Toby juggles words as ethical approach falls at first hurdle

Well I haven’t been around on the blog much recently, for which apologies. There just seems to be too many other things on the go at the moment. Thanks to all those people who listened to me as I read from my book Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time the other night in London and thanks very much to Helen Babbs of Look Both Ways for inviting me down to participate in such a lovely event. I’ve never read from my book before so it was a strange feeling to have people actually become quiet and listen. Apparently it was like a bed time reading – I only hope no one dropped off.

After I got back from London Garden News dropped on my door mat with a story headlined “‘It’s common sense to use pesticides’ says TV’s Toby”. Assuming that Toby was organic and ethical this came as quite a shock to me – especially as Toby used to write for Organic Gardening magazine (he dropped his regular column when he became head of Gardeners World).

I don’t want to pre-judge what Toby will do in the programme because quotes can often be miss-represented out of context but I think it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that using chemicals is a common sense approach – on so many levels. Not only is it harder to garden once you get into the cycle of using chemicals – because chemicals invariably kill off predators as well as pests and because pests become resistant to chemicals over a relatively small period of time – they are produced using a material that is running out – oil – at a high price to the environment in terms of CO2 emissions.

My hope is that Toby will explain these complex issues on TV, as he seems to be promising in his interviews. Common science – in comparison to common sense – is telling us that conventional agricultural and horticultural products are part of the problem and that we would all be better off learning how to sustain are gardens without resort to too many things bought from shops made from oil. Throughout the last century we have been taking – to steal a quote from presidential hopeful John McCain – a holiday from history. Our industrial and agricultural systems (along with the billions of people that rely on it) are all maintained because we have taken a credit note from the past (oil) and spent it today. This cannot go on. We have to find alternative ways of sustaining ourselves without using chemical pesticides and without spoiling our environment. Long term there is no other option.

One Reply to “Toby juggles words as ethical approach falls at first hurdle”

  1. Thanks Allan, for this thoughtful piece. ‘Juggles’ is spot on.

    With all that we know about the threats to our environment, most urgently from climate change, and as we slip into the shadow of ‘peak oil’, it’s astonishing that the BBC and Toby Buckland haven’t done a bit of joined-up thinking on how Gardeners’ World might evolve in the years and decades ahead.

    We’re already seeing calls for a shift toward gardening, especially food gardening, becoming more than just a pastime or hobby; some impeccably well-qualified commentators, like Professor Tim Lang, Garden Organic’s new president, see home food growing as an integral part of UK food security. Forget local food – home grown food is supra-local.

    But that is only part of the story. Toby Buckland has said he will show gardener’s ‘how to shop at garden centres’, when what we here in the developed world clearly need is how to be taught NOT to shop so much. The consumption of goods (including gardening goods) drives demand for raw materials and the energy required to turn those raw materials into ‘stuff’. Those processes, at present, almost exclusively require the synthesising and burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, the primary gas causing global warming and subsequent climate change.

    Walk around any large garden centre and you start to wonder why the word ‘garden’ is used at all. Most of the stuff you’ll find there has little appeal to the modern, earth-friendly organic gardener. ‘consumption centre’ would be a better-fitting cap.

    But what most gardener’s won’t be aware of is the power and might of the gardening industry. This is an industry that rigorously defends the use of sphagnum peat and campaigns vehemently against the withdrawal of pesticides which EU experts feel should be withdrawn. This is the industry that vilified Toby Buckland’s predecessor, Monty Don, for urging gardener’s to follow organic methods and to save their own seeds and swap cuttings. This is the industry that likes to talk the green talk, but then announces the building of one after yet another multi million pound, out-of-town, accessible by car only, consumer – sorry – ‘garden’ centre.

    Toby Buckland has styled himself, largely through his excellent, inspiring and award-winning ‘Ethical Garden’ at this year’s Gardener’s World Live, as an ‘ethical’ gardener. To my mind, ‘ethical gardening’ is essentially good, earth-friendly gardening that’s carried out with forethought and with awareness of its impact on the world around us. You could think of it as organic gardening with added pizzazz.

    TV’s Gardeners’ World is at risk. That risk is that it becomes nothing more than a free Friday night flyer for the garden centre industry. A cornerstone of ethical gardening, surely, is thrift.

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