When we talk about natural management or sustainable management of the garden, we mean the possibility of taking care of it in a way that respects the environment, attentive to people’s health and as little burdensome as possible in terms of work commitment and economic expense.
Taking care of your garden in a natural way is also an ethical duty.
Considering the serious problems that afflict our planet, it is not acceptable to contribute to their aggravation in order to have a beautiful garden.
First of all it means to avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals utilized to treat plants from pests and infections.
The use of pesticides must therefore be limited as much as possible because it makes the garden a polluted and unhealthy place.
In addition, the use of pesticides addresses the symptoms of plant sickness when they have already manifested themselves.
Instead, it is necessary to intervene upstream and prevent stressed and weak plants from being attacked by pests.
So the sustainable management of the garden involves a series of measures to put our plants in the best healthy conditions avoiding the need to resort to pesticides.
Designing a sustainable garden
The sustainable management of the garden already starts from the design phase.
Turning to a professional garden designer is an advisable choice that allows us to achieve significant savings over time.
The garden must be designed with due attention to its maintenance after construction.
The choice of plant elements must give priority to those that are well suited to the climatic and microclimatic conditions of the place.
Above all, the size of the plants when ripe must be taken into account, so that it is not necessary to resort to expensive pruning operations after a few years.
This is a trivial but important consideration. Most of the problems for plants come from the continuous pruning to which they are subjected, which stresses them and exposes them to the attack of pests.
Choosing the right plant based on appearance and size is the first requirement to avoid the costs and the damage resulting from too invasive pruning operations.
In this regard, it is necessary to dispel the false belief that plants should be pruned every year to ensure their well-being.
Pruning is bad for plants, stresses them out and ages them prematurely. Pruning is not used to make plants bloom, as they already bloom abundantly for reproductive purposes.
Ornamental plants must be chosen according to their look and therefore it is not necessary to disfigure them in order to give them the desired appearance: they should already possess it naturally.
Obviously there are special cases such as that of formal gardens or the ‘ars topiaria’ (when the plants are pruned in order to give them a geometric shape). But apart from these extreme cases, pruning should be seen as a harmful intervention to be performed in a measured manner and only when necessary.
In addition, the garden designer must take due account of the livability of the garden.
Some stylistic choices can be suggestive from an aesthetic point of view, but not very functional from a maintenance point of view.
In the design of the garden it is always necessary to keep in mind the requirement to provide easy access to the areas where the gardener will have to work.
Design solutions that can affect the well-being of plants will have to be avoided.
Let’s take a simple and rather common example, such as that of an olive tree placed in the middle of the turf.
You should avoid putting trees that require little water in the middle of the lawn, which instead requires a lot of it. Excess water will cause the occurrence of fungal diseases and possible rot in the tree’s root. Moreover, the operations of mowing the turf will risk damaging the trunk of the plant favoring the entry of fungal pests.
Having to use the brushcutter around the trees and then twistering between the plants to be able to cut the lawn will take time and therefore higher costs.
So the design of the garden should be conceived thinking of the well-being of the plants and the ease of management over the years.
Creating fertile soil
The secret to a sustainable garden is to create environments that can sustain themselves over time as it happens in nature. We will therefore avoid associations of plant species that are not found in nature and we will cover the ground with a mulch in order to protect it from the action of natural elements and limit the onset of weeds.
Once the garden is designed sustainably, the right management operations will then have to be put in place.
Sustainable management rests on three cornerstones: creating fertile soil, providing nourishment, protecting plants.
A fertile soil is the prerequisite for healthy plants. Fertility is given by the presence of organic matter in the subsoil and by the microflora and microfauna that activate the transformation cycle.
Fungi, bacteria, annelids and other beneficial organisms, break down the organic substance eating it. In this way they improve the physical and chemical properties of the soil and make the mineral elements available to plants.
Beneficial microorganisms play a strong antagonistic action against pathogens, of which they are natural enemies, and create symbiotic relationships with plants, such as mycorrhizae.
Mycorrhizae are the symbiosis between a fungus and the root. The fungus penetrates inside the root in order to draw from it the nourishment produced by the plant. At the same time, however, the fungus acts as an extension of the root, allowing the plant to reach unexplored soil spaces and absorb nutrients that it alone would not be able to capture.
Our task is therefore to bring organic matter to nourish life in the subsoil, and if necessary inoculate the microorganisms that inhabit the soil.
The protection of plants is obtained by providing substances that stimulate their metabolism, activating the natural responses that they put in place to defend themselves from the attack of any pathogens.
Caring for a sustainable garden
The natural management of the garden is therefore a methodological approach that starts from the design phase and develops over time going to favor life and the creation of a stable ecosystem in our garden.
Sustainable garden care requires a partial change in our conception of order and beauty.
Letting the garden evolve in a natural way means tolerating that parts of it are not exactly as we had imagined.
The garden may not always be in perfect order, but for this reason it will be able to surprise and excite us.
Our interventions shall be targeted and measured, as befits those who establish a direct relationship with the living beings that populate the garden.
Above all, we must have the patience to wait for nature to take its course.
Doing violence to the plants with aggressive fertilization or management interventions is an outdated and wrong way of taking care of the garden. Plants will get sick because we do not respect their natural development cycle, we will eventually use huge amounts of precious resources such as water, and will suffer high costs over time.
Therefore, taking care of the garden in a sustainable way not only requires to change the way we manage green spaces, but also our own sensitivity.