4.3 IS THERE AN INCREASE OR DECREASE IN SUSTAINABLE GARDENING? AND WHAT COULD YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS TO?
Sustainable gardening is also on the increase, with even stronger consensus amongst respondents. 46 out of 51 respondents that addressed this question (over 90%) stated that there was an increasing trend toward sustainable gardening in the community. Two of these 46 qualified their answer in a geographical sense. Three (6%) respondents were unsure. One respondent said it was decreasing overall.
From the perspective of the research findings, as a concept, sustainable gardening is currently much more prevalent on the minds of the community than self sufficiency gardening. Ferne Edwards, from the VEIL Project, saw sustainable gardening “a stepping stone or transition to self-sufficient gardening.”
Various anecdotal and physical evidence was given for an increased trend. An increase in sustainable gardening product sales, such as water tanks, compost bins, worm farms and mulches were given as evidence for this greater community interest.
Mainstream media attention, and more and new community members seeking advice on how to garden in a sustainable manner were also signs. Others cited the success of Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA), and also the increased number of SGA certified nurseries as indicators.
SGA’s Paul Gibson Roy outlined that it was coming from different angles: “There are an awful lot more people aware of the concepts and terms. What you’d call in the past, the hard nosed operators of the industry, are now much more prepared to take the ideas on.”
Commercial nurseries reported increasing sales and interest in sustainable gardening products, including mulches; and water tanks. Whitehorse Council’s Kate Patkin reported large demand for these products through their council grants.
Ivanhoe Garden Club’s Julie Stafford suggested that “you can also witness this change in the style of gardens landscape gardeners are recommending and planting. In new housing estates planted gardens are drought-tolerant.”
Again, some people qualified their responses or expressed difficulty in assessing trends. Ros, from Northcote Community Gardens said: “Yes, just from the sort of people that come here, but for 95% of people in my street I would say no. It depends on who you know.”
A rise in permaculture was also referred to in different ways- in local demonstration gardens at Pines Patch Community Garden; to large attendance at events; and growth in permaculture networks. The Yarra Valley Permaculture Group also reports an explosion in interest in permaculture. Interestingly, people attributed permaculture as evidence for sustainable gardening, but not for self sufficiency gardening.
Different research participants alternatively cited increases in native gardens, and vegetable gardens, as evidence of more sustainable community gardening practice.
More environmental concern and awareness were the most common reasons given for an increase in sustainable gardening practice in the community. It is more commonly believed to be driven by media, and have a groundswell of support from the community. Respondents attributed a variety of environmental factors to this move, or mentioned the need to improve soil fertility, add mulches, or plant edibles or indigenous plants.
Marc Roper, from Stonnington Council thought that “many people see a sustainable garden as a way for them to help care for the environment. The other factor is government water restrictions. People are now banned from watering most of the time so their gardens need to be adapted to suit the regulations.”
As well as broader environmental awareness or concern, an embrace of organics, and a rejection of chemicals was also seen as a significant influence on sustainable gardening, with a quarter of respondents directly referring to it. It has occurred particularly in schools where concern for children has seen a rejection of harmful chemicals.
Judging from different comments made to this question, organic gardening perhaps does not have the broader exposure it deserves, considering the consistency of its occurrence now in community and home gardens. Participants commented that greater commercial access to organic products, from growers to retail shops, were also driving this awareness in the community. Fiona Fulton, from Melbourne East Seed Savers made the link that “environmental awareness leads others to want to grow organic food to reduce food miles.”
Climate change was seen to be increasing the community’s sustainable gardening practices, and was a significant response, though it was considered to be an influence by less respondents than in the question on self sufficiency gardening.
On the other hand, environmental awareness could be assumed to include climate change. Perhaps other environmental issues play on people’s motives to be sustainable also. Interestingly, while soil fertility was mentioned by several respondents as good for gardens and water retention, there was no direct reference to land degradation amongst answers.
Cassie Johnstone, the Victorian co-ordinator of Australia’s Open Garden Scheme commented that “sustainability has always been important to gardeners but it is definitely becoming more important and prominent in their consciousness.”
On environmental sustainability, Paul Gibson-Roy, involved in Sustainable Gardening Australia from its origin, clarified that “that you can’t totally eliminate environmental impacts.”
John Raynor from Melbourne University Urban Horticulture explains that “there is a problem with defining sustainable. Sustainable means different things to different people. People are a bit confused about what it means, as does organics, which can mean different things.”
Sustainability also meant different things to different respondents. A number of respondents inferred or directly attributed self sufficiency gardening to be a form of sustainable gardening. Others saw a move toward low maintenance gardens, with less water needs as sustainable, though this was counteracted by a response that suggested that being “time poor” led also to unsustainable gardening practices.
A few respondents called for a balance between edibles and waterwise plants. Perhaps a re-definition of edibles to being waterwise is also necessary, given the estimation that 50% of total water use that is used for growing our food (David Holmgren, FGA Forum).
Irene from Knox Environment Society, commenting on their Garden for Wildlife program, connected food and indigenous plants ecologically, stating that “there is a real appreciation of the fact that if we set up our gardens with wildlife attracting plants we probably will create a fantastic infrastructure for the home vegie grower, as you will also bring in predators of the pest insects that plague vegie growing.”
Opinion toward less sustainability in the garden cited loss of garden space in middle and outer suburbs due to interconnected urbanisation pressures, such as decreasing house blocks with larger houses on them, and medium density housing build up. A handful of other respondents mentioned this to cause a decrease in middle and outer suburbs, highlighting the different variables at play across the metropolitan area. The strongest dissenting voice to an increase also attributed a loss of rural family heritages and older gardener skill and knowledge.
John Raynor emphasises that “Cultural change in the community is needed, as it hampers the ability to develop sustainability.” There are new sustainable living and garden opportunities under development across the metropolitan area. Increased contact with permaculture groups suggests more people are becoming willing to change. Linda from Permaculture North East Ranges stated that “people are asking practical questions and they are people who maybe wouldn’t have asked these questions before.”
According to the majority of the research findings, sustainable, self sufficiency gardening is on the increase.