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Cruelty to plants

Jennifer Stackhouse

Jennifer Stackhouse

October 30, 2012

Gardeners like to think of themselves as kind, nurturing, salt-of-the-earth types who wouldn’t hurt a fly – well unless it’s a green fly or a fruit fly. And that’s the truth: we have to have a cruel, ruthless streak to be good gardeners.

Take yesterday. I was busy turning yet another part of my garden into a vegie plot. Growing vegetables here is a moving feast as one area after another proves to be unsatisfactory (too much shade, soil too hard to dig, root competition, water logged – you name it). But I’ve had my eye on this part of the paddock for quite a while and finally have the green light to make it productive.

So there I am digging in a barrow load of rich, aged manure from the chicken shed and edging the beds with bricks to make a comfortable home for my vegies and I catch a whiff of fragrance. Not that rich manure smell but a sweet, floral scent.

I track it down to the camphor laurel on the driveway, which is covered in tiny fragrant blooms. I have a love/hate relationship with this tree. I know it is bad to the bone and a weed in many parts of Australia, but its bright green spring leaves and fragrant flowers are pretty and birds roost in it at night. However, I regularly fantasise about cutting it down with a chainsaw so there’s one less camphor laurel in the world.

Before I started work on the soil in my vegie beds I ruthlessly removed all the weeds, gleefully piling up their bodies, while my husband subdued others with his whippersnipper before jumping on the ride on to do a bit of mowing (or, from the grasses point of view, a massacre of the innocents). Any worms, larvae and grubs I turned up while I dug were thrown to the chooks who fell on them with much delight.

Gardeners prune, stake, and plant things in barren, wind-blasted positions all in the name of beautification. I’ve just planted up lots of hanging baskets. Those little plants think I am nurturing them with fresh potting mix and doses of Seasol but I know, come the first hot wind, they’ll be toasting and drying out and crying for mercy unless I’m around to dunk them in a bucket of water.


Even those cosseted vegies I am planting – just sweet little seedlings now – are headed for a murderous end to be steamed, boiled, microwaved or even eaten alive in a salad!

If this isn’t enough, I am also regularly cruel to plants by growing them well outside their favoured climate zone. We have a cold frosty winter here and plants suffer. The bougainvillea I planted in an exposed position in my previous garden at Kurrajong rarely re-leafed before November, while the mandevilla had to regrow from scratch every year even though it was nestled against a protective wall.

Here at Kurmond it takes months for the frangipani against the shed to regrow after the horrors of winter and the deep red flowered one I have in a pot (I just can’t see anywhere safe to plant it out) will be suffering post winter stress disorder for months to come. Indeed, it’s in regular therapy with the potted red-flowered hibiscus, which also suffers through the winter.

Enough rumination, I’ve spotted some aphids on the roses and I’m off to squash the life out of them.


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Julie Thomson
11 years ago

Yes, too true Jennifer. Gardening is often a stake-out against the enemy . Nature is ” cruel by tooth and claw”, though, so we are merely players in it.
I admit to many a search and destroy missions on bugs here and and all my little try-hard pumpkin seedlings that pop through in my gardens , from having been seeds in the compost soil added, get a swift yank and throttle before they are tossed back on to the compost heap.

Tammy Schmitt
11 years ago

It is interesting how selective we are in which plants we love and nurture and which plants get the ax. I’ve gotten mad at plants and ripped them out of the soil, while others have been coddled along. A bit Jekyll and Hyde, I suppose. :o)

11 years ago

Camphor Laurel – one of the greatest pests known to man in the Northern Rivers. The only good Camphor Laurel is a dead Camphor Laurel!
PS Peter is not impressed!!!!! LOL!

Jennifer Stackhouse
Jennifer Stackhouse
11 years ago
Reply to  Margaret

Peter is welcome to pop down and give it the chop!

NB Nair
NB Nair
6 years ago

It was nice to read through your write up.
It seems you converse with plants and share their pains and pleasures! Good, Great.
How about those garden hedges, nicely cut to perfect geometrical shapes, absolute planes, right angled edges, and what not? This is really an art called TOPIARY being practiced by humans, though BC (Before Christ) in the most inhuman way?
Plants can’t protest, they can’t run away from you. Also they absolutely under your protection and care – so you do whatever you want – don’t have to bother about their feelings of ill-feelings.
Is it not hugh time we, so called Nature Lovers, stop this cruel Joke called topiary and let the plant grow in the way they want to the maximum. May cut only if you must.
Regards, nb nair.
Please, please, respond