Vegan gardening is becoming quite trendy. It’s being described as ‘super organic gardening’. Is it really super and should a life-long organic gardener like me go for it?

Organic gardeners would have no problem with most Vegan principles and methods and are doing them as a matter of course. We embrace a holistic approach, recognise that the garden is a complex world of inter-related living organisms, and we do our best to maintain a thriving ecosystem.

Most of our techniques are identical: we use home-made compost to process garden waste and return it to the soil. We often grow green manures to improve soil structure. Although leguminous manures, like clover, add nitrogen, the others retain but don’t increase fertility, as is sometimes claimed.

But when it comes to buying compost, one thing rocked me back on my heels. Writing in The Guardian in January, Vegan expert, Matthew Appleby, conceded that using peat was acceptable Vegan practice, even though this could be ‘environmentally unsustainable’. It certainly is, and should never be used!

Like Vegans, we all use mulches to improve soil structure and reduce weeding. Organic gardeners like me may also prefer ‘no dig’ as digging disrupts the soil ecosystem. And we also rotate crops as it’s the classic way to reduce pest and disease problems.

Organic gardeners take evasive action against what we consider pests: rootfly, pigeons, cabbage white butterflies etc., but this takes me to what I consider a major contradiction in Vegan gardening. Vegans think it’s wrong for humans to kill pests, but it’s fine for a ladybird or a blue tit to do so.

This natural ‘predator consumes pest’ balance can occur but it’s not always easy to achieve in a garden. When we plant lots of one crop, we provide a generous food supply for pests, so their populations increase. Predators lag behind: their numbers only grow once there are more pests. In the meantime, we must fill the gap.

Take a plague of slugs. Appleby does admit that they can be damaging, so we should remove them ‘[gently]’ but doesn’t suggest where to put them. He continues: ‘And if slugs do eat your salad leaves and bugs munch your apples, leave them to it – now, there’s a new idea.’ It certainly is.

He suggests we could use sacrificial crops that will help protect the ones we want, but do we all have space for this? And when a slug devours a tray of seedlings or new plantings instead of our strategically placed sacrificial crop, should we shrug our shoulders, not catch the culprit and make sure it can never repeat its crime?

A cynic might suggest Vegans don’t mind killing, so long as it’s some predator other than them.

The ‘no kill’ principle more famously applies to meat products. Animal manure, blood, fish and bone and anything containing animal by-products are off limits.

Fair enough. I can accept we should only use vegetable fertilisers, like comfrey juice. This produces a potash-rich liquid feed. But what about seaweed meal or liquid feed? Could seaweed harvesting damage local coastal environments, just as peat extraction does increasingly rare bogs?

Vegans don’t seem to get the fundamental point of a garden: it’s an artificial space that we’ve created for our pleasure. We need to manage and control the garden to prevent it evolving in ways we do not want.

We should act responsibly and respect the living ecosystem that is our garden. But we may need to reduce slugs just like we dig out a dock.

I agree with many Vegan ideas, but believe their ‘purist’ approach is unbalanced and doesn’t solve many of the problems gardeners face.

Plant of the week

Lupin ‘Towering Inferno’ makes a strong statement, growing to a metre with orange red petals. Lupins need good drainage and sun to avoid mildew.