Fragrant Organic Gardens For Birds, Bees, Beauty And Medicine

January 12th, 2015

Organic Gardening

Plant plenty of Bee-Friendly herbs to feed the bees a healthy diet.  Bee Colony Collapse Disorder can be prevented by avoiding the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, and by planting herbs which contain natural medicines.

And keep some of those wonderful weeds such as Dandelion and Prunella Vulgaris, commonly called Self-Heal.  Bees love these plants, and they are so good for the soil.

We are losing our traditional cottage garden flowers and healing weeds.  So make an effort to keep our valuable healing plants by planting them in your garden, and letting some of those weeds grow too.

Less than twenty years ago, on Waiheke Island in New Zealand, many medicinal “weeds” such as dandelions, plantain, self-heal, comfrey, thistles, red clover, and hundreds of other useful and beautiful plants abounded, as well as self-sown peach and apple trees and goodness knows what else.

The keeping of cottage gardens helped keep the strains of the then-common weeds from becoming extinct, as well as many flower and shrub species which sadly now are quite rare to see.

There was always a nook and cranny to be found, amongst the incredible variety of flowers nurtured in the cottage garden, for the likes of a rogue thistle, or a hypericum seedling, to settle in for a bit.  We never used herbicide sprays or anything toxic in our gardens. Birds and bees, and beloved snails too, loved our gardens.

Our cottage gardens were the nurseries, not just of decorative annuals, rare shrubs and trees, but of medicinal weeds, many of which actually, and naturally, serve as medicines for the bees and surrounding plants.

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All weeds have their purpose in the big scheme of things.  Many actually enhance the quality of the soil, whilst helping other plants to grow.

Many cottage plants and so-called weeds, such as the feverfew daisy, lavender, and geraniums, help keep insects at bay. Some plants have the potential to cure the most common health ailments pertaining to man and his husbandry.

There was nothing more exciting for us nature lovers than to explore a cottage garden with friends and to find and try to identify the more rare plants, including the useful weeds: these had more than a small chance of surviving just long enough, in most people’s gardens, to proliferate somewhere else before being pulled out.

Our gardens were not only a paradise for the birds and bees, but a feast for our eyes.  The cottage garden flourished during the last few decades of the 1900’s, especially on Waiheke Island and in similar small villages around the country: but even in some suburbs of Auckland, such as Epsom and Mount Eden, many beautiful gardens have survived until fairly recently.

Alas, the original owners who tended these gardens have aged themselves. Many of their houses have been sold to a new generation who do not have an appreciation, or knowledge, of gardening. Land is expensive, and so gardens are dwindling to make room for new building developments.

Many newcomers to these areas, which previously were adorned with beautiful gardens, have come from other countries where, in their built-up cities, gardens like our cottage gardens simply do not exist, so there lacks an appreciation for the New-Zealand-style garden where a great array of plants are given a go.

Consequently, many gardens, such as in Epsom, Auckland, are rapidly being chopped out and their grand trees felled to have a concrete car-park laid, or a garage built, in their place.

Sometimes, of course, trees do have to be felled, and sheds built. However, it is sad to see the unnecessary ruination of an entire garden, when all that appears after its disappearance  is a stretch of concrete, or a stretch of concrete and a few palms.

Many younger Kiwi people also do not seem to care for our old gardens: they tend to go for some kind of Bahama-Island tourist-resort-inspired garden design which looks  like you live somewhere else. They feature plenty of slickly-laid pale-colored concretes, with just a few lonely exotic palms, a token native or two, and cacti, dotted about.

We are not fooled, and nor are the birds or the bees – this type of garden lay-out is for the lazy, so that no time needs to be spent weeding, or for the insensitive who can’t tell the difference, or just don’t care.  These gardens are entirely joyless. No life is permitted to exist there except for the token natives and the stark palms and cacti.

The concrete, the plastic sheeting underneath the stones, and the tree bark on the ground, puts paid to any weeds growing. This means that there are no insects for birds to eat. No room for a hedgehog, moth, butterfly, or a bee.

By comparison, the Waiheke Island of yester-year was a euphoric utopia. The many hedgerows along the rarely-sprayed stony tracks which we called roads, were home to insects, birds and bees. Wild climbing roses gave heart and soul to the place, intertwined betwixt and between the manuka, or a self-sown plum tree, or an old fence at the edge of a garden, enjoyed by all as we passed by, on our way to the beach. Or the shop. Or the ferry.

If you did not have it in your garden, there was usually some of what you needed to use for medicinal purposes, or simply for the eating, just down the road, growing on the roadside where today the concrete paths and road tarmac have ‘taken over’ the former habitat of this island-jungle-paradise.

Natural Health

On Waiheke Island, we had a variety of self-sown fruit trees: plums, apples, pears, peaches, quinces – and  grapes. Sometimes you would discover a patch of wild potatoes, or taro, hidden beneath the kikuyu, just waiting for the taking. Or squash. Or wild yams. Or yellow-flowering JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, standing robust and tall above the weeds like a  “can-do” cousin of the more proud, but less hardy, sunflower.

Many of these edible plants, at a guess, probably survived from the days when Maori cultivated big gardens on Waiheke. These Waiheke gardens were, a hundred years or so ago, the market gardens which fed much of Auckland. This is why you could still find, in the ’70’s ’80’s and ’90’s, some very unusual kinds of potatoes and other root vegetables growing on unused banks and braes.

