This is where I show you things that can happen with plants and gardens where all you can do is
throw your hands up and say ” Oh No! “
The Garden Destroyers
I have spent the last few years listening to the grinding, splintering and smashing of houses in the suburbs of Adelaide. The sound of chainsaws and machinery slashing at trees and scraping away gardens punctuates the day, and reminds me of how short-sighted people can be. Gardens are being covered in large footprint housing, creating ghettos of concrete and reducing once verdant areas to paved courtyards. This change in planning, no doubt greatly influenced by the thought of financial reward, is changing our urban ecosystem forever.
The importance of urban gardens cannot be overestimated, but is often overlooked. Urban gardens are not only green sanctuaries for our busy and stressed lives, they are also essential to the survival of many of our remaining native species. Gardens provide protective habitat and food sources, and form stepping stones to surrounding natural areas. Many birds and reptiles pressured by urbanisation, find refuge in suburban gardens.
When these islands are removed, small native birds compete for a dwindling supply of suitable shrubs and trees in which to shelter and nest. They become more vulnerable to large aggressive species such as magpies and crows. Their population falls and predators rise in numbers, creating even more pressure on the remaining birds. Without shelter lizards also become increasingly vulnerable to predation.
The important contribution of micro-organisms and fungi to the health of our soils and ecosystem has only recently been discovered. They work within the soil, together with the plants and animals to form the nutrients essential for life. The multitude of insects many of which you never see, are also part of this interlaced community in a garden. We cannot expect our ecosystem to continue as normal when we remove great chunks of it.
This is what can happen.
Growing fruits and vegetables will become more difficult. Why you may ask? Well, the lack of sunny spots will restrict what you can grow, the lack of bees will reduce pollination, the lack of insectivorous birds will result in increase attack from pests such as caterpillars, the lack of habitat for predatory insects such as wasps will result in more caterpillars as well. Without habitat, lizards will not be able to live in your garden and eat the snails and slugs. No doubt, fewer plants will also reduce ladybird numbers so you will see an increase in aphids. It also goes without saying that butterflies will be rarer than they are now.
The increased heat from absorption and reflection from hard surfaces will cause your plants to dry out more quickly. The lack of shade from trees and shrubs will heat up your house and this ‘heat island’ effect will also be felt across the suburb as greenery is removed. As earth becomes concrete, water cannot infiltrate. This will result in dryer soils, a reduced water table, more stormwater runoff and increased risk of flooding and pollution of our coastal waters.
I recently visited one of these ghetto streets not far from me and the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. In fact, silent. If any of you are familiar with Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, you will know what I mean. Only here, there was not just the lack of bird song, but also no sound of wind rustling through the trees or shrubs. The houses cover almost all the land with ‘gardens’ consisting of concrete with a drainage hole in the middle and 3 square metres of lawn. No trees, no plants, no birds.
Most people take the noises of nature for granted and it is only when they are gone that we notice and then it’s often too late! I have spent over 40 years working with the environment and have seen the hard lessons learned by people who lament, “If only we had known this would happen”. Local government, developers and property holders, are mostly well-informed, but are seduced by short-term personal gain, preferring to ignore the long-term consequences for everyone. If housing blocks ‘must’ be smaller, as they argue, then make the houses smaller or double storey. Have a minimum amount of garden, that is, actual earth and plants not concrete and make it compulsory to have some local native species.
My years of experience have taught me that the environment usually comes last and it’s only when ordinary people join together to take a stand that it comes to the fore. I would ask you to reflect and ask yourself, in what type of world you wish to live.
I recently heard about a neighbour who didn’t like the shrubs from next door shooting under the fence and coming into his ‘garden’. His solution was to cut into the roots and tip herbicide under the fence into the neighbour’s garden bed. As if this wasn’t enough, he then bought a large bag of swimming pool salt and deposited the entire amount under the fence around the shrubs.
There is a reason the Romans used to salt the earth of their enemies. It is toxic to most plants and would mean that no food crops could grow in that soil for many years, perhaps even decades. Their enemies facing starvation, would therefore no longer be a threat.
This person has knowingly done this to his neighbour and his own garden, for which he cares not. He has also polluted the ground water and possibly contaminated any runoff which may affect the surrounding area. The living soil biota will be harmed and the soil could become sterile.
Any time people ask me for salt for their garden, it rings alarm bells and I always ask why. The answer is always “to get rid of weeds”. This is one of the old methods of weed control that still seems to be handed down through the generations. It is time that this practice stopped. There are plenty of other, safer ways to control weeds. Ways that will protect your soils.
Apart from hand pulling, weeds can be killed by the application of boiling water, by smothering with mulch or by solarisation with plastic sheets. Glyphosate is still the quickest chemical method, though I would not recommend its use where food crops are to be grown. These methods will allow you to grow plants in the bed after weeds have been removed.
Always think before going for the ‘sledgehammer’ effect and ask yourself what other ways are there. The man I mentioned at the beginning chose a method that was illegal and will end up being costly not only for the environment but ultimately for him if he is caught.