Sustainable gardening, like sustainable farming or industry, can be defined as satisfying our desires and achieving our targets, WITHOUT harming the rights of others or of future generations. More specifically, as horticultural activity consumes resources and impacts the environment, sustainable gardening is an attempt to reduce to minimum levels, the exploitation of precious resources such as water, while attempting to preserve the environment as far as possible.
There are many ways in which gardening and gardeners pollute the environment, and deplete resources. They can be reduced though to five main areas.
The excessive use of water for irrigating parks and gardens is the single most serious area of concern. Those of us in dry or semi-arid countries cannot rely on seasonal rains alone, and are dependent on at least some additional irrigation. However, as with a private bank account, consumption cannot outstrip reserves indefinitely. The question we have to ask ourselves is will there be anything left for our children and grandchildren, or is the beauty and joy of gardening the exclusive preserve of this generation? For how long can we continue to take more than we have?
The problem with water conservation is that it is a very involved and complicated matter, requiring the direct involvement of the authorities at the highest level, as well as a radical re-think on behalf of the consumer, concerning the way we garden.
Horticulture like agriculture is responsible for seriously polluting a number of resources. Most obvious is the case of fertilizers and pesticides leaching out of the soil and polluting the water table. Unlike water use however, much can be done immediately by the home gardener and the landscape professional alike. Changing over from chemical to organic fertilizers for example, does not have to involve any reduction in the growth or quality of the plants. Abstinence from using pesticides, except perhaps in extreme circumstances, is no longer the preserve of vegetarians and organic gardeners, but now, the generally accepted approach to pest control.
Inappropriate irrigation practices and the persistent use of chemical fertilizers are responsible for the increasing salinity of soils, especially in dry climates. In conjunction with rising salt concentrations, the soil is liable to become calcareous or sodic. In both cases, but especially in the latter, growing plants can become virtually impossible, rendering the soil useless for generations to come.
Depletion of special habitats
Many special, delicate, and unique habitats are in danger of collapse as a result of landscape gardening. The worst example is the degeneration of peat bogs, due to the extraction of peat that is used as an ingredient in potting media. As there are now perfectly adequate alternatives to peat, such as Perlite, this particular misdemeanor is especially unnecessary. We can all put pressure on plant nurseries and garden centers, to desist from using and marketing, peat-based products.
Garden waste adding to landfills
All garden refuse, from grass clippings, to pruned branches, should find its way back into the soil, as mulch, or compost. Shredding and chipping machines, suitable for the private garden, are now available, and ought to be considered standard equipment. Is that not preferable to the waste mountains we are “bequeathing” to our children?
To conclude, let’s remember that gardening is supposed to be about improving the quality of life and raising the human condition; physically, visually, and spiritually. At its best, it is one of the most civilized and civilizing of human activities. From every point of view therefore, gardening practices that are non-sustainable, defeat the whole purpose of the exercise!