There are some gardening practices which improve the health of the soil and the natural ecosystems in a garden and some which don't. Keeping the soil covered with either mulch, green manures or other plants is good for soil fertility and reduces erosion. Avoiding the use of substances which kill useful organisms such as bees and ladybirds should be obvious. Saving rain-water to use on the garden makes both ecological and financial sense. Choosing the right plants for your garden's conditions means having robust plants which can more easily resist diseases, which then means fewer trips to the garden center and fewer temptations to use harmful sprays. Using perennial plants that flower throughout the year means there is less recourse to the use of bedding plants which are often grown in energy-intensive ways.
However, whilst one can be more sensitive to the wildlife and soil health of a garden, the garden itself is not a natural ecosystem, but a humanly created one; an enclosure within other humanly-managed land such as farmland, plantation or overgrown coppice woodland or urban areas, unless you are lucky enough to live in a national park, which, it could be argued, isn't true 'wilderness' either.
Many of the plants that are grown in the English cottage garden (seen as the epitome of 'natural' for some) have been brought from countries distant to the UK by plant collectors. Who is to say that a hollyhock (Alcea rosea, native to southwestern China) is more 'natural' than a painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum, from Eastern Asia)? The plants we choose to put in our gardens often reflect an ideal of beauty which is personal to the gardener, which may be for nostalgic reasons, purely aesthetic, or for any number political, historical, philosophical or spiritual reasons.
For example, I couldn't have a garden without at least one rose. The reason for me is partly practical; that they are long flowerers and have a lovely scent and I can make rosehip syrup, but also the romantic and mystical symbolism of the rose means that it acts almost as a guardian for or reminder of those qualities in my life. But Wax begonias (Begonia (Semperflorens Cultorum Group) origin, Brazil), forget it! They remind me of seaside resort bedding plants which I associate with the 1950s and 60s style of gardening which made great use of polluting chemical fertilisers and pesticides and also Victorian-style blocks of colour to be viewed from above remind me of how regimented and control-obsessed I imagine the Victorian head gardener would be and how status-driven the owner would be and somehow this merges with my sense of these resorts' nostalgia for Empire which makes me feel somewhat politically queasy! All from one plant...And yet this isn't rational at all, as roses were also very popular in Victorian times, as they were with their re-invention with the hybrid tea and floribunda roses in the 50s and 60s, as they are now and people can be just as obsessed with rigidly controlling their growth and spraying them against pests and diseases. In fact, my romantic attachment to the genus Rosa probably has more to do with reading the Brothers Grimm, Keats, Tennyson, Shakespeare and Rumi. And I cannot deny that the spirit of conquest and exploration connects what I find distasteful in the attitude of Empire to the swashbuckling plant collector.
So I challenge anyone reading this to dig deeply (sorry for the pun) into the many reasons that are there for why you like or dislike a plant and share them here. I'd love to hear from anyone who absolutely adores wax begonias too!
One thing though, plants aren't just lovely objects you may place in the garden, just as you place furniture in a house; they are living beings with life-spans which have their own ideas about what conditions they like, what other plants they can or can't live with and which direction they want to grow in! Yes this is an anthropomorphic approach, but I believe it helps me to be a more intuitive and thereby more effective gardener to occasionally view plants in this way. But then again, living in Glastonbury as I do, I'm the kind of person who would always ask a tree if it wants a hug, before going ahead..