This column is for serious plant enthusiasts. If you’re a garden dabbler, skip it and check out the story on outdoor wall hangings – much more fun!
A recent foray into the depths of our garden shed revealed close to a dozen treatments for pests and diseases. Some were organic; most, I hate to admit, were not. In my defence, we hardly ever used them, probably due to my possibly idiotic philosophy of giving things time to fix themselves. But it got me thinking about IPM.
No, IPM is nothing like PMT or IPL. It stands for integrated pest management. It’s based on science and how to support the health of both garden and gardener. Pest management is a challenge at our place, not because we have any more pests than the average garden, but because I’m disinclined to kill things. I spend quite a lot of time shoo-ing flies outdoors, re-homing snails, rescuing cicadas and stoically ignoring mosquitoes. Aphids really bug me but I still don’t like to kill them. The Partner douses them with soapy water – I’m not sure it works but they’re very clean.
IPM is based on knowledge as opposed to urban myth and anecdotal evidence. It’s about distinguishing real pest problems and dealing with them while avoiding indiscriminate slaughter.
Doing a garden health check is fun (enlist the kids!) and provides you with information about what you’re growing and how you’re growing it.
Step one: Make a list of the trees, shrubs, fruit and vegetables you are growing. Identify each type of plant, how it normally looks and grows, its closest rellies and what common pests and diseases afflict it.
Step two: Check out the growing conditions – the wet, hot, shady and impoverished spots, and note which plants do well where. If a sad, diseased shrub is growing in a damp, dim spot, finding out whether it prefers a dry, sunny environment should be your first line of defence. A change of location might solve all its problems. Step three: Examine and analyse the problem of a plant or group of plants and determine whether it’s caused by poor gardening, such as over- or under-watering, or whether there really are diseases or pests. Many a plant or garden bed has been damaged by the application of a chemical when the problem was simply lack of water or nutrients.
If you discover a pest, hold the artillery. A friend of mine recently went ballistic with spray because she was convinced snails were eating holes in her shrubs, only to discover it was birds desperate for water in the drought.
Don’t be in a hurry to assault your ecosystem with chemicals. If it requires intervention, do some research and select the least toxic option to keep both you and your plants healthier in the long term.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
A newly created outdoor living area can look a bit sterile until it’s decorated, but unless you have bags of dosh you’re probably going to be skint after paying for the pavers, the furniture, the water feature, the containers and the pergola! DIY decor is the solution and there are many styles of outdoor art to add finishing touches to your garden.
You may discover a hidden talent and end up with a priceless piece of landscape art! If you lack inspiration, steal ideas from other artists whose work is featured in books, magazines and on the internet.
Making your own sculptures, paintings or objet d’art is an absorbing task, and it’s easy to get hooked. Materials are often cheap and easy to come by, and walks on the beach or country rambles become hunting and gathering expeditions for shells, driftwood, seed pods and old fence posts.
If you become very productive, you might outgrow the space that a courtyard or terrace provides, but don’t despair – broad tree trunks, gates, branches and fences make fine art galleries. Outdoor art doesn’t have to be permanent. “Living” sculptures add great appeal for a special occasion.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Having the right materials on hand is a must if you’re the type who likes to create on impulse, so start stocking up. Fill up your garden shed with the following: • Driftwood and timber • Old boxes • Shells • Pumice • Seed pods • Dried branches or fronds • Corrugated iron • Wire netting, wire • Canvas • Tiles • Rope