Make a difference: how green is your garden?
Bridget Ginnity on Steps You Can Take to Have a Beautiful Garden Without Chemicals
Summer is well advanced now, and the gardens and walkways are in full bloom, with butterflies and bees leaping from flower to flower.
Most Clare fireplaces have gardens and they are often a source of great enjoyment. While walking, we also enjoy other people’s gardens but without the work, which is perhaps even better.
A few generations ago, gardens were either the manicured estates of grand houses or the gardens of cottages. In cottage gardens, every corner of the garden has been planted and what flourished has survived, what struggled has been taken back. As society has improved and urbanized, the trend has started for well-tended gardens, but nature is much like a teenager’s bedroom – it descends into chaos very quickly. The chemical pesticides arrived and helped us order a large home garden without the labor.
The term “pesticide” covers the chemical control of anything considered a pest – weeds, slugs, insects, rats, etc., but there are serious concerns about their impact on the environment and our health.
Whether we garden seriously or in blitz once or twice a year, it can be hard to believe that the use of pesticides in our little backyard will have a huge impact. Pesticides are very effective and do not require a lot of effort. How bad can they be? The alternatives can seem like a lot of work – and do they work?
How bad are pesticides?
The price we were paying for excessive pesticide use was first described in calm but surprising terms by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book “Silent Spring”. Loss of biodiversity, contamination of waterways, severe effects on health was part of it.
Since then, some of the more dangerous pesticides have been banned although the effects lasted a long time. Although DDT was banned almost 40 years ago, recent research in the United States has shown that even the grandchildren of women exposed to high levels of DDT in the 1960s have adverse health effects. associated with exposure to DDT. Other studies in Europe find that DDT is still in the soil.
There is a debate about the seriousness of the dangers for new pesticides. While many are safer than first-generation pesticides, it is clear that there are still dangers – for example, there are concerns about glyphosate (Round-Up) causing cancer and possibly reproductive harm.
Strong arguments can be made for the controlled use of pesticides in food production and health protection, such as malaria. But when it comes to gardens, can we justify the risk that even a tiny percentage of people have reproductive problems or cancer for a tidy garden? Wildlife is under tremendous stress from the combined effects of pesticides, climate change and habitat loss, but can we make a difference?
It’s hard to think our small garden plot can have a significant impact, but every garden plot can be a vital stepping stone in wildlife corridors. Home gardeners are also heavy users of pesticides.
Although Clare Gardens only make up about 1% of the area occupied by farms, private gardeners account for 17% of total pesticide sales nationwide. Local authorities are another big buyer of pesticides.
What is the alternative?
Can you have a tidy garden without chemicals, without a lot of backbreaking work? Yes, you certainly can, but it helps to change your attitude. For starters, the use of pesticides doesn’t always make the most beautiful gardens.
There are generally fewer birds and insects, so a garden loses some life and interest. Yellowing vegetation in gardens and house shoulders after applying a weedkiller is unattractive – and that hasn’t accidentally damaged a plant or grass when spraying! It takes a long time to apply a weedkiller when you include preparation and cleaning and it’s not a very pleasant job, with a mask and gloves to protect you – and what do you do with the little that is left? Many poison the water and take a long time to degrade.
If you want a neat appearance in your garden, there are plenty of eco-friendly approaches. Hand pulling, vinegar, hot water, flamethrowers (with care!), Weed control mats are just a few of the approaches for weeds.
If you have a valuable hosta or similar slug magnet, how about trying some of the safer alternatives to slug pellets? The birds and hedgehogs who work hard to control your slug population will thank you. Slugs are very fond of beer, or more accurately alcohol – I tried 0% alcohol in my beer traps and it was a quiet party. Copper wire is a bit like an electric fence for slugs. I have also tried crushed eggshells but with limited success. I suspect it’s like we are stepping on Lego on the floor and screaming “ouch ouch” but don’t stop.
A wide range of approaches to controlling each pest can be easily found in books and on the internet, including on the Pesticide Action Network UK website. Boosting plant growth with organic fertilizers and mycorrhizal fungi is also great for helping plants you want to gain the upper hand.
Maybe you take a leaf from the cottage garden approach and go for survival of the fittest. You can always display a sign like the use of the board – managed for wildlife – to remind yourself and visitors! And instead use the money you would have spent on pesticides to buy plants.
What the future holds
Regardless of the style of garden, a good wildlife garden is not completely left to its own devices.
Careful planning can improve nature, providing year round nectar, water, shelter and all other supports for wildlife.
Nature is more dependent on gardens than it was in the past both due to the large amount of built up areas and more intensive agriculture. Our cities have a lot of hard surfaces, with fragmented pieces of nature. Large monoculture fields provide very little support for wildlife year round.
The more our gardens can provide nature stepping stones between larger natural areas, the easier it is for wildlife.
Green gardening can have a significant impact on supporting our wildlife, both in cities and in the countryside, and it starts one garden at a time. Every little change, whatever you feel comfortable doing, is a change for the better.
Make a change, make a difference
Here are some things you can do …
• Think twice before using a weedkiller
• If you continue, reduce use and try alternative approaches in some sections.
• Use natural control measures for slugs and other insects
• Look around to discover beautiful, organically maintained gardens
• Change your attitude about what makes a perfect garden
• Support organizations that support our environment by joining, donating or volunteering
BRID VAUGHAN, GARDEN CENTER OF VAUGAHN
Today, my clients are more and more aware of the benefits of more natural gardening. In particular, most people find that when they poison slugs, they kill the birds they are probably feeding, so they prefer to buy organic options.
Most weed killers are purchased for lawns and a lot of effort is put into achieving a perfect lawn without weeds and moss. Aeration and improved drainage with sand stop moss growth, an effective longer-term solution.
I advise people not to use chemical pesticides and weedkillers and recommend organic products and methods. Minimizing soil disturbance is a great way to reduce weed growth.
The use of insecticides disturbs the natural balance. I can see a lack of insects in general, but there is an increase in some pests like aphids and green flies because natural predators like ladybugs are nowhere near as common as before.
The more organic matter you put in the soil and make sure it is well ventilated, the healthier the plants and the greater the resistance to pests. Good soil also retains moisture and avoids having to water, except in drought conditions.
Spending a dime for the plant and a pound for the soil is advice I give to clients every day.
CORMAC MCCARTHY, ENNIS QUIET CITIES
At Ennis Tidy Towns, we have seen a growing interest in eco-friendly gardening and we find that as people discover alternative methods, they are excited to incorporate them. A wildlife-friendly garden doesn’t have to be a wild garden. A small uncut section, or just a wildflower planter can help a lot. Natural herbicides like vinegar and salt can be great for controlling weeds in driveways, and the simple act of pulling weeds out is very effective.
There is great information on www.pollinators.ie and www.wlgf.org and we have information evenings.
Every garden matters, and the cumulative impact is immense as it provides small tendrils of wildlife highways running through town that help creatures move between larger areas. It has been great to see many of our community spaces and roundabouts become friendly to pollinators. Ennis Tidy Towns bought a Zero Grazer mower for efficient management of large areas. For areas that need to be weed-free, like curbs, we also use eco-friendly Foamstream equipment, but good construction and regular cleaning are a big help.