Gardening for Good Bugs

"Wow!  We found so many spiders in the rosemary!"

Last May, the Basic Organic Gardening class had convened at the GFE. People of all ages, from all neighborhoods of our city, were learning "hands-on" how to care for their gardens without negative impacts on the environment.

One of our experiments was to fill spray bottles with water and walk around the garden spraying the plants to find spider webs. When wet, spider webs can easily be seen as crazy shining art installations draped in and over plant surfaces. Each group of students came to the same conclusion; spiders were busy and populous in the permanent borders of mixed shrubs and perennials around the vegetable beds, few and far between in the frequently cultivated areas. This is one of the many reasons our food production areas are surrounded and interlaced with shrubs and perennial borders.

 Spider web glistening with water droplets.

Spider web glistening with water droplets.

At the spray-free GFE a diverse population of insects, birds, and spiders weave a balance in the garden. In spring, when aphids are active on our roses, each aphid colony will be full of the empty shells of (former) aphids parasitized by tiny, non-stinging wasps attracted by our blooming nectar plants. Early in the morning, flocks of little birds can be seen hopping in the paths and congregating in the bushes, breakfasting on seeds and insects. Even the hummingbirds, attracted by year-round nectar plants, supplement their sweet diet with insects.

The blooming nectar plants, the bushy cover of California natives, the seed and berry-bearing shrubs in our borders attract birds, pollinators, spiders, and predatory insects to create a busy, diverse, dynamic growing zone in which our fruit-trees, vegetables, and tender flowering plants can thrive without harmful infestations of insects getting out of balance. The sucking and chewing insects that eat our crops are in turn eaten by the birds and predatory insects who do a good job of keeping their numbers in balance.

Our borders provide the threshold between our garden and the creatures of the wild, natural world. They also provide a threshold between our garden and the traffic and noise of our urban setting; they provide a natural boundary, filtering air, light and sound to create a green, protected world. You may see a plant blooming in our border which is blooming on the same day along the steep trails of Mt. Tamalpais, because our border also provides the threshold between wild and cultivated plants.

And somewhere in the border you will usually find a woman with silver hair and an attitude, directing and teaching volunteers. That would be me. And here's my dream. I hope to provide a threshold between the scientific terms and Latin names of the horticultural sciences, and the eagerness and energy of the GFE's volunteers and students. I hope to make what I've learned about garden science over 25 years of professional gardening fun and accessible to whoever wants to learn. Please drop by with a question, or suggestion, or a half hour to help us out in the garden. See you then!

 Hilary Gordon teaching at GFE.

Hilary Gordon teaching at GFE.