So many other treasures were to be found growing beside the dusty, curly, shingle roads of our island: There were flowers for the table: Dad bringing in the white-and-pink jasmine in the early spring with a sweetness which graced the whole house, and our hearts, and later, tall fantastic spikes of exotic, heady, sweet-smelling, sunny ginger plant celebrating the height of the summer.

Unfortunately, much of this vegetation has been lost. The regular spraying of herbicides on grass verges has killed off many decorative plants, as well as medicinal, herbaceous weeds. Comfrey and ginger plant have been named noxious weeds.

Few people keep cottage gardens any more. Many of us would-be gardeners do not own a property where we can plant all the things we love.

Keep the trees if you can.  If you must chop down a tree, plant another one or two somewhere else. Remember – Bird-life is dependent upon insects for eating, and trees to live in. Without these things, birds perish.

Small plants such as dandelions, plantains and other weeds have a part to play in the food chain, not just for bird and insect life, but for man too: for healthy agriculture, for honey bees, and for use as natural medicines as well. They can’t grow on concrete. They CAN grow in the cottage garden, and along grassy, unsprayed verges.

Nowadays,a dandelion plant is extremely hard to find, even in a field of grass, and if you should find one, you can’t be sure that it hasn’t been sprayed with a toxic chemical, so you had better not eat it.  In the country, agriculture chemicals, and the selected, commercial mixes of grass-seed which farmers(and house-holders) use, have just about eradicated the beneficial weeds from our environment. Many plants are almost extinct: plantain, nettles, water-cress,dandelions, to name just a few.

Urbanized Waiheke has lost most of its former charm. Many big trees,and all the self-sown fruit trees, have all disappeared from the road-side and the bush. The scrub and hedgerows where birds, hedgehogs, insects, and natural plant life thrived, have been cleared. Much planting of native trees and flaxes has been done in certain areas, however, there is a lack of colour and variety in these plantings.

It is rare to see  large trees such as an oak, or a birch, an aspen, a magnolia or a flowering cherry newly planted in public areas. And the ground is often covered with wood chips which renders it redundant as a food source for birds.

About all you can find growing wild abundantly now, on Waiheke Island, is a hardy variety of silver beet which has adapted to survive the salt of the sea at the water’s edge. Very clever, to escape the watchful, merciless eyes of the city council planners who employ the concrete-layers,weeders and spray-people to keep away such up-starts. It grows along the water’s edge in the virtually inaccessable parts of Surfdale and Blackpool.

You can still find wild valerian here too, although you have to look hard for it amongst the kikuyu grass now.

Just how, in New Zealand, can we revive our dwindling species of trees, plants, insects, and birds? Bringing back the cottage garden would help enormously. Having areas in cities and in the country where things are allowed to grow naturally without the use of any chemical sprays, or unnatural ground coverings which prohibit weeds from growing, would be another solution.

Councils could declare that so much of a householder’s property should be taken up with several trees and garden plants.  Trees and hedgerows could line the sides of all our roads: Big trees, fruiting trees, and small trees, not just the smaller, ever-green natives being planted about the city at the moment.

We need colour to gladden our hearts: some real flowers, or flowering trees such as magnolias, or flame trees. Not the mono-colored, ghastly mono-cultures of strange flaxes and grasses, planted in formation, such as Auckland City Council has planted around all their new bus stations. Disheartening and sickening, planted with the same idea, I guess, as some food chains have when making their interior design so barren and ugly that no body wants to stay there for long.

These joyless gardens prohibit anything else from growing as they are covered up with wood bark, so you don’t find any birds about these lonely, desolate spots. Like being on a west coast beach on a windy day. Why so barren? Trees- flowers-and weeds- should grow in these places perfectly well.  We need more gardeners.

The government could start a new programme to give people jobs – imagine thousands of gardeners working all over the country,and the city, say for 20 odd hours a week so that the job was always an enjoyable thing to do: Planting all the road-side areas with trees and flowers, and edible plants; keeping weeds from overtaking the gardens, but not eradicating them entirely. And time off for wet weather.

Chemical herbicides and insecticides could be banned forever. This will be the end to ‘Bee Colony Collapse Disorder’ and human cancers.

YES, WE WILL GROW MORE TREES, big trees, small trees, flowering trees, native trees, fruit trees too;  plant more gardens, anywhere and everywhere, wild yams and taro.  Let hedgerows flourish with their dandelions, honeysuckle, plaintain and wild roses, and make our world a better, happier place for all beings.

2 Responses to “Fragrant Organic Gardens For Birds, Bees, Beauty And Medicine”

  1. Graham says:

    Beautifully written and a lot to think about.I knew my letting some weeds thrive had a point to it. I didn’t know that about the chip bark.A neighbour said my style of gardening wa the cottage garden.

  2. Merrilyn says:

    Awesome Graham. Organic cottage gardening is the thing.
    Yes – those wood chips prevent natural weeds from growing as well as the seeds from your flowers. Then, because there is nothing growing there, the natural insect life is thwarted, so there is no food for the birds.
    Great to get your comment.
    Merrilyn.

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