmental vandals who insists on spraying your lawn to kill the earthworms beneath so they cannot spoil the effect with their worm casts. Shame.
Not taking responsibility for plants you may be growing which have the capacity to escape beyond your patch is a crime against nature. Too many of our weeds in this country are garden escapes – erigeron daisies, self seeding campanulata cherries, old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba), wild gingers, to name a few. Without ripping out every seeding or suckering exotic plant, gardeners have a moral responsibility to make sure they keep such things under control. Potting them up to sell at your local school gala or a car boot sale is not acceptable. Not at all. You are merely dispersing plants with weed potential.
Using plastic coated bubble slow release fertilisers in the garden warrants demerit points, no matter what your garden retailer may tell you. These were developed for container plant growing, not for general garden usage and, believe me, those plastic bubble coatings last for many years in the environment. If you are going to use bought fertilisers, then make sure you are using ones which are fully biodegradable. Better still, make your own compost.
Growing plants that you have to drench regularly with fungicide, insecticide or even simple copper sprays in order to keep them alive and healthy needs review. Get the message – these plants are not happy in your conditions. It is only a triumph to grow something difficult or different if you can give it conditions that make it relatively happy and healthy. Regular human intervention with a chemical arsenal is not good gardening practice. Once a year is neither here nor there but more often than that, and you should be asking yourself questions. I include copper in that list. While relatively benign, there is evidence that repeated applications over time kill earthworms, bacteria and other soil organisms which are part of the natural environment.
While on chemical sprays, I acknowledge we are growing increasingly conservative about their usage. In our gardening opinion, they are best as a last resort rather than a routine management tool. As such, I rail against the sight of sprayed edges. Invest in a repertoire of edging tools and get rid of the nasty brown sprayed look which is a crime against both nature and aesthetics. And when you routinely apply herbicide, you create a vacuum which nature will invade. In sunny areas, this will be with weeds and in shady areas, it is likely to be liverwort.
The same goes for banks on waterways. We should be avoiding all man-made chemical usage near waterways so err on the conservative side. A line trimmer or a scythe can be used to cut back and will leave cover rather than dead brown vegetation and then bare soil to erode. Pioneer farmers knew to plant trees along waterways to shade out weed growth.
Fortunately the horror that was the minimalist garden died out quickly after its heyday in the 1990s. That was the three large rocks, white pebble mulch with one sanseveria (unkindly known as mother-in-law’s tongue) and three green mounds of hummocky scleranthus. Contribution to nature? Less than zero. Demerit points? Top of the scale.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.