Leading article: Root out the shrubs, let weeds run wild

THE PASSION for pebbles of Britain's gardeners is putting the country's shoreline at risk. It is time to call a halt to this madness. Watch television programmes about it by all means. Buy best-selling books by DG Hessayon. But on no account must you really do any gardening, this weekend or at any other time. Our futile attempts to stay in touch with Nature outside our back doors have become a threat to Nature in her own habitat. First it was peat, now it is pebbles. Gardening today is merely an extension of the home-decorating business, so that whatever is fashionable is required in industrial quantities, and we dig up the countryside to provide it.

This is not gardening, it is conspicuous consumption. Hardly anyone actually grows anything any more. Everyone drives to the out-of-town garden centre and buys a garden in kit form - soil, peat, pebbles, stone features and all. Old railway sleepers are the latest popular feature, price pounds 23 each. You buy lawn like carpet, by the square metre. Then you buy plants. Preferably fully grown, in pots so that you can move them about if your designer layout turns out to have the wrong feng shui. Then you forget to water them, throw them out and drive off to the garden centre to buy some more.

The idea that any form of wildlife might live in gardens fills most modern horticulturalists with horror. They would not mind a blue tit or two perching photogenically on the blue plastic RSPB bird feeder. But foxes! Get on to the local council's pest control department. Not that there is anything for wild mammals to feed on. The slugs have been poisoned, the snails thrown into neighbouring gardens and the aphids eliminated by enough pesticide to cause a national health scare if used on a farm.

The only form of mammalian life in most gardens is the domestic cat, picking its way through the pepper dust and chemicals to find some patch of something like soil to soil. Which brings us to the other main function of modern gardening besides the decorative, which is localised warfare. Apart from disputes over cats, the reciprocal ethnic cleansing of snail populations, smelly barbecues and loud CD players, aggressive neighbours have in their armoury new breeds of super-hedges that can grow fast enough to plunge next door's garden into permanent darkness within months. If this insanity continues any longer, the United Nations will be called upon to negotiate a new biological weapons non-proliferation treaty.

This bank holiday weekend, make a stand for organic, non-interventionist gardening. Scatter some seeds, and let them grow. Let the greenfly live. Throw away the fertiliser (a recent study showed that it made no difference anyway), the weedkiller and the pesticides. If you must assassinate your friendly slugs, let them die happy in a saucerful of beer. Let a thousand flowers bloom. And a thousand weeds too.

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