I think one of the most important concepts in healthy gardening is also one of the simplest. Do YOU always look camera-ready??! I highly suspect not. I certainly don't. And neither should our gardens. As with any living organism or community, sometimes life is messy but that doesn't mean anything is wrong at all.
When I give garden talks, I talk about this and one of the phrases I use - and it almost always gets a sympathetic laugh - is that we should learn to "Tolerate the Uglies" in our gardens. What do I mean by that?
Well, any number of things can occasionally be ugly in a garden, but I first came up with the concept in relationship to leaves that have been eaten by caterpillars. What do YOU do when you see leaves disappearing, slowly or (even worse) rapidly? Most of us, I suspect, run for the pesticide. After all, isn't a good gardener supposed to protect her plants?!
Actually, no, that sort of protection is not necessary. Mother Nature has designed an entire type of animal, predators and parasites, that will take care of leafeaters for you...if you give them a chance.
My first conscious lesson about this idea of learning to tolerate ugliness came about 7 years ago when I was beginning the front garden at this house. I had planted a couple young Echinacea plants, two of the "Sky" series, earlier in the spring. They were establishing well, I thought, until one day in mid-June I looked out the window and saw what appeared to be black mildew all over the leaves of one of them. Damn!
When I went out the next morning to carry out my plan, the caterpillars were gone. They could have all been eaten by some predator, but I suspect they'd reached the age/stage where they naturally scattered to find more food on their own.
I'll share another couple stories about tolerating occasional garden uglies in the next post or two....