An Ecological Gardener's Handbook

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img_7382Valerie Payn has shared her work in ecological gardening in previous newsletters. Now the printed copy of her book is out, so if you’re looking for something special for a fellow Earth Keeper, this makes a perfect gift. Here she explains what ecological gardening is all about and why it is important.

An Ecological Gardeners Handbook: FAQ’s

What is ecological gardening?

When we create a garden, we combine elements of the human and natural worlds. This creates a new sort of environment. Depending on how we plan and manage our garden, we can maintain those natural ecological processes that support all of life, or we can degrade them.

Ecological gardening involves creating a healthy, mutually supportive community of plants and other living things such as birds, insects, microbes, fungi etc. that carry out a wide range of beneficial and necessary ecological functions. These include plant pest and disease control, pollination and soil rejuvenation.

Is ecological gardening any different to organic gardening or permaculture?

Ecological gardening encourages organic practices and sustainable design like permaculture. But ecological gardening stresses the importance of getting to know conditions in the local environment such as soil, climate, topography, and studying the growth patterns of local indigenous plants and the habits of local wildlife, and using these to inspire our garden design.

Why is ecological gardening important?

The way we plan and manage gardens has huge repercussions for the state of the environment in and around our garden. In America research has found that gardeners use more pesticides and chemicals per acre of land than any industry, including commercial agriculture. Gardens filled with exotic plants that do not suit local environmental conditions require all sorts of interventions to survive. These artificially maintained ‘green deserts’ do not provide much food or habitat for wildlife such as beneficial insects, birds and other small creatures.

Gardens that rely on chemicals and heavy irrigation are expensive and time consuming. They contribute to pollution, waste water and energy, can damage the soil, and often change the natural environment so much that local native plants and wildlife battle to survive. Pesticides also often contain many cancer and other disease causing chemicals.

The combined effects of hundreds of thousands of eco-unfriendly gardens in our towns and cities contributes to climate change, pollution, habitat loss and a host of other environmental ills for which humans are responsible.

By creating an ecologically healthy garden, we create gardens that become life conserving mini-conservancies, rather than life destroying degraded ecosystems.

What are the benefits of ecological gardening?

By creating a healthy garden eco-system we can trim down, or stop altogether, our use of chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and heavy irrigation. This reduces water and energy use, and air, water and soil pollution.  Gardens with healthy eco-systems help create healthy environments for our loved ones and communities to live in and enjoy. And they help conserve important natural processes that are essential for all life on Earth.

By using ecological gardening methods you will be able, amongst other things, to:-

  • Improve the condition of your garden soil eco-system. As your soil eco-system improves so will the health of your plants.

  • You will be able to create a garden that suits the unique conditions in your yard and your locality, and that fits your needs, your abilities, and your budget.

  • Your garden will become full of life. It will attract a wide variety of beneficial birds, insects and other small creatures. Contrary to what to you may think, these multitudes of creatures don’t devastate the plants. In fact, they are signs that the garden eco-system is thriving and healthy. Many of these creatures will contribute to the health of your garden eco-system, helping to control pests, improve the condition of your soil, and play other vital roles.

  • Learn how attract beneficial creatures to your garden, and to combine both exotic and indigenous plants in ways that suit your needs as well as Nature’s needs.

What prompted you to write the book?

I have always been a keen gardener. I practiced for many years as a professional landscape designer and consultant, wrote regular articles for a popular South African gardening magazine, and ran workshops on garden design for aspiring gardeners.

In 2012 I completed a MPhil. Degree in Sustainable Development Planning and Management. There I was inspired by what I learnt about ecological design, organic agriculture, permaculture, and the connections between our actions and the state of the environment. I decided there was a gap in the market for a gardening book that explains the close connections between plants, living creatures and conditions in the environment, and how we can use these connections to create vibrant, healthy garden eco-systems.

I believe eco-friendly gardening can help to save Earth from some of our environmentally destructive ways. Imagine a future where roofs, balconies, parks, pavements, walls, wastelands and gardens, in every town and city, become life regenerating, resource creating, productive, mini-conservancies.

Ecological gardening is fun, fascinating, and doesn’t require any special equipment. It is really exciting when one discovers that, when one learns to understand and work with Nature, magic begins to happen and Life starts to create more Life.

Where can I get An Ecological Gardeners Handbook?

Those in the Cape Town surrounds can buy a copy from Kate Davies ( for R350. For more information where else copies can be obtained, please contact Valerie Payn at or on 083 441961.

An International eBook edition is also available from