Bees need sound arguments not sound bites

A lot of publicity was given to the Friends of the Earth’s demonstration outside of Chelsea Flower Show this week highlighting the recent report commissioned by them on bees. The message of the demonstration was to get pesticides banned and they maintained their report supported this. Now peaceful demonstration is a fundamental right of everyone in this country, and quiet rightly, but are things as simple as banning pesticides going to aid bee populations recover? If you actually read the report, which credit to them, they have made available as a free download from their website things are far from that simple. There is a very complex interaction between food production and wildlife.  Now let’s get things clear, each generation has a moral as well as practical obligation to leave the world in as least as good a state as we inherited it – it is our children and grandchildren who will have to live on it after we have gone. The problem is that the environment is a very complex thing – I mean REALLY complicated! You think the instructions for the flat pack wardrobe are bad, that’s nothing! Thus the environment has this nasty habit of not reacting to our help as we expect it to. Not because it is just being difficult but because we really don’t understand it all that well. So say we ban pesticides, now what?

Of course we don’t actually know and that’s in part because the effects aren’t going to be just environmental. For one thing it’s going to have economic implications and economics is another very complex area we just don’t understand very well, just ask a European Central Banker! Whilst removing pesticides would mean the end of shelves of unblemished produce; people could be educated to accept that, the supermarkets managed to brainwash us all into believing the odd blemish was something dreadful. But we rely in a large part on pesticides to allow modern agriculture to provide us with the abundant supply of cheap food we find in our shops. The organic food we find in our shops, which is produced without pesticides, comes at a hefty additional cost which is at least in part the result of not using pesticides. Set this against the background of what has been described as an obesity time bomb caused by the bad diet of the developed world and we have a conflict. On the one hand the government what’s everyone eating more fruit and vegetables because of the cost to the NHS of our bad diet and the other we need to ensure the ecosystem and therefore ourselves survive long term.

Surely what is needed is a balanced measured approach which relies on known facts. The environmental lobby, as do all lobbies, has a habit of over simplifying things and relying on reducing things to sound bits. But the danger of this is you end up leaving people with the idea that there are simple solutions to very complex problems. Of cause what happens next is people try to implement the simple solutions and find all they end up with is an even more complex problem. So say you do just ban pesticides, what will happen next is the food industry, the environment, the retails and the consumers are all going to react to this and all these reactions are going to interact with one another. Whatever the outcome, and its not really possible to any more than guess what that will be, there is no guarantee the bees will come out the winners!

Hard Landscaping

This tends to be used, principally in professional horticulture, to refer to the none plant parts of a garden. So landscaping an area would be divided into either hard or soft landscaping. Generally this doesn’t include the soil and compost but where there is a lot of earth moving that could be included in hard landscaping and then the preparation of the ground for planting would be soft landscaping.

Soft Landscaping

This loose term is more frequently seen used within professional horticulture but simply means the soft things that grow ( i.e. plants) and the soil or compost they grow in. So it includes trees, shrubs, hardy perennials, grass, etc.. It generally doesn’t include vegetables grown purely for consumption, there are a number of very ornamental vegetable that would then be soft landscaping, as commercially a landscaper would not normally be involved in vegetable growing, just providing space for their cultivation in a garden. Commercially vegetable growing would be something undertaken by a market gardener which has nothing to do with landscaping.

Landscaping

From the word landscape, originally landskip, which was an artist term referring to a country scene which was painted. Later the word was combined with gardening to give us landscape-gardening and this has been further contracted to landscaping. The term landscape-gardening only really can into use with the English Landskip movement of 18th century. It generally refers to the construction of ornamental gardens, either public or private, and commercially it is often split into soft and hard landscaping.  

Nutcutts Book of Plants

It may seem strange to include in this list what is to a large part a nursery catalogue, and it is unashamedly in a part an advertisement for Nutcutts. The thing is it is a treasure trove of information on garden plants presented in a concise and assessable style. Thought the content is about the 3000 plants they grow; that range is sufficient to cover most plants you will encounter in the average garden and the plants included come with wealth of pertinent information regarding a plants size, features and where to plant it.

