selfless gardening

The Selfless Gardener

Gardening for the plants, the pets and the planet

We may not like to admit it, but gardening is an inherently selfish activity. There are some good side-effects, but the main motivation is mostly a good-looking garden for ourselves and others to admire. What if we turned that idea around and gardened for the garden itself, rather than our own enjoyment? Selfless gardening is about just that – focusing on the plants, animals and the environment as a whole before imposing your own vision.

Your garden is not just a home for you, it’s a habitat for all the living neighbours you may not always notice, and letting them have a say in their space can create a garden even more beautiful than one we could design on our own. Here are a few practices you can implement to foster compassion in your garden and embody selfless gardening

Don’t Force It

I know the pain of wanting a beautiful plant in your garden so badly and trying as hard as you can to make it work, with absolutely no results. Many a plant has been consigned to the plant graveyard because I was trying to force it to grow somewhere it just wasn’t meant to. Knowing the right conditions comes down to considering the plant’s natural environment – under forest cover or next to a river, for example – and using that to dictate which plants will grow effectively in your garden. When gardening for the plants, the right environment for them should be the number one priority.

Selfless Gardening for the plants

Gardening for the plants may be slightly confusing since we still must decide what plants go in our garden, but the choice of plants and how they are treated is what is most important.

Mixing It Up

This part may require formal garden fans to let go of the quest for perfection. To really emulate a completely natural garden in your backyard, forget some of the traditional gardening rules and mix plants together. With some consideration for which plants typically grow well together, you can add an endless variety of grasses and flowers to concentrate biodiversity in your backyard.

Don’t Over Mow

I fully understand that I may lose you here, but hear me out. What good does a well-mown lawn do, other than looking nice? If you need the open space for activities then go for it, but if your stretch of grass normally goes unused it may be better to replace it with plants or leave the grass to grow. You can still mow a few pathways to get around, and leaving a patch of your grass long will support the garden better than cut grass will.

Selfless Gardening for Pets

The typical definition of pet involves animals like cats and dogs, but if we consider pets as animals that live with us, all garden creatures are technically our ‘pets’ and we should play a role in caring for them. Animals and insects form part of the lifecycle of a garden and do more help than harm.

Don’t use harmful pesticides: The risks of harmful pesticides are well documented. Firstly, pesticides don’t discriminate – they will kill all the bugs that come into contact with your plants, including the ones you like. Secondly, they aren’t great for your health or the health of other animals around you due to the harsh chemicals they contain. Finally, they disrupt the delicate balance of your garden ecosystem. Be informed about the chemicals in harmful pesticides and choose eco-friendly or organic products that don’t disrupt your garden’s natural lifecycles.

Build a log pile: An excellent way to repurpose the waste from your garden is to use old logs to create a mini woodland habitat. Log piles provide shelter for a host of animals and make a great home for beetles. Many interesting fungi, mushrooms or mosses can grow, creating an entire ecosystem in one small part of your garden. Place your log pile in a damp and shady place and don’t fiddle with it once you’ve placed the logs; the trick is to let the new environment establish itself.

Plant pollinator friendly: Unfortunately, pollinators are in danger. Climate change and habitat loss are dramatically reducing the number of pollinators around the world, which has a huge impact on plant life and food production. You can do your part in sustaining pollinator populations by planting a pollinator garden with a wide variety of indigenous plants and those with nectar- and pollen-rich flowers.

Use Bird Baths

Having birds around is vital for the garden. They control insect and rodent populations, they pollinate plants, they control weeds, and watching or listening to them can reduce our stress levels. Bird baths are a great way to invite all our feathered friends into the garden, even the ones that don’t eat seeds.

Selfless Gardening for The Planet

One of the most important elements of modern-day gardening is consideration for the environment. This is reflected in the 2020 gardening trends, with a number of them focusing on sustainability and reducing consumption. Luckily, doing your part to help doesn’t involve too much extra effort, but still makes a big impact.

Plant Drought Resistant

As water becomes scarcer, especially in South Africa, it is important to keep the water consumption of your garden in mind. A garden cannot survive without water and if a time arises when there is none, you may no longer have the garden you planned. There is certainly no shortage of drought-resistant plants to choose from – indigenous plants can provide an endless list of beautiful plants that require a lot less water than many exotic counterparts.

You can also plant according to water zones by using plants with similar water requirements in the same areas, keeping the high-water area as small as possible and increasing in size from there. This prevents any potential water wastage and helps you simplify garden maintenance at the same time!

Start a Compost Heap

This tip features on the list of gardening trends for 2020, and although it is not a new practice it is gaining traction this year. Besides being cost effective, a compost heap helps to reduce your carbon footprint and utilise waste effectively. Compost is great for your soil and helps your plants while simultaneously helping the environment.

Another one on the list of garden trends is repurposing items for use in the garden. Using items you already have for planters or doing DIY projects with recycled materials limits the impacts of consumerism and protects your pocket. If you follow the practice of growing your own food, you can also share it with your neighbours and friends to promote kindness to each other and to the planet.

The Gardener