June 9th, 2008

garden journal

Common sense in the garden

I usually buy just one newspaper a week and that's The Telegraph on Saturdays, for its gardening section. It was actually Monday before I got round to reading it and I was very interested in this article by Noel Kingsbury. I have a lot of respect for him; his book The New Perennial Garden (1996) is excellent, whether or not you care for new perennial gardens. In the article he argues against what he calls 'Vegetable Luddites' who insist that heritage vegetables must be best.

'society seems to have lost its trust in science - the rush to the organic section of the supermarket illustrates that many of us are in denial about the realities of feeding the world's 6.6 billion people. The fact is, modern scientific plant-breeding and chemical fertilisers are what protect us from starvation.'

So true! In the nineteenth century there was a genuine fear of famine in Europe, which is why we imported all those cat mummies from Egypt. He points out the benefits of preserving heritage varieties of vegetables: ‘"Preserving genetic diversity" is another argument for heritage veg. It is vital that varieties are preserved in seed banks and research stations so that their genes are available to future breeders.' but adds that if productivity is the aim, new varieties win. 'diversity per se is no use to the gardener at home. Far more important are ease of growth, productivity and disease-resistance. For these, modern varieties are hard to beat. The reason many old varieties died out is that people stopped growing them because others were better.’

This is why I'm not against GM crops, any more than I'm against F1 hybrids or plant breeding in general. It so happens that I garden almost entirely organically myself and tend to use tried and tested plant varieties but I regard that as a choice and a luxury. A very small part of my garden is given over to fruit and vegetables; crop failure would be a disappointment but not a disaster. I get annoyed by talk of the 'dangers to health' which may come from GM crops. More dangerous than starving to death or dying of Aids? Please!

This picture comes courtesy of Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm, one of my new favourite blogs.