The answer depends on why and how we practice it. Obviously a garden offers a more diversified living environment for wildlife and plant life than a lawn or an in-ground pool. Nevertheless, when we take a step back to analyze the different impacts of gardening practice, the question arises.
In fact, gardening does require the use of many resources: water and soil enrichers, to name just two. Moreover, peat moss, used widely in garden arrangements, derives from the exploitation of rare, fragile peat bogs, which entails their disruption. Many gardening products also generate plastic waste: soil packaging, seed pots and countless tools and decorations.
More subtly, horticulture is even sometimes responsible for the introduction and proliferation of invasive exotic plants, as was the case with the Japanese knotweed, and potentially, the giant hogweed. Recently there was talk of the wandering broadhead planarian (Bipalium adventitium), which contains a paralyzing toxin. It’s suspected that this worm traveled here by hiding in plant soil.
Finally, access to a garden is a privilege it would be hard to grant to the population as a whole, because that unfortunately contributes to urban sprawl at the expense of natural environments or agricultural land.
Might there not be a better way of gardening that would keep it from being harmful to the environment?
Applying the “3R’s” to gardening
This principal of action stipulates: reduction at the source, reuse, recycling and valorization. When applied in order, these actions aim at better management of our waste materials. Let’s look at a few ways of applying them in our gardens in order to maximize their positive impact.
As Béa Johnson, a lecturer specializing in zero waste, puts it so well, “the best waste is the one that doesn’t exist.” Any action allowing us to reduce what enters our garden makes it possible for us to generate less waste. For instance, water consumption can be reduced by techniques such as mulching or rainwater harvesting. Also, choosing high-quality tools and materials, even if the initial price is higher, is often synonymous with durability.
Reusing in the garden is a world of infinite possibilities. The reuse of containers for our seedlings is a good example, while reusing various materials can make for original landscaping designs. I would include composting done at home here, which allows us to valorize our organic waste. Moreover, every reuse of dead leaves or plant debris in our garden contributes to reducing the purchase of compost or mulch that comes in bags. Economical and ecological!
Recycling and valorization
These last two concepts are more related to waste collection via recycling and organic-waste bins. That way our waste is transformed into other products or exploited to produce energy (through biomethanization, for example). But from collection to processing, by way of the sorting plant, these operations are expensive for municipalities, and have environmental impacts. Which is why reducing and reusing should be our priorities.
Other “R’s” to take it a step further
Here are other “R’s” we could add if we want to work on both the technical facets and the human component of our gardens.
Reflect on our way of gardening and ask ourselves the question: is it really eco-friendly and beneficial for nature? Restore our green spaces to return to biodiversity and reintroduce native species. Rethink esthetics so that we tolerate imperfection and a little of the disorder essential to many forms of life. We could run on our gardening seasons to stretch harvests and attract pollinators the entire length of the growing season. This would be done by adopting our crops to achieve early and late blooms, or by growing vegetables that tolerate cooler temperatures.
We could also reconcile nature with our communities. Rejoining our neighbors in it would create more exchanges of ideas. It would be easier to rejoice in the diversity of our green spaces, finding pleasure in them as we get to know them better. Also, a more equitable rationing of cultivable spaces so that their benefits are fairly shared. Finally, relearning to garden with the aim of reclaiming a connection with nature in a collective way, such as is practiced in the Jardin botanique’s Youth Gardens.
After some analysis, it’s relevant to suppose that gardening without the slightest break may prove to be less environmentally sound than we might think. It seems, for some, to raise the question of how eco-friendly our way of gardening actually is. By applying the principle of the 3R’s, we can reduce our ecological footprint. Better still, by reflecting on ways to make more room for biodiversity and in bringing nature closer to our living environments, our gardens will become even more welcoming spaces for life.