A PASSION FOR PLANTS: May 2008
by Nancy Schramm
Making Careful Choices
It's become the rallying cry for people around the world who
want to tread more lightly on this planet of ours. Many of us
who are plant lovers and dedicated gardeners might tend to gloat
a little. After all, we are the ones who care for all these green
oxygenators in our gardens. But the urban garden can be something
less than a best friend to the environment, depending on what
choices we make all along the way.
To start with, one might think that planting anything and everything
has to be a good thing. After all, isn't green, well, "green?"
To be honest, no. Many different plants are available for purchase
in California. Unfortunately, some can be described as "invasive."
This organization has information that can help you avoid
those invasives that are often so familiar, and instead, select
plants that require less water and fertilizer, will attract wildlife,
and contribute less fuel to a wildfire.
This means they can and will grow out of control. Invasive
plants can escape into wild areas and crowd out native plants
and the insects and critters that depend on them for food and
habitat. Invasive plants contribute to fire, flooding, and crop
Indeed, here in California, $85 million each year is spent
to control invasive plants. And often these invasive plants have
been planted unknowingly by humans.
What can you do? Go to www.plantright.org
for help in choosing non-invasive plants.
Okay, we've managed to avoid the pitfall of planting some attractive
but horribly invasive plants. (Whew) But now another choice confronts
us. Big lawn? Those of us here in the middle of California have
what is called a Mediterranean climate. That means we have cool
wet winters, and hot dry summers. Plants native to this area
thrive with those conditions, as do plants that originate in
similar climates around the world. It's when we want to grow
things that come from areas with year-round rainfall that we
start to get into trouble.
The beloved tradition of planting a lawn has to be a prime example.
The money spent each year on lawns in California, if you consider
the water, fertilizers, and pesticides is staggering. And traditional
lawn care has a huge impact on our natural resources. In fact,
according to Dave Fujino (executive director of the California
Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis), "Currently,
half of residential water use is in home landscapes. Half of
the pesticide use in California is residential and nonagricultural."
This means that what we plant in our gardens can make a difference
to the environment. Consciously choosing plants adapted for our
climate can cut down on the number of plants we keep alive by
artificial means. If you'd like help choosing plants that will
be especially happy in our climate, check out www.gimcw.org/
for plant lists and many other resources.
But we're not home free (environmentally speaking) yet! Another
choice is looming on our gardening horizon. What do you do when
your Hosta plants suddenly become a "lace leaf" variety
because of snails? What about when your roses get both black
spot and powdery mildew? And when you see an advancing army of
insects devouring every plant in their path, what do you do then?
Do your grab the nearest pesticide and spray everything in sight?
No, I didn't really think so. But dealing with bugs and diseases
in our gardens can challenge the most dedicated organic gardener.
And keep in mind, just because a pesticide is organic, doesn't
mean it's non-toxic.
Perhaps the best tool for pest control is information.
The more you can learn about the pests bothering you and your
plants, the better you are equipped to deal with them. The first
place I look to for information (being of a certain age) is a
book called Common-Sense Pest Control by Olkowski and
It covers all types of pests (house, garden, pet, human) and
explains all options for control, from least to most toxic.
It's good to know all the options. If you are in a situation
where you really feel you need to use the "big guns,"
check out www.ace.orst.edu first. It is the website for The National
Pesticide Information Center, a co-operative effort of Oregon
State University and the EPA, and is the place to get "objective,
science-based information about pesticides" and related
topics such as wood preservatives and poison control centers.
Another website that I have found informative and helpful belongs
to a company that sells both organic and conventional pest control
products. Check out www.montereylawngarden.com. And finally,
for an excellent organic catalog that is full of information,
go to www.groworganic.com
for the Peaceful Valley Farm Supply catalog.
In conclusion, the more we learn about our gardening choices,
the more gently we can spend our time on earth.
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org