Updated: Nov 14, 2019
For me, the question of whether or not to use chemicals in my garden (or any of our outdoor spaces) is a straightforward one. I will say, however, that it wasn't always such a simple and outright 'NO'. I went through a period of being exasperated by black fly, snails and slugs and I tried various approved chemical remedies to get rid of them. As my journey as a gardener continues, I've come to realise that not only does nothing ever actually get rid of the pests, but that the negative consequences of the chemicals we put into our soils and spray onto our plants far outweighs any benefit that may come from using them. And the benefits, as I now see it, are minimal.
We live in a time when we are at a major crossroads and when the environmental movement is finally starting to move into the mainstream (how has it taken so long?). Knowing the damage that we have collectively done to the environment over the last hundred years or so has made me realise more than ever that I have a responsibility to do all that I can to protect and nurture the world that we all share. The simple truth is that without our natural environment we wouldn't exist and that, as our population continues to grow, we are going to need our natural environment more than ever before. It is therefore up to us to exercise best practice in everything that we do, especially when it comes to safe guarding nature. No matter how small and insignificant what we are doing may seem, it will make a difference.
Part of that commitment for me is to go 100% chemical free in my garden (and home). I can't influence or change anyone else, but perhaps I can demonstrate that it is possible to create and maintain an amazing, beautiful and productive garden without the use of toxic chemicals. There are certainly many organic farms and smallholdings that have proven that this is possible.
I have a number of reasons for going pesticide free in my garden. The list is extensive, but ultimately I want to promote soil health, safeguard all the urban wildlife that comes in and out of my garden and safeguard my own health. Every year, more and more pesticides are being banned as we realise the negative effects that they have on our health and the health of our natural environment and this is reason enough for me to avoid the ones that remain. For a more detailed explanation of the impacts of pesticides on our urban spaces have a look at the Pesticide Action Network UK website.
Bearing all this in mind, what can we do about the pests that destroy and harm the plants in our gardens? How can we stop the blackfly and the slugs and the caterpillars? This is where I find it useful to take a more laid back and holistic approach to gardening. I stopped using pesticides quite a few years ago and now rely instead on nature. I've also realised that every garden creature has a part to play. We need the 'bad' pests as much as we need the 'good' pests and so I let the bad 'pests' get on with it and wait for whatever it is in nature that eats or combats that pest to move in. Of course it doesn’t always work out like this and sometimes I need to admit defeat. I can't, for example, grow pak choi in my vegetable patch because no sooner do I plant a seedling than the slugs and snails move in. But I grow other things instead. I can get a brilliant crop of spinach that lasts all summer, or handfuls of crisp, peppery rocket, or perhaps some fresh, young beetroot leaves or a few fronds of swiss chard. My red kale always has a few holes in in but that doesn't stop it being good enough to eat (and far nicer to eat than kale from the supermarket that has been sprayed with toxic pesticides). Where one plant is highly susceptible, I simply search out something to plant that isn't. There are thousands of plants to choose from and creating a self sustainable and functional garden is all about balance which does take some trial and error. It is about experimenting and working with nature to create a space that ticks all your gardening boxes.
And even if you want a pristine, well-kept, sleek and modern garden, it is still possible to be chemical free. Be diligent, be watchful, and be creative and you can have that pristine space with the added benefit of knowing it is a safe and healthy environment for you and all our urban wildlife to spend time in.