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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 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 loss.

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 for help in choosing non-invasive plants.


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.

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 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 Daar.

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 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 And finally, for an excellent organic catalog that is full of information, go to 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.


Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation 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

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136