What does ‘natural’ really mean? Women go natural and that could indicate they go sans make-up or more often, give the illusion of having no make-up on. It could also indicate one who does not shave her underarms or legs. Florists work hard to make arrangements appear natural and less contrived. We are told to be our natural selves but it is implicit that we conform to socially accepted guidelines. Foods ranging from raw nuts to processed, sweetened cereals are labeled natural and wholesome. Natural athletes and musicians work hard to prove and maintain their prowess. Natural looking gardens have been carefully planted to look that way. So, what exactly do we mean by natural?
Natural is that which has not been touched or manipulated. Left in its original form, intact with inherent properties. In reality, we have conflicting ideas about the word. This is because, it is assumed that healthy or good is synonymous with natural. Lets remember that tobacco is a natural plant product. Natural is also not the same as organic. Cotton is a heavily sprayed crop. Hence, while cotton is a natural fabric, only organically grown cotton is actually healthy. A natural food can contain genetically modified elements, sprayed with chemicals and supplemented with other questionable components.
In the garden, most of us have been misled to think that we are being environmentally correct when we use sacks or boxes of ‘natural’ products to fertilize, control pests, encourage blooms and suppress weeds. Not so. But don’t blame yourself – the marketing skills of the manufacturers are at play here. Using vocabulary that is misleading or ambiguous, they have convinced multitudes to purchase and liberally use their products. It is time however for us to take personal responsibility and to do our own research and thinking. By this, I don’t mean we hit the reference section in the library and pore over scientific papers. No, it is much, much simpler than that.
Think minimal. Less processed or manufactured. The operative word is ‘organic’. Case in point, ordinary, banal compost. Converted from garden waste such as grass and leaf clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings and leftovers from the kitchen, this wonder product is the best mulch, fertilizer and weed suppressant ever. Look what the sun, rain and indigenous microbes can do! Does it get any more natural than that?
We have already embraced organic foods, cosmetics and cleaning products. It is time to do the same in our gardens. Can we all just make this upcoming season in the garden the start of a sincere commitment to go completely organic in the garden? Yes, it is doable and yes, you can.
Resolve to start composting. Until you can begin using your own compost, obtain it from your local recycling center. Ditto for mulch. Leave grass clippings to integrate back into the soil. Collect rain water to decrease the amount of water used from the tap. Add more native plants and work up to having them outnumber the non-natives. Reduce lawn size and consider using push mowers.
If all this sounds drastic, it isn’t. These practices are time-tested and true. Even better, they are particularly kind to the pocketbook. At the most, a bit more sweat equity is required but then, that could mean giving up that expensive gym membership. Exercising in nature is much more satisfying! Heck, if you have no neighbors to shock, you could even go au naturel. I won’t tell. Or look.
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar