Horticulture is not what
it used to be. The tending of flower and vegetable gardens was once one
of the simple pleasures. Nutrients were recycled from one generation of
plants to another. The vital soils were amended frequently with composts
and manures. Lawns included a combination of several grass species as well
as low-growing broad-leafed plants. A tolerance of beneficial insects as
well as a tolerance of some insect damage was part of that mindset.
Today, we use man-made chemicals
to eradicate the insects, both harmful and beneficial, from our gardens.
A lawn is now defined quite strictly as consisting of 99.99% of one
variety of grass with no other plants permitted. If brown patch invades
our lawn, we don't determine the cause of the infestation, we'll just spray
a fungicide. We treat only symptoms, and neglect to remedy the root causes of
The formerly placid garden
is viewed as a living collection of problems in need of products to provide
quick fixes. To advocates of sustainable horticulture, the biggest problem
though, is that our chemically-dependent gardens are presently in worse
shape. Several decade's worth of successful advertising campaigns, marketing
triumphs that sold us on the need for ever more bactericides, fungicides,
herbicides, insecticides and miticides have led us far astray.
These chemicals, whether
man-made or "organic", should not be the first response to a pest or pestilence.
They are best employed as a last resort. And we then should select the
least toxic pesticide. Having realized that eradication of pests is an
unattainable goal, we now seek to manage them. We manage pests by understanding
they exist in a triangular relationship that must also include an appropriate
environment and a susceptible host. By determining the ecological basis
of an infestation or disease and effecting change at that level, we can
cure the essential problem not just one of its symptoms.
however, is much more than how to manage pests effectively. It is
a study concerned with renewing the soils in which roots can thrive, selecting
the right plant for the right site, minimizing maintenance and conserving
resources. Appropriate landscapes, narrowly called xeriscapes by
municipal water utility bureaucrats, are one important facet of sustainable
A landscape becomes an appropriate
landscape when it contains plants, native or exotic, which are well-adapted
to its soils and climate. A further refinement involves using the correct
plants for sun or shade, and of the proper mature height and spread for
each specific site. The surest way to condemn yourself to twenty years
of hard horticultural labor is to plant a shrub maturing at 15 to 25 feet
high right below a low window.
A landscape, to be appropriate
should match the needs and wants of those who will enjoy it. Consider the
ages of those who will be using it as well as their interests.
Also, plants of identical
irrigation needs are grouped together to avoid over-watering some and under-watering
Landscaping can be a learning
opportunity. It is best, though, to learn from otherís mistakes. Ask many
questions. Make notes on which plants are thriving in your neighborhood.
Know your site intimately. Read books and articles pertaining to your region
and its plants.
The goal is not to eliminate
all horticultural mistakes, but to reduce their frequency and cost. Remember,
a green thumb is attached to an observant mind. Observe what thrives in
your area. Observe your site closely and inspect plants weekly, correcting
problems immediately, while they are minor.