The Oxford dictionary defines the word holistic as follows: “Characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” Many people use the term when referring to health. Somebody that takes a holistic approach to health is not interested merely in treating symptoms, but rather the cause of their problems and healing ‘the whole.’ Everything should be in balance for the whole to ‘work’ effectively. How, though, can this be applied to gardening.
One should treat the cause of garden problems and not only the symptoms. One also needs to keep constantly in mind that each plant in your garden contributes to the efficient working of the whole garden. Another important fact to be conscious of is that your garden is not completely separate and that what one does on/in their patch can affect others too. (This can be illustrated with the fact that people that smoke are not only damaging their own bodies, but the bodies of all those around them.)
Treating Causes, Not Just Symptoms
How can one treat causes and not symptoms? Consider this example: Think of when a plant in your garden comes under attack from a pest or disease. Remember that plants are living things and not one is the same as another. Not all plants are as strong or healthy as each other. Different factors in their lives will have resulted in them being more susceptible to or resistant to certain diseases. Now remember how lions, wolves and other predators usually prey on the weak and sick individuals of whichever animal they are hunting. It is the same with plants. The pests and diseases in your garden are more likely to attack plants that are weak or sick. The fact is that many plants have natural mechanisms that help defend them against attack or prevent an attack of some sort. Consider Nicotiana attenuate (Tobacco). One of this plant’s pollinators is the hawk moth. However, it is also a pest because it lays its eggs on the plant, which, of course, all hatch into voracious, gluttonous caterpillars. What does the plant do? It changes the time of day that it flowers; thus avoiding the time when the hawk moths are out and about. Isn’t that amazing? This is just an example of how some plants, when healthy and happy, are able to protect them. This means that when your plants are under attack, they are not entirely healthy. So, by all means, get rid of the pest or disease (organically) as we do not want it to spread, but also treat the plant, giving it whatever it needs to ensure it is healthy and working at its optimum.
Every Element of the Garden is Interconnected
Taking a truly holistic approach to gardening involves viewing the whole garden as a single unit. Why is there a proliferation of a certain insect that is damaging some of your plants? Perhaps there are not enough predators to control their numbers. Why are there no predators? Perhaps you have created a garden that is not welcoming or that cannot accommodate them. How would one do this? To encourage frogs and toads (who gobble up some nasties) include a pond in your garden. Are there enough areas for birds to nest and bath themselves (some birds are a great form of pest control)? Is your cat, perhaps, a deterrent for some predators (think of how they mercilessly kill birds)? Remember, prevention is the best option, not a cure.
All Gardens are Connected
What you do in your garden can have an impact on areas other than ‘your space.’ (Like in the illustration of the smoker mentioned above) Think of chemical usage, whether it be in the form of fertilizers or pesticides. Besides damaging your soil and killing the habitant friendly organisms, these chemicals make their way into the river system. Any chemical poison used to kill insects in your garden will kill things in the streams and rivers it makes its way into. Fertilizers will cause lush algal growth in any waterways it enters, which blocks sunlight and oxygen from getting into the water, thus killing the animals that live there. Also, when a frog eats a slug or other insects that have eaten poison, it can kill the frog and even the bird that eats the frog can suffer harm. See how our actions can have serious knock-on effects. All of this can be avoided by gardening with a holistic approach.
So, while one needs to treat each plant as an individual and cater to its specific needs, one wouldn’t want to treat each plant as if it were completely separated from other ones. Each contributes to the working of the ‘whole.’ Kind of like the human body – each organ is different and accomplishes its unique tasks, however, they are all interdependent and all need to be working properly for the whole body to be healthy and for you to enjoy life – so it is with your garden. Make sure each ‘organ’ is working well, go beyond the symptoms and treat causes and view your garden as a whole unit, and you will have a healthy, functioning garden that you and nature can enjoy.