Challenging Preconceived Notions is Vital for Gardeners

From weeds to pest control, rethinking conventional wisdom can be a boon to your blooms.

Martin Ruegner / Getty Images
Martin Ruegner / Getty Images

How many times as a gardener have you come across ideas that have become so entrenched that they are difficult to argue against? 

Unfortunately, fixed ideas are common in the gardening world and, all too often, these firmly fixed preconceived notions become a barrier to real discussion and to progress in the field of sustainable gardening.

As a garden designer and consultant, I come across these firmly held ideas all the time. A small but significant part of my job is often to challenge what experienced gardeners and beginners alike think that they know.

It is natural for us humans to become a little set in our ways—we form our neural pathways and become set in our ideas rather easily. But in any arena, but perhaps especially in gardening, it is very important for us to set up each of the ideas we hold and subject them to some scrutiny.

Challenging preconceived notions is vital for all gardeners. If we stop examining the way in which we think, the ideas we hold, and the practices we espouse, we simply stop progressing and cannot hope to become the best gardeners we can be. We should always be learning, and fixed ideas can get in the way.

Preconceived Notions We Need To Challenge


One common example of fixed thinking in the gardening world relates to the way in which many gardeners view "weeds."

Many find themselves fixed in a way of thinking that casts wild plants native to their areas as the enemy—something to be eradicated.

But challenging that notion allows us to see the many, many benefits of allowing some of these wild native plants into our gardens rather than trying to keep them out.

Learn More:16 Edible Weeds: Dandelions, Purslane, and More


Another common preconceived notion in gardening is the idea that we should be trying to "get rid" of pests.

In organic gardening, it is important to understand that even pest species are valuable and important parts of the ecosystem.

We need to welcome in wildlife of all stripes. Though to some it may seem counter-intuitive, we need to welcome some pests in order to attract the creatures that prey on them, to keep their numbers down.

Learn More:Why I Want Some 'Pests' in My Organic Garden

Design & Practice

Another fixed idea with which many come to gardening is that a food-producing garden looks a certain way and involves certain common crops.

But throw out the idea that a food-producing garden is an annual vegetable garden with the crops in rows, and we can embrace exciting ideas like forest gardening—we can get into perennial food cultivation and the sustainable world that opens up.

Learn More:Findings From My 5-Year-Old Forest Garden

Often, we stick with what we ourselves or older gardeners in our lives may long have done when we should be seeking out different ideas. For example, we may stick with double-digging vegetable beds when a no-dig approach might be more beneficial and a lot less work.

For another example, take those who feel tied to lawn care, seeking to grow an immaculate lawn, who would be better off reducing their lawn or getting rid of it altogether.

Learn More:11 Natural Lawn Alternatives

Or those who say that using peat compost or potting mix is the only way when many wonderful peat-free options are available for the ethical and environmentally minded among us, and these have been proven in most cases to be just as, if not more, efficacious for most plants.

Learn More:Peat-Free Compost Is a Must For Sustainable Gardeners

How to Challenge Preconceived Notions

This is not at all to say that old ideas are necessarily bad and new ideas are necessarily good, of course. We should be intellectually critical of all ideas, old and new.

The key thing is that whatever ideas and methods we choose to adopt in our gardens, we need to understand that one size does not necessarily fit all, what works for someone else might not always work for us, and that we learn more every day that helps us to work with the natural world around us to achieve our goals.

Learn More:What's Going on With the Wildlife in Your Garden?

To challenge each and every idea, no matter how firmly held, is our goal. We should think, observe, interact, and remember that even when we don't agree, we can still get along. We should all be humble enough to realize that we none of us know it all. Even in science, there are still huge gaps in our understanding of the complex interactions and mechanisms of the natural world.

Remember, the moments of true progress in gardening often come from challenging those things we thought we knew. In the challenging comes the learning, and the potential birth of new, rejuvenating, and exciting ideas that help us to achieve our goals in the garden and beyond.