Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Beauty in Context

Landscaping in South Africa has its fair share of challenges. Not least of which is the huge disparity in lifestyles and priorities. I have created luxurious gardens in opulent neighbourhoods, while just over the hill, people are living in relative poverty. Sometimes 10 people to a shack, without the capacity for beautiful gardens. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is sometimes very obvious when living in a first-third world context.
Are Gardens Important Really?
A lady from our church who stays in one of these poorer areas (Cato Manor) recently had her house and all her belongings burnt to ashes. Fortunately she, and none of the orphans and children she cares for were hurt, but everything they owned is gone. I can't imagine what she must have felt to see all her possessions go up in smoke.
The good news is that several people have stepped in to help rebuild her house and put her back on her feet - the benefits of love and community!
Walking through the area today, I am reminded again of the imbalance that we live with on a day to day basis. Its hard to justify the need for spending money on creating gardens (or any art for that matter), when there is so much need around.

But 'imbalance' is probably a good word to use to describe the effect of financial extremes, as well as the difference between the two extremes. I believe a beautiful garden can do more to help restore the spirit, provide inspiration and aspiration, than almost any other art form. And is therefore almost as necessary as food for our bodies. People are at the heart of what we do when we create gardens, but people are multi-faceted and need more than just food.

Its within this framework that I choose to make gardens with little practical function other than food for the soul. But it is truly a careful balancing act that we need to walk, and community is at the core of what we do. The community are the clients we build them for, our staff we work with, the people we care for, and the people who find sustenance in enjoying the beauty of creation all around them.
Its in the context of community that my art finds meaning and value.
Poverty is also relative - A satellite dish in an umjondolo settlement!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Killing Your Dinner Guests, and Other Pest Control Solutions

Getting rid of pests in gardens is a tough subject. Its never easy watching bugs or other 'pests' eat their way through your beautiful garden. Especially when you've put in all that hard work, or spent all that money.
I left this little guy to eat what he wanted from my plants
But as with so many of the problems that we face in life, we resort to a knee-jerk reaction, or we respond emotionally. We don't stop to think things through properly. Sometimes it requires an unemotional look at, and a better understanding of the problem to decide what to do.
To put things in perspective, I look at pesticides (maybe we should more honestly call them naturecides because of the damage they do) in as serious a way as chemotherapy drugs. They should only be used in very serious situations, and when all other options have been examined and weighed.

Here's some questions to ask yourself before resorting to poisoning your garden with pesticides:

1. How serious is the problem?
Will the 'pest' kill the plant that it is eating, or will it just perform a natural function of cutting back, which gives space for new growth? Get some advice if you're not sure.
In most cases, its just a natural cycle, and the garden/plant will recover on its own without needing our intervention.

2. Is there a bigger problem behind this infestation?
Sometimes there are other reasons for a sudden increase in insect activity, but we end up treating the symptoms and not the cause. These reasons can be anything from a change in the plants ideal environment (too much sun, or shade), or even the over-use of chemicals in the past which has removed the pests natural predators or weakened the plant. Usually 'pests' increase when plants are weak and can't defend themselves.

3. Have I planted the right plant?
If we choose the right plant for the right place, it usually needs less attention. The right plant is usually less prone to attack from insects. Choose indigenous plants over exotics. Indigenous plants are normally more resistant to attacks.

4. Have I planted too much of the same plant?
Mono-cultures (a single type of plant spread over a wide area) are like an eat-all-you-want buffet. They're basically an invitation for insects and animals to come in take a load off, and eat to their hearts content. Most lawns are mono-cultures, and are usually the source of most problems.

5. Is this normal?
There is often a natural and harmonious balance between plant and insect that shouldn't be interfered with. Some plants actually need insects to eat them, to stay healthy. By spraying pesticides and herbicides, we're getting in the way, and could end up killing a lot more plants and animals than we intended.

6. Are you killing your dinner-guests?
This is really a follow up to the previous question. Most plants put "Open For Business" signs up in the way of fruit and flowers and juicy leaves. These attract insects for a reason, but these insects may sample other plants on their way in and out. If you plant a Butterfly Bush, it follows that you're going to see more caterpillars coming into the garden. Either get used to your visitors, or take the plant out.

7. Can I deal with them in other ways?
If at all possible, rather kill them by hand (or foot). If you're squeamish, there are plenty natural solutions out there; from beer, and grapefruit to chilli and flour. A little research usually yields a better solution (literally).

If none of these questions give you reason to resist the chemical route, then ask yourself one final question:

8. Is a little bit of chaos and mess not a good thing to have?
The need to have everything perfectly neat and tidy is sometimes a reflection of other issues that we are not dealing with, or other areas in our lives that are not under control. I believe that sometimes the challenges we face are there for us to confront the things we would rather not face.

If you still decide to go down the naturecide route, do it carefully and in a restrained way. But come back to these questions every now and then, and re-evaluate your garden as things change.
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