Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fabre and my dreams as a 12 year old girl

Too often I find that in garden discussions, the subject of insects is limited to referring to them as 'pests' and subsequently discussing practical ways to kill insects in one way or another. I find this attitude a bit odd.
Consider that experienced gardeners seem fully aware of the direct relationship between their healthy plants and the soil conditions and nutrients that directly effect them. They recognize that plants do not exist in complete isolation from their natural environment, that there is in fact an ecosystem that is best kept in healthy balance if one desires optimum results in the garden. Yet beneficial garden insects are rarely given a thought, except for the usual advice on how to get rid of garden pests.

In reality, most insects in our gardens are beneficial and work tirelessly to contribute to a healthy ecosystem despite our best efforts to destroy them at every turn. Airborne insects and soil dwelling creatures pollinate our flowers, fruits, and vegetables, they fertilize and aerate the soil and help break down waste and bacteria. I feel a healthy population of industrious and beneficial garden insects and invertebrates of various kinds are important to garden health in the same way that healthy soil is important.

When I was a young girl I used to read the wonderful writings about insects by French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre. Fabre's lifetime work ever since boyhood was observing and studying the habits of all manner of nature's creatures in the wild and in his immediate surroundings, insects in particular. His field studies were written in a very enjoyable and accessible style- The Mason Bees, The Life of the Spider, Insect Adventures...

I can still find my young 12 year old signature on one of the worn library books in my hometown here, books written by naturalist authors Fabre, Edwin Way Teale (Grassroot Jungles, Dune Boy), Konrad Lorenz (King Solomon's Ring), and Gerald Durrell (Birds Beasts and Relatives, My Family and Other Animals). Musty books even back then almost 45 years ago, that I avidly borrowed from the library and read as a young girl, dreaming about becoming a naturalist one day myself. Life had other plans for me, and I never became a naturalist, though I never ceased studying and observing insects, plants, and all manner of animals with a passion.

One can peruse a very delightful sampling of Fabre's writings and observations on this wonderful website I recently stumbled upon, wholly dedicated to his work:

When we study and understand the lives of insects and other tiny hard working creatures in the garden, we can better appreciate the vital part they play in the natural world around us, and in our garden too. We then see the garden environment as a whole picture instead of the strange partial view we've adopted by mentally filtering out what we might consider to be the 'undesirables', in other words every creature less superficially appealing than butterflies, chickadees, cute toads, and hummingbirds.
Let's try to learn little ways of providing hospitable insect habitats within our gardens and yards, providing water and shelter, especially avoiding the use of poisons on our plants and in our soil, allowing some areas for protective tall seeded grasses or brush, letting a hollow tree or rotting log remain in place a bit longer to house animals and birds and even bees, perhaps allowing bees to enjoy the pollen of 'weed' flowers such as dandelions (a bee favorite). The whole concept of an artificially sterile lawn devoid of all wildlife is getting so old.

Let's stop viewing insects merely as pests to be ruthlessly eliminated. Indeed, if we did successfully kill off all the insects with our continued obscene use of pesticides and herbicides...our planet (ourselves included) would die along with them.

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