March 8, 2020
Nature is all around and within us. Perhaps the best definition of naturalization is what happens when we finally let go. That’s not so easy as we have been programmed by our society to have to appear to be in control at all times.
Let’s not kid ourselves. We are never really in control. Control is an illusion. As soon as we drop our guard and stop expending energy, everything around us takes on a life of its own. It’s like a child whose parents are busy focused on something else. He/she takes advantage of that little window of freedom to do something bold and in keeping with their true nature, like running through the mud and getting “dirty”.
When we came into this world, we didn’t judge. We looked at the world with wide open eyes. We listened to the sounds and felt the touch of those who loved us. We could count on a caregiver to look after us. However, whenever possible, we caused chaos in the household. We challenged our parents’ notions of what life with children should be like.
Quickly, we learned the advantages of order: feeding times, nap times, etc. But order alone teaches us little. Chaos challenges us and allows us to grow throughout our lives at all levels, physically, emotionally, intellectually and above all, spiritually.
We need to be open to all those events in our lives that shake up our perception of order. The most obvious chaos we confront is what happens to a space in our yards when we let it go. In short order, natural processes take charge. Most people would look at the results in horror, but the challenge is to step back and see what is really happening. Much like child rearing, it is best to allow the gardens to develop with a little guidance rather than the arrogant approach of “I’m right and you’re wrong!”.
In 2008, when we moved my native plant nursery to the farm, I had a considerable amount of excess stock of wildflowers and grasses. It was already late in the season, but I took a chance and planted thousands of plugs into about two acres of a newly cultivated field with the intention of using these plantings as a future source for propagation and seed collection. Everything was perfectly organized and labelled.
The following spring, I discovered that many of the plugs had heaved from the fall frosts. However, probably about 60 % survived. That wasn’t bad considering I knew this would likely happen. What I wasn’t counting on was that the field which had been used for pasture and hay for decades still had countless viable seeds of annuals just waiting for the opportunity to germinate and dominate the space.
My neatly ordered gardens disappeared into what appeared to be total chaos. For a very short time, I tried to bring order back, but abandoned my efforts. It seemed to stand its ground and told me in no uncertain terms to back off.
I knew that many of the perennials had survived and if they were able to compete, they would eventually dominate. What I needed was patience, to take the scientific approach and become an observer.
The following year, there were fewer annuals and perennials dominated. Many of them were non-native grasses and wildflowers but clearly many of the native perennials were standing their ground.
Each year since has been more and more spectacular with perennials self-seeding and popping up here and there. You can more or less see the clusters that represent the original beds but the mixing of species is truly amazing. Insect life is phenomenal with many species of pollinators making their home in the meadow.
Nature is not for the purists. So many of us have tolerance only for certain species of plants and animals and can vehemently destroy life we deem the enemy and actually feel good about “saving the environment”.
It is true that many of the species in our surroundings are originally from Europe or Asia. Some of them are invasive as there are no natural controls in this area. Our predecessors made the mistake of introducing them into their gardens from where the seeds dispersed and took over much of the natural landscape. However, they are here to stay. The more we struggle to get rid of them, the more damage we do to the natural environment.
We best allow natural controls to evolve. Rather than look for a quick fix, it’s best for us to master the art of patience and do whatever we can to support the native plants that used to dominate the landscape. We can do that in our yards. Once natural controls have developed for the introduced species, the native ones will then be able to reassume their place in the natural communities.
It is pointless to try to recreate the natural communities of the past. The amount of time and energy it would take to establish a restoration site with only native species and keep it “pristine” would border on the ridiculous. It is better for us to relax and see the beauty in what is happening naturally around us. Allow Nature to do her thing without our endless interference. We have a real knack for creating issues and then furiously trying to fix them while inflicting even more harm.
Let it be.
Emma Marris offers a thought-provoking perspective in this TED talk.