The Culture of Food and Drink


Home / Agriculture  / Your Garden Vs. Mother Nature: Tips To Avoid The Battle

Your Garden Vs. Mother Nature: Tips To Avoid The Battle

A bee feeds on the blossom of a Meech's Prolific quince. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter

A bee feeds on the blossom of a Meech's Prolific quince. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter

To a certain extent, all gardens are “unnatural.” We take a plot of land and bend it to our will, whether that is growing fruit and vegetables, flowers, lawns or even making a barbecue. Over the centuries, our gardens have changed beyond recognition from their natural state. So don’t worry too much about tampering with nature as you try to grow fruits and vegetables. The important thing to remember is that while it is perfectly possible to adapt the natural landscape, it is never worth going to battle against nature; in the long run, you will certainly lose.

There are a few ways you can make your kitchen garden both easier to maintain and more productive. When choosing which fruits and vegetables to grow, it obviously makes sense to plant things you want to eat — in particular, crops that are hard to buy or do not travel well. It also pays to take the conditions in your garden into consideration. Is the soil damp or prone to drying out in hot weather? You will need a sunny spot for most fruits and vegetables, but how sheltered is it? Are there pockets that are particularly warm, or others that are at risk from late frosts? All these factors will influence what you will be able to grow successfully.

Much is often made of growing “native” plants, but it is frequently hard to tell exactly which crops are native. Many that seem firmly established were invaders years ago. Rather, chose crops that are suited to your environment. There is a reason why weeds always seem to thrive; the particular weeds in your garden have chosen to grow there. Whatever conditions you have, they are exactly what those particular weeds need. Choose your crops carefully, picking the ones that will like the conditions in your garden, and they will grow just as well, or even better than, the weeds.

The case against spraying aphids and other pests

If you are going to grow your own crops, it seems illogical to cover them with sprays and chemicals. Left to its own devices, nature will establish a balance of predators that will keep your garden healthy. If you spray plants at the first sight of, say, aphids, you will succeed in killing the pests, but you may also kill the good ladybirds and hoverflies in the garden. Even if they escape the spray, you will have killed their supply of food and, by the time the next batch of aphids emerges, there will be no good predators to eat them.

Remove the pests you see by hand and let the natural predators do the rest. Birds get bad press for eating fruits, but many do a vital job, eating slugs and snails. Surely for that help, and the beautiful birdsong, it is worth sharing a bit of your harvest? Your productive garden will soon develop a system of its own, and while you may not have complete control, you will have a healthy balance of beneficial predators that will protect your crops.

Verbena bonariensis planted alongside espaliered apple trees looks pretty and will attract  vital pollinating insects.

Verbena bonariensis planted alongside espaliered apple trees looks pretty and will attract vital pollinating insects. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter

Plant breeding advances in the last 50 years mean that we now have a huge range of varieties to choose from. You can get blight-resistant potatoes, mildew-resistant gooseberries and wilt-resistant strawberries. If you know your garden is at risk, choose varieties that will not be vulnerable.

Making your own compost is one of the most important ways to harness the benefits of nature in your garden. It is easy, need not take up much space and will give you wonderful, nutritious organic matter with which to enrich your soil. It is not, or should not be, slimy or smelly. To see just how easy it is to make, watch this video.

In between your crops, set companion plants. Pollen-rich flowers such as Verbena bonariensis will attract the bees and other pollinating insects that are so vital in any productive garden. Other flowers such as nasturtiums, alliums and tansy (Tanecetum vulgare) can be used to deter woolly aphids and other pests in search of food. Sweet-smelling herbs such as rosemary, sage and lavender will disorient many pests and so protect your crops.

All gardening is about some level of control, but your plot will be a better place if you don’t turn it into a battle with nature. You will still be able to harvest fruits and vegetables, the garden will look lovely and you will get to relax, using nature’s resources rather than fighting them.

Main photo: A bee feeds on the blossom of a Meech’s Prolific quince. Credit: Jane McMorland Hunter



Zester Daily contributors Jane McMorland Hunter and Chris Kelly write books on the good things in life: gardening, cookery and craft. Hunter lives in London and has a tiny garden. Kelly lives in West Sussex and has the luxury of a larger garden with a vegetable patch and orchard. Their latest book, "For the Love of an Orchard" shows that space need not be a bar to realizing your horticultural fantasies. Their website is Hafton & Kelly.

4 COMMENTS
  • Fredericka DeBerry 6·3·14

    Do you have any environmental-friendly suggestions to eradicate fire ants from my kitchen garden? Before planting I tried gallons & gallons of boiling water, a “natural” fix from a local garden center & an old wives’ tale, Club Soda. Strangely enough, the Club Soda appeared to work some, but not the others. I planted and still have the fire ants 🙁
    Any help would be appreciated.

  • Christine Venzon 6·3·14

    Re fire ants: when Ii lived in Southwest Louisiana, where fire ants are practically the state animal, I heard that the water from boiling citrus peels was helpful in controlling them if poured directly on their hills. I think the citrus oil irritated them. I tried it a few times with so-so results. Maybe if you did it regularly?

  • Jon Nedbor 6·3·14

    I just looked up one of the plants listed above for companion planting, Verbena bonariensis, and see that it is considered an invasive species, especially around wetlands. It would be better not to plant it or have it listed in the article without a warning.

  • Jane and Chris 6·4·14

    In Britain many gardeners struggle to keep Verbena bonariensis growing from one year to the next, but yes, we should have included a warning and thanks for pointing it out. Gardening varies so much around the world.

POST A COMMENT