Where Planting Green is Routine: Part 3
Updated: Nov 24, 2022
Part three of three! Since I previously covered the three bare bones of gardening and the three challenges that hesitant homeowners often associate with it, I thought I would stick to the theme of “threes” today as well. Once again, with the help of Mrs.Manjula Krishnamurthy, I’ll provide you with three tips to take your garden to the next level, all while maintaining (and even enhancing!) its sustainability and biodiversity.
Tip #1: Steer clear of pots!
This is definitely a tip that I wasn’t expecting to hear. I myself have ogled more than once at all of the colorful pots at the craft store and filled them with plants of every variety. However, upon talking to Mrs.Krishnamurthy, I realized that keeping plants in pots interferes with their growth by confining them to a small space and by restricting their access to valuable microorganisms. Mrs.Krishnamurthy, who only grows curry leaves in a pot so that she can keep the pot indoors during the winter, advises that people only bring out their pots if absolutely necessary. She told me that she prefers that all plants “thrive in a natural environment” where other life is present. Her analogy likening potted plants to caged animals helped me realize exactly why:
Growing trees in a pot is like growing a puppy inside of a cage. Tight, controlled environments. It’s not like the plant or the puppy won’t live. The plant may even bear fruits. But, when you grow something, you don’t grow it for yourself. You grow it for a gazillion creatures. All kinds of insects and animals are here. You have to make sure that it’s not only you who is enjoying the benefits. If there are no bees, butterflies, ants, mosquitoes….then there’s no you. Everything has a role. That is life.
The next time you feel inclined to limit those vibrant hydrangeas to the eye-catching pot you bought for sale last weekend, don’t just consider how you will benefit. Sure, a pot of colorful flowers would make for a stunning kitchen masterpiece to boast to your friends, but what about the hydrangeas? As Mrs.Krishnamurthy said, “Sustainability shouldn’t just be I-focused. It should be we-focused.” And keeping other forms of life in mind is a great way to start.
Tip #2: Understand your plants’ needs.
Every plant comes with its quirks. Some live in acidic soil, while others live in basic soil. Some require more water to stand tall, while others can last days, even weeks, without water. Some thrive under several hours of direct exposure to sunlight, while others can sustain themselves on far less light. Some even love healthy and diluted human urine (I just had to throw that in there). Mrs.Krishnamurthy recommends that people not only research the specificities of each plant they are considering for their garden, but also that they understand the climate of the zone in which they live:
The USDA has divided the country into different zones [find them here!]. Figure out what agricultural zone you are in, what the soil conditions are, and what thrives in that soil. That is the most important thing. Plant what will thrive in your soil.
I love mangoes, but I’m not going to plant a mango tree. I’d rather have a pear tree or a plum tree. Pears are not my favorite fruit, but if pears grow well here, then that’s what I want to grow!
Simply put, take advantage of what will proliferate in your soil rather than in the foothills of the Appalachians or in the grasslands of Argentina. Both you and your crops will be better for it, and the results will be equally, if not more, satisfying.
Tip #3: Don’t wait any longer!
When I asked Mrs.Krishnamurthy what she believes are the most important words of wisdom for any aspiring gardener, she responded in a concise three words: “Just do it.” Though you may be afraid of the mosquitoes, the time constraints, the weeds, and everything in between, the experience of eating what you grow is one that surpasses any fear. “Don’t be scared,” said Mrs.Krishnamurthy. If you give sustainable gardening a chance, you might just find that your meals will be a little bit healthier, you will be a little bit happier, and your yard will be a little bit, well, crazier. And who knows? Even if you currently have doubts about your green thumb, pulling on those garden gloves may very well prove otherwise.
It wasn’t long ago that Mrs.Krishnamurthy told me a story of a little pigeon that she found on her patio. The pigeon had died from consuming toxic fertilizer grains. This, to me, represented in a nutshell all of the flaws that exist in the mindset with which we currently approach gardening. We constantly flood our plants with fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and a whole host of other chemicals in a misguided attempt to ease our own lives. We confine our plants to aesthetic ceramic pots to decorate our living rooms and spray our weeds with layers of weedicides with the notion that doing so will solve all of our backyard bothers. In other words, we treat our plants in ways that benefit us while placing an entire community on the chopping block. And in doing so, we forget that our plants are just as alive — and just as worthy of living — as we are.
Though Mrs.Krishnamurthy’s garden is the epitome of sustainability, it is also a minority in the world of planting and plowing. We can change that. While sustainable gardening certainly sounds like a mouthful, it is far more doable than anyone — myself included — could have imagined. By taking the time to educate ourselves on how to build long-lasting gardens without making life-changing sacrifices, we have the potential to support chemicals-free environments where “our future” trumps “my present.” In cultivating an attitude where waste is embraced and weeds don’t impede, maybe, just maybe, we can save another innocent pigeon’s life.
And of course, ours too.