Spurred by new evidence illustrating the problems associated with pesticide use in gardens, Portland's Overlook Neighborhood is working to become Portland's first pesticide-free neighborhood.

Incorrect use of pesticides has been in the news lately, starting with the mass bee death in Wilsonville in June. Adding to the drama, some wholesale nurseries have been scrutinized this past week, with the release of a study by Friends of the Earth (FOE) in which it was discovered that many plants marketed as "bee-friendly" in some retail nurseries may contain neonicotinoid pesticides which are actually lethal to bees and other pollinators.

Being green isn't so easy when toxic chemicals are being used at so many levels in the nursery and landscaping industries. So how to begin addressing the problem?

One option is to start at home - by purchasing organically-grown plants whenever possible. Since organically-grown ornamentals can be hard to find, just ask your retailers if they can verify what, if anything, plants were sprayed with before they showed up on the nursery benches. Most very large stores' staff probably cannot answer that question. Small nurseries, on the other hand, probably can, as they are either growing the plants themselves or obtaining them from growers whom they know on a first-name basis. This means they can find out directly from their trusted, established growers what sprays if any are used.

Another option is to commit to gardening in future without using toxic chemicals. Overlook neighborhood already has some 275 households committed to landscaping without using toxic chemicals since June 2013, thanks in part to Sustainable Overlook - a program which aims to raise awareness about the importance of protecting health, water and habitat for pollinators, wildlife and human inhabitants.

Sustainable Overlook was co-founded by a group of Overlook neighbors including Alice Busch, Leslee Lewis and Mulysa Melco. Growing out of Overlook's neighborhood association, the three started a sustainability group. A few years later, they partnered with Metro's Pesticide-Free Gardening program to promote pesticide-free gardening on an even more local level. (Another neighborhood - Sabin, in inner NE Portland - created the popular Bee-Friendly Garden Tour a few years ago, which also promotes pesticide-free gardening.)

Through the neighborhood association, Overlook residents can attend classes with local gardening experts and pledge to maintain a pesticide-free garden. If you're an Overlook neighborhood resident, check out the Sustainable Overlook webpage for more information and to sign the pledge. If you are a member of any one of Portland's other 94 officially recognized neighborhoods, sign up for Metro's Healthy Lawn and Garden Pledge. Either way, you'll get a free Pesticide-Free Zone ladybug yard sign and coupons for discounts on native plants and other benefits.

To promote the idea to neighbors and the city at large, Sustainable Overlook will hold the neighborhood’s second annual garden tour on Saturday, August 24, 2013. The tour's eight featured gardens represent a wide variety of landscaping styles but are all pesticide-free. A map and garden descriptions can be found on the Sustainable Overlook garden tour page starting Tuesday August 20, 2013.

Interested in more information about pesticide-free gardening, or want to start your own pesticide-free neighborhood? Visit the Metro contact page or call Carl Grimm, Natural Gardening & Toxics Reduction Planner, at 503-234-3000.

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