A Modern Notion of Gardening As Magic

A modern definition of magic is any technology sufficiently advanced it is not understood by a population.
A classic example would be matches to cavemen or cell phones to the middle ages or even planetary creation to modern man. It’s magic. While this leads us down some interesting roads such as technology as magic or religion as magic – I want to look at gardening as magic.

Is Any Bug A Bad Bug?

We have an entire generation of gardeners raised on a simple premise that any bug is a bad bug. And we can use an easily understood technology to kill that bug. Here’s a spray – mix it up with water – spray it on the garden – the bugs die.
Life is good. Here’s some blue powder, mix it with water – spray it on the garden – the plants grow.

Gardening is simple technology – you spray, you water and bugs die while the plants grow. Science has triumphed, we understand that technology and there’s no magic here. Some would say this is science working as it should, giving us a new level of competition and supremacy over our natural environment.

But The Bugs Keep Coming Back

Except of course that the bugs keep coming back. Other disease problems don’t go away and we can never get over the feeling that something isn’t quite right. That gardening is harder than it looks and that we just need one more magic chemical and we’ll have those perfect roses, that perfect tomato growing next to our weed-free lawn.

In the last 50 years, the level of chemical gardening has grown and progressed from one level of chemical to the next. We’ve seen chemicals introduced to great gardening fanfare to be lost a generation later when we discover how noxious the darn thing is and how much damage it is doing to ourselves and our families.

You don’t have to go much further than DDT to understand how great that chemical was at controlling insects but how much damage it wreaked on our birds and wildlife. It wasn’t magic, it was just bad science that only looked at one aspect of the problem. Our chemicals now don’t cause cancer, just hormonal damage that is far subtler and longer reaching.

One by one, they are being pulled from the shelves. In fact, in the Ontario legislation all cosmetic gardening chemicals are removed from the shelves.

Go Organic Or Go Home

Now, you’re being introduced to a new level of garden magic. You’re about to lose all those chemicals from the past fifty years and told to “go organic”. And here’s where a lot of folks resist learning; they want their old simple systems, not this new magic they don’t want to or can’t learn.

You see, we’re leaving the world of bug- spray-kill for the complex relational world of compost-soil building- plant health – increased biodiversity – reduced infestation. We’re leaving the black and white “kill-it” world for a world of complex relationships and long term remedies and approaches

A Balanced Ecology Is Critical

This isn’t spray-kill, this is building a new gardening environment so the environment is balanced and takes care of itself.

This concept is sufficiently advanced for some gardeners who want to stay with spray-kill-bug that organic gardening can be considered magic in their eyes.
And voodoo magic at that; something black, mysterious and not to be considered seriously.

You’ll see it in the folks who have squirreled away some powder that kills pests because they don’t want to be without this stuff. You’ll see it in the stockpiles of weed-n-feed and those neighbours who will insist on using it next year. And oh the retailers will hear it when the weeds come along and the kill-it gardening crowd goes nuts trying to find a way to whack the weeds from the end of a sprayer.

A Few Simple Things About Organic Gardening

In the end, you have to understand a few simple things about organic gardening.
The first of course is that it isn’t magic but a slowly revealing understanding of how things really work in the garden.

It also has several advantages that need to be understood. When we use chemicals for cosmetic reasons in our gardens we simply don’t know if they are safe or whether the science of 20-years from now will ban them as we’ve banned older chemicals.

We know that adding compost and building the natural defences of the garden won’t harm us. And yes, organic gardening isn’t as easy as the spray-kill systems, you need to learn new skills and learn new ways of looking at the world.
We also know it works (once you’ve learned it) to reduce pests, increase yields, increase the nutritional value of food and create marvellous landscapes.

How Old Are You?

One measure of how old you are is whether you will actually learn these things or whether you will resist this learning.

  • Those who are old in spirit will refuse to learn that organic gardening isn’t magic.
  • Those who have decided that their way is the best and only way, who are rigid in their beliefs, will complain and grouse, demonstrate their rigidity and age in those ways.
  • Those who have stockpiled their favourite chemical have already shown us they are not prepared to learn or adapt. To them, organic gardening is magic and they chose not to understand or learn.

What I Am Telling You or Not

I’m not going to tell you that this new organic world is simpler or easier than the old bug-kill world.
It is indeed far more complex, more diversified and far richer in health. I’m not going to tell you that bugs will magically disappear and weeds will never grace your lawn again.
I am going to tell you that organic gardening isn’t magic. It is advanced science and demonstrates a deeper understanding of how things really work compared to the old simplistic notion that all bugs are bad bugs.
The real question is whether you think it is magic you don’t want to understand or whether you’re prepared to become a garden magician.
Note to readers. This post was written back in 2008 for my newspaper column but this week I’ve had a few questions and comments that made me think it was still relevant.

One thought on “A Modern Notion of Gardening As Magic”

  1. This is one of the best articles that I have read on organic gardening. I do not use chemicals in my garden and plant mostly native plants. The balance seems to be fine because I do not have a lot of problems.
    Thank you for re-posting this article.

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