In the garden with Shobha Vanchiswar

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Go native, reduce lawn area, compost, grow your own vegetables

Worrying accomplishes nothing – my grandmother said that a million times. And I’ve forgotten that advice just as often. But ever since I decided to stop being anxious about the crazy winter and how it might impact my garden, I’ve been very cognizant of being present in the moment.

  There is no denying that climate change is a foot. While we’ve been surprised, okay even a bit uneasy about our unusually mild winter, various parts of Europe are experiencing rather severe cold and snow falls. I was in India a couple of weeks ago and there too it has been a much colder season. And although skeptics might suggest that it is all part of a cyclical pattern seen through the millenia, the work of the human hand at this particular time cannot be ignored. At no other period in the history of the earth has there been so much assorted activity generated by humans. However, I’m not here to debate this topic. Instead, suffice to say as a gardener, I’m deeply aware of my close but tenuous relationship with nature. There is a direct correlation between how and what I do and the health of the garden. I’m not going to wring my hands in distress over the obvious change in climate when I should be doing what I can to stop it from getting worse. I am ultimately only responsible for my own actions. And just maybe I’ll set an example for others.

  Whilst our scientists study and find solutions to the problem at large, the rest of us also carry personal responsibility to doing our part in maintaining the wellbeing of our planet. There is plenty we can do in the various aspects of our lives but I’ll stick to what can be achieved in the garden.

First and foremost, go organic. Quit using chemicals and products that promise ( and deliver) above average results. Using such things for larger than typical blooms, unnaturally pristine lawns, quicker than normal growth etc.,  are all akin to the use of steroids in athletic sports.
That said, be judicious in using even the organic products. Too much of anything is not good.

Every tree or shrub you plant increases the atmospheric oxygen level. Not to mention how the roots prevent soil erosion and the other very positive benefits that trees provide in general.

Go native. Indigenous plants attract indigenous insects that not only carry out pollination but also keep pests from proliferating. This balance between flora and fauna is critical. Non-native plants do not invite beneficial insects because the latter have not evolved to recognize them. Hence, a garden with mostly non-native plants will consequently have a bigger problem with pests. I’m not suggesting anything radical like uprooting all non-native plants. Just try to keep a larger number of the natives. Also, plant only non-invasive ‘foreigners’.

Reduce lawn area. Plant in those super-helpful trees and shrubs! Then, for the remaining lawn, use a push reel mower. It provides good exercise and at the same time there is no increase in noise or air pollution. Set the mower blade at a height of three and a half to four inches. This height of grass keeps the soil from drying out quickly and that translates to less watering. Leave grass clippings on lawn. They act as a mulch to suppress weeds and quickly break down to enrich the soil. Fertilize the lawn with compost only. Compost is in addition, a great weed suppressant. Ultimately, the benefits will also be felt in the pocket book.

Add bird feeders, bird and bat houses and such to make your garden ‘user friendly’.

Start composting. Don’t make any more excuses. Vegetable and fruit peelings and scraps, egg shells and torn up paper cartons, coffee grinds and tea bags, and garden waste all produce the finest food for the plants. Composting is not difficult or time consuming. Its been done for centuries all over the world. It is inexpensive and reduces the amount of garbage you put out for collection. So what are you waiting for?

Leaves collected in the fall can be composted and thus saves the bother of bagging them for pick-up. Chopped up leaves also make good mulch in the garden beds.

Set up a rain barrel to collect rain water from a down spout. Use this free water to feed thirsty plants. There is some concern about the quality of this water as it runs over asphalt roof shingles so don’t use it for the vegetable garden. But it is perfectly safe everywhere else. Water used to boil eggs and vegetables can also be used in the garden.

Growing your own vegetables and fruit is so healthy and wholesome. And so low on the carbon footprint index!

Clippings and limbs from pruning of trees make good kindling and firewood when dried for a while. Wood ash from the fireplace can be applied anywhere the soil needs ‘sweetening’ that is, where the acidity must be reduced. Some clippings can also be used to stake floppy plants.

Banish peat from the garden. Peat harvesting has a huge adverse impact on wildlife and the environment. So be eco-aware of such matters. Good alternatives such as your own homemade compost exist.

Having been practicing all of the above for some years now,  in no way makes me smug. There is always more to do. But, the indulgence from such efforts surely permits a clearer conscience and a special joy in living in the moment.

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