Divided into 5 sections, of which the second and fourth are the most valuable. The first deals briefly with Nutcutts history and present services but the second section provides a vast wealth of information set out as short detailed notes on a vast range of plants grouped under trees, shrubs, climbers, etc. The third section extends this range by treat a range of that plants they sell but do not produce themselves in the same way.

The fourth section though provides a collection of lists. Each list provides a range of plants suited to specific locations and/or uses. These lists can be cross referenced with one another and the descriptions in section two and three to provide a very powerful tool for gardeners to build up a list of possible plants for a specific location and/or use in the garden. Equally they will though up suggestions that you have not heard of or that had simply slipped your mind.

The final short section provides a range of tips and advice on the establishment and care of plants.

As it is a small book the depth of information and the range of plants covered is very limited, but it still covers most of the plants found in gardens and garden centres, or at least a close example, making it invaluable when first point of reference when trying to decide what to do with a particular plant or part of a garden.

Selective Weed killer

Also called a selective herbicide.

A weed killer that is more poisonous to some types of plants than others. Note that it selective weed killers are first weed killer, i.e. they kill all plants, and then the selective part is just how susceptible different plants are that particular chemical. Or to put it other way if you are not careful to make sure you follow the instructions accurately you will either kill off nothing or everything including the plants you what to keep.

Herbicide

The proper name for a weed killer. It’s formed from ‘herb’ meaning a plant (from the latin herba meaning a green plant) and ‘icide’ meaning it kills things. So you get insecticide, fungicide, biocide, pesticide, etc.

Tree

A plant, larger than a shrub, with a one or occasionally 2 or more clear stems which form a trunk(s). Above the trunk is a system of branches which gradually increase over the years.

Weed

A plant in the wrong place. That’s it really, any one plant can be or not be a weed depending where it’s growing, when it’s growing there and most of all who’s looking at it!

So how is a plant name constructed?

A diagram of a simple plant name

A Simple Plant Name

A basic plant name consist of a genus which starts with a capital letter and a species which does not both of which should be written in italic or underlined. This is to make it clear you are looking at a proper plant name. Good as this simple system is, and if that was it live would be a lot easier, often this is not enough and other bits get added. The most common for gardeners is a cultivar name (abbreviated to cv.) and this particularly good form of a plant which has been selected e.g. Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is a particularly good form of Photinia x fraseri and the cultivar name is written in normal type but enclosed in single quote marks.

So what is a genus? This is where things get messy. There is no nice neat definition of what actually constitutes a genus or a species. There are to lengthy codes lying down what is or is not a valid name, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, both at which carefully avoid any definition of what constitutes a genus or species. In practice its all down to what people can agree on is a genus or a species. Guess what botanists often don’t agree and this leads to plant names being changed as people argue is this a genus or a species in a genus and so on. This is turn leads to the frequent complain that ‘they keep changing the *@*!* name’. The real problem plant names assume that all plants are related by evolution and the names should demonstrate this. So a group of genera will be placed in a family all of which have a common ancestor they evolved from. But this common ancestor is now extinct and lost to us. It’s rather like trying to work out if your neighbour is related to you with out any historical documents to refer to relying on appearance alone!

 

What you need of course is some sort of definition to tie down a genus and in practical terms a genus is a group of closely related species. This can on occasions be a group of one, but then is generally believed that there were other members but they have died out and become extinct. Similarly what a species is not that well defined. Traditionally a species was said to a group of plants which could breed with one another but then two different species could not be successfully crossed. This has a problem as gardens, and to a lesser extent the wild, are littered with plants which are the result of two species being crosses. Not to mention the number of plants which are the result of different genera being crossed! Really a species is a group of very similar plants, more similar that those included in the same genus, which look the same but are not genetically identical.

How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms.
Aristotle
Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC – 322 BC)