We don’t really need to go to the movies or walk into dark alleys at night in order to live moments of horror and agony: a garden can perfectly well make our weekend an unforgettable experience – which is not always pleasant…
Just remember how many times you have seen or heard of a child presenting serious allergy symptoms after rolling on a lawn and coming in touch with recently applied chemical fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides…
This, of course, does not mean that we can’t enjoy a lush, green garden when we have small children roaming around our yard. Turning to a more eco-friendly gardening model will protect the health of our beloved ones, while helping our garden to be and to look healthier.
After billions of years of evolution, the flora of a place, in combination with the fauna living in it (birds, insects, worms, snails, etc), can form a complete local ecosystem.
Much like a human or animal body, this ecosystem has its own particular workings going on, and a sensitive balance that needs to be maintained, so that it remains healthy and robust.
Nature has its own ways of preventing and of curing diseases, of keeping away harmful species and of expelling anything unfit to live in a given environment – whether you wish to have it embellishing your garden, like that jasmine you like so much (alas! in those chilly Minnesota nights), or you would love to see it vanish from your garden, like that horrid aphid which dries the sap out of your beauties.
Naturally Balanced Landscape Design
The ground contains, naturally, an array of nutritional substances.
Besides being indispensable to the plants themselves, a landscape design which has an exchange of substances, liquids and saps from and within the environment of an ecosystem, such as your garden, is a vital process for the fauna of the area as well. And we all know how insects, earthworms and other useful species perform many necessary functions (pollination, praying upon harmful species, airing and enriching of the ground, etc).
It is important that plants receive the substances appropriate to their own specific nutritional needs and that they avoid soils and adjacency with plants that are not beneficial to them.
If you ever grew a vegetable garden, you must have noticed how green peas hate the company of tomatoes; on the other hand, they are nitrogen-generating plants: your Brussels sprouts, or your ornamental leafy vegetables will be grateful for being planted on a spot previously occupied by green peas. This information can be very useful in the practice of crop rotation.
Even during the life cycle of an individual plant, its nutritional needs may vary according to its reproductive stage: as a general rule, nitrogen helps increase the sprouting of shoots and leaves, while phosphorus assists blooming and fruit-bearing.
The lack of or, on the contrary, the overexposure to a certain nutrient may cause chain reactions, harmful to your plants. For example, the imbalances in calcium supply (an absolutely necessary substance for the delivery of nutrients and for regulating the soil’s acidity (pH), leads to lack of phosphorus – which, as we already saw, assists fruit-bearing.
This will result in a poor crop; additionally, the leaves will take on an auburn hue.
Tip: Do not place plants with similar nutritional needs together, as they will be constantly rivaling each other.
Besides absorbing substances from the ground and from their leaves, plants also secrete them. Plants contain essential oils, resins and other kinds of liquids – even in minimal amounts – that may attract or repel animals and other plants. Some examples:
- basil, ocimum basilicum, repels flies and cucumber mildew;
- wormwood, artemisia absinthium, repels worms, greenflies, ants, cabbage butterfly, and more;
- elderberry, sampucus nigra, whose flowers attract bees and fruits attract several bird species;
- stinging nettle, urtica dioica and urtica urens, that should be in every garden, as it is needed for the reproductive cycle of more than a hundred different kinds of useful mites, and also boosts production for neighboring plants, while increasing the production of essential oils of the herbs growing next to it;
- garlic, allium sativum, a potent anti-fungal which can be planted near or around fruit-bearing trees, rose bushes, and vegetables (except beans, cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli); it also assists the growth of strawberry plants.
It is important to have a combination of plants mutually profitable for each other: your garden will be much healthier, more balanced, and your plants will grow showing off all the splendor of their natural beauty.
Pest control can rely heavily on the beneficial insects living in your garden: if you care to provide them with appropriate living conditions (the plants from which they harvest pollen and nectar, poison-free environment, a hiding place, such a little pond, a loose stone wall, or a tuft of wild grass) they will multiply unimpeded and they will start their campaign against the larvae and the adult insects that usually attack plants.
Beneficial insects are real predatory warriors that go hunting or ambush a variety of common gardener’s headaches. The best way to attract them to your garden is to designate a space (about 5-10 per cent of the total area) in which you will grow wild and domesticated plants and herbs that beneficials love to visit.
Applied in a larger scale (e.g. a farm) the concept is called farmscaping and it is a scientific method of biological control that will allow nature to regulate itself without the use of detrimental chemical agents.
Ladybugs, praying mantises, and lacewings larvae are some of your best allies in keeping pests under control, and they are really easy to find: