Good gardening practices almost always equal “working with Nature.” That is simply because natural processes have emerged after many eons as the Earth’s flora and fauna developed strategies for successful survival and propagation.
We write “almost always” from an excess of caution: it would be safe to say “always,” except for the use of the slippery term, “good.” The term “best” would also be debatable.
Still, all gardening practices that are beneficial for air, water, soil, plants and animals turn out to be time-honored, natural practices.
Not surprisingly, these practices are also beneficial to the gardeners, because we are also members of the animal kingdom, and tool-users as well.
Some of the gardener’s benefits are physical: everyone can gain health from exercise that is appropriate to one’s age and ability. Some are economic, providing either an inexpensive form of recreation or, for those with backyard nurseries, supplemental income.
Most benefits, however, are psychological, generating positive feelings, mental peace, and the release of “happy hormones,” e.g., serotonin and dopamine. Admittedly, the latter benefit could be called a physical benefit, but it affects the psyche.
Working with Nature, therefore, works best for gardeners and literally everything in their surroundings. This concept can and should guide the gardener’s response to questions that arise in the garden. “What would Nature do about [insert gardening issue here]?”
This concept also works in reverse. Many commercially motivated gardening practices might appear to save time or increase productivity, but they often create harm in the long run, and sometimes even in the short run.
The worst of these practices involves bringing synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides into the garden. Non-toxic, effective organic products are readily available and should always be preferred.
Another avoidable and unnatural practice is the use of power tools in the garden, with gas-powered devices being the most problematic. The most common of these are gas-powered leaf blowers, which contribute faster than cars to climate change and air pollution and disturb the peace that we value in our gardens and neighborhoods.
The usual arguments favoring leaf-blowers include (a) our desire for tidy surroundings and (b) the operator’s interest in making the surroundings tidy as quickly as possible.
We should acknowledge, firstly, that Nature is not tidy. When trees drop their leaves in natural surroundings, the leaves decompose in time and add nutrients to the soil. When trees drop their leaves on pavement, we perceive untidiness. This suggests that we should plant trees only where their leaf drops would be beneficial.
If that is unrealistic (many people like street trees and patio trees), we should use manual methods to remove dropped leaves. Rakes and brooms work quite well, and in capable hands can be as efficient as leaf-blowers, and certainly much easier on the environment and our psyches.
For these reasons, many communities have already banned gas-powered leaf blowers, including Carmel and Santa Barbara to our south, and Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Menlo Park to our north. The Santa Cruz Coalition for a Healthy and Safe Environment (CHASE) has launched a petition favoring a local ordinance to ban these unnecessary and harmful tools. Check it out at http://preview.tinyurl.com/kvgws3d .