Whither Organic Gardening?

By George Graine, Fairfax Master Gardener
Polarize (variant) — Having or showing of two contrary qualities, powers, tendencies, etc.

book coverIf there is one word that seems to set gardeners against each other it is “organic.” This article hopes that organic (natural) gardeners and inorganic (synthetic or chemical) gardeners come to grips with the meaning of these bandied about terms that are often not truly understood. Organic gardening is not a new phenomenon but it can be confusing if you do not know the facts. If you are intellectually curious and have an open mind concerning why natural and why synthetic gardening (not versus), then you might see how a middle ground approach to gardening can be used to your best advantage. Synthetic gardening will not destroy the ozone layer, upset the sewer system or create other forms of imagined havoc.

Dr. Jeff Gillman, Associate Professor of Horticulture Science at the University of Minnesota, is the main source of information for purposes of this article on whither organic gardening. His academic credentials are a master’s degree in entomology and a doctorate in horticulture. He is a person well equipped to write the book called “The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and The Bottom Line” (Timber Press, 2008). This just over 200-page book is an easy read and truly understandable. Even though he cites 130 bibliographic references he states, perhaps in true academic fashion, that it is difficult to come up with real conclusive answers based on research as to why organic. Instead what you will find are many additional questions that have yet to be answered. From the get-go, Gillman recognizes that gardeners tend to assume that any product labeled or even thought to be organic is okay. This means safe to use on plant material, safe for the environment and safe for gardeners. In most instances this is probably true (with the usual admonition of read the label and do what it says); however, when do you know it is not true, that is, not safe to use and can impose a significant threat to your person?

One of the fun things about gardening is that you can do practically anything you want, money not with- standing, because you are the lord and master over your property unless you have to deal with homeowner association rules and the grass police. You can try out new plants without the worry of a native plant society-type wagging his finger in your face. You can even purchase a flat of invasive English ivy although this is not recommended. If you want to prune your plants so that they look like meatballs, who will dare to stop you? Of course, people have strong opinions about lots of things but does th