Organic gardening is better for many reasons. But this is the most important one. Why organic gardening is better…and the answer may surprise you.
Organic gardening has many supporters. It also has many detractors (surprisingly enough). I think the detractors believe that organic gardening takes a ton of time, or maybe that it doesn’t work. I’m not sure. All I know is that the answer to the question “Why is organic gardening better?” came to me today in a surprising way.
It was around 2 p.m., and I’d spent a delightful hour in the garden this morning harvesting peppers, tomatoes and green beans, then weeding the flower beds in the perennial garden on the side of the driveway. By the time the sun became blazing hot and I started dripping sweat from every pore in my body, I’d gotten at least some of the weeds pulled and the front of the perennial border plucked into some semblance of order.
I went inside, showered, dressed, did some housework and then began my writing work for the day. After a few hours of working, it was time to update Home Garden Joy…and I experienced writer’s block. I rarely succumb to the dreaded writer’s block, but today I had a bad case of it! I normally pull out my idea file, a list of topics I’ve brainstormed on other, more creative days, but that didn’t work either. So I grabbed my trust pen and butterfly-covered notebook and headed out into the garden for some meditation and inspiration.
In the back of the flower garden stands my meditation bench, a rough stone bench that the cats, especially Whitey, loves to sleep on. Around the bench is a small circle of stones. I placed my water element there, a butterfly puddle made from recycled materials, and planted ferns rescued from their position growing behind the air conditioning units. The meditation area is placed at a beautiful angle to the house and the gardens. When you sit on the bench, you’re looking up at the hillside in bloom, at the sky and the house. Hummingbirds sometimes zoom in for a closer look, and you’re sitting behind the butterfly garden.
As I sat and drank in the sights, sounds and smell of the garden, I realized that it was a prime butterfly watching day. Yellow and black swallowtails danced among the sweetly scented Buddleia (Butterfly Bush). Great Spangled Frittilaries were also waltzing through the August afternoon, leisurely alighting on the Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan). A flash of yellow caught my eye, and a Little Yellow Sulphur, a butterfly more commonly seen in Northern Virginia, perched for a moment on the zinnias, then moved on to join her cousins in the butterfly bush. And happily, a swallowtail alighted on my newly constructed butterfly puddle, taking a sip of water from among the rocks before fluttering back to the butterfly garden.
It was then that I realized why organic gardening is so important to me. I could write about all the reasons others have said about organic gardening. It’s better for the soil, it’s healthier for the planet, you can grow healthier vegetables, etc. Okay, all well and good. But it was there, sitting in my garden, listening to the wind play in the trees and the birds chatting away, delighting in the sensory play of butterflies waltzing among the flowers that I realized why organic gardening means so much to me, personally.
My flower garden is almost 100 percent organic. We do use some commercial weed killers along the pathway, but I don’t use any weed killers or insecticides in the garden beds themselves. I know that those butterflies, playing so delightfully in the garden today, aren’t going to drink chemicals and take them back to their young. As the bees buzz from flower to flower, I know that nothing I’m doing is harming them; I am gentle with them as they are gentle with my flowers. (I can’t say with me because of the damned yellow jacket two weeks ago stinging me for no good reason, but that’s par for the course; it’s a type of wasp, and wasps are just idiots.)
My garden is my sanctuary. It feeds my soul as well as my body. I was thinking about that this morning as salty sweat stung my eyes and my clothes grew so damp with perspiration you could wring them out into a cup. While working in my garden beds this morning was physical exercise, the meditative nature of pulling weeds was akin to the rosary I had said a half hour earlier. My morning ritual includes feeding the pets, walking Shadow, brewing coffee, and sitting in my plant room reading from a daily devotional and praying the rosary for family, friends and special intentions. The feeling that I had as I worked among my plants this morning and as I sat outside hoping that the Muses would sing to me was the same; prayerful soul-filling devotion.
How can you have a garden that fills your mind, body and spirit with peace and joy when it’s drenched in chemicals? I know that sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures; you’ll find a can of Sevin dust in my garage from a former battle against squash and potato beetles (which I lost, by the way.)
Knowing that my butterflies are safe, knowing that the bees are safe and that the birds who dine on these insects aren’t being poisoned is why I am an organic gardener. It’s why the leaves of the hibiscus look like lace right now. The Japanese beetles were fierce this year, and I just let them be, hoping the birds would quell their assault before I lost my plants. It’s why my roses are just starting to recover; I forgot the Neem spray, an organic rose spray, this year, and the black spot and insects won. It’s why weeds need to be hoed and pulled by hand, and I’m forever digging sumac seedlings out of the garden.
I’m not an organic gardener because it’s the “in thing” to do. And I’m not an organic gardener because my flower garden sits over my water well, and I’m afraid of what might drip down through the soil into my drinking water. These are all good reasons, but not THE reason why I love organic gardening.
I love organic gardening because it fills me with joy. It fits my lifestyle and my spiritual needs. It fits into my life neatly, the way it should be, as a natural outcome of who I am and what I’m about. As I watched the butterflies in the garden this afternoon, I realized that while this might not be the best reason to become an organic gardener, it is an honest reason. I suspect that many of my readers feel the same kinship, the same friendship and connection with nature that I feel.
When praying the rosary and weeding the garden evoke the same spiritual peace in my heart, mind and soul, I know that my garden is indeed my sanctuary, and it should remain unpolluted. Organic gardening practices will help me do this.
What about you? Are you an organic gardener? Why is organic gardening important to you?
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.