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Biodiversity in the garden

The benefits of encouraging a diverse ecosystem in your garden

St Erth’s diverse cottage border.
 
By Julian Blackhirst Head gardener at The Garden of St Erth. 
 
Often when we set about making a new garden we think merely of the rewards and produce we will derive from it.

The joy of creating a new garden extends far beyond the immediate desire for more vegetables, fruit or flowers, delicious and beautiful as they are. In turning our land, backyards or paddocks into abundant gardens, we are doing much more than claiming a piece of nature and bending it to meet our wants and demands. Such an approach lies at the heart of everything that is wrong with modern monocrop-based agriculture and the degradation of land, destruction of nature and chemical slaughter of insect and weed.

Gardens connect us to nature

When turning the first sod or planting the first seed, the gardener is embarking on a journey, the importance of which can be lost on us at first. Gifting to nature our vision, creativity and labour sets in motion a special relationship between human and nature. It gives to nature fertility, diversity and abundance she rarely achieves without our human endeavours and repays us with abundance; delicious food, beautiful flowers and sweet scents. 

When we begin the process of creating a garden we are also beginning a process of creating a gardener of ourselves. Our creation is much more than a food factory or a colourful garden created just for the eye. A healthy diverse garden is pulsating with life. Beneath the soil billions of microorganisms work unseen day and night to enrich and replenish the land. From this grows an abundance of plants above the surface. Guided by the loving hand of the gardener, vegetables, fruit, flowers and weeds all play their role, feeding not only the gardener but birds, insects, animals and perhaps most importantly the soil itself. 

Even the air above a garden is enriched as the garden pulses with life and breathes the air in and out through leaves, soil and flowers – absorbing the industrial pollutants which pose a threat to our planet and giving clean, renewed air back to us.

Our organic pest controllers

We are often asked by visitors to the garden how we stop insects from eating our vegetables. It is a difficult question to answer because we rarely have any problem with insects. 

The gardener being asked this question is not a drone working in a vegetable factory. We are creators, custodians and conductors of a diverse ecosystem that is our garden. Flowers, trees, herbs and shrubs throughout the garden harbour such a wonderful range of bird and insect life that a balance is achieved. No single species proliferates to pose a threat to our vegetables. 

Should an insect problem arise, the answer is usually found by considering the issue with a view to the totality of the garden. For example, we have found that during dry summers soldier beetles sometimes begin to defoliate some of our trees. The conventional solution would be to use a huge sprayer and douse the tree with poisonous insecticide. In reality, what had occurred was that climatic conditions disrupted the balance in the garden. Lack of water had caused our bird life to retreat into the surrounding forest. Placing basins of water under the tree brought back the birds which feasted on the insects and the problem was solved. 

The importance of diversity within the garden cannot be overstated. While we have areas dedicated to vegetables, fruit or flowers, the garden in its totality contains thousands of different species, each playing a different role; attracting different birds or insects, adding different nutrients to our compost heaps or influencing the surrounding plants in subtle ways. 

While companion planting has been practised for centuries, we are only just beginning to understand the complicated interactions between plants, both above the ground and in the soil. The gardener’s role in tending the garden is one of constant observation and endless learning. 

If we create and plant our gardens as a gift to nature we discover the joy of growing plants, not just to feed us, but to feed the soil, the birds and the multitude of life too small for us to see. Nature will find her balance in the garden and fertility, abundance and beauty follow as our reward.

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2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
BOOKS: ADIAC22
2022 Gardening Diary & Calendar Combo The complete garden combo for 2022! The beautifully illustrated Diggers Club Diary features a week to a page, seeds to sow each month, blank pages for seasonal observations, and handy pockets for your seed packets and plant labels, while The Diggers Calendar showcases stunning garden photography to inspire y...
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A YEAR OF VEGIES - SEED BOX
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18 SEED PACKETS: The gift that keeps on giving for a year. This collection will guarantee 12 months of heirloom veges. The recipient will receive seeds for each season ensuring a supply of heirloom vegetables. The pack contains a total of 18 packets of vegetables seeds (Beetroot, Bean, Broccoli, Carrot, Cauliflower, Lettuce, Onion, Pea, Silverbe...
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2 year membership + Garden Calendar and 2 Seed Packets
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Join the club and receive an exclusive gift, valued at $30. A stunning calendar featuring key dates, a guide to which seeds to sow each month and plenty of space to add your own events. Plus two free packets of some popular seeds – Tomato 'Black Cherry' and Lettuce Heirloom Mix.
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