Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diversity in the Garden

A Day in June

On hot days,
People cook hamburgers
And the smell
Bloodies the air.

It wakes the carnivore
In everyone.
I go forth
To eat flowers.

It is June and Sonya and I have been gardening together. We are both supposedly working in our money-making occupations as well. She on her laptop, I in my study room staring at this desktop machine and making words. But we both knew we just want to get enough done to soothe our consciences so we can go outside again and mess around in the garden.
In the garden we discover the natural politics of diversity. It turns out the answer to every question in life is “more diversity.” Who you should marry, who should get tax breaks and who shouldn’t, where should people live, where should we go to eat, how do we replace fossil fuels and save the planet…? Whatever the question, whatever the issue, policy question, political question, workplace question, diet question, the way forward is whatever choice encourages more diversity, more experimentation, innovation, change, new combinations. Cross breeding, as gardeners and botanists know, produces a strain that is strong and fertile.
Varieties, as Darwin realized, fuels evolution. It doesn’t work if everything is the same.
And so we apply this principle when “weeding the garden” – an inadequate phrase for reducing the biomass of the entire property in whichever direction you look. So I leave a few of various kinds of our most expansive volunteers – violets, mint, wild geraniums, lots of others I recognize from long acquaintance but don’t know their name – dandelions, even, soft-leafed lamb’s quarters – the tall spear greens that make small blue flowers around their middles --- and of course the northern sea oats, which are not really volunteers since I planted them, and transplanted them, and intentionally spread them, but now like the magic water bearers of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice are everywhere, multiplying and unstoppable – some of these also I have left in various locations. Who knows what they’ll get up to? Blue flowers will shoot out of nowhere when the native orange daylilies flag in their efforts. A couple of “wild” geraniums turn out to be a small blue geranium I bought and planted a couple years back and have carefully kept from being squeezed out by everything around it that grows faster and bigger.
Because if you don’t preserve your rare personalities, your dreamers and eccentrics, the desired diversity will be overwhelmed by the burgeoning colonies of evening primrose and the Anthony’s Waterer spirea which eats ground like a defensive tackle, expanding clusters of tall phlox, big-leafed green carpet vine which is once again climbing underneath everything less densely textured than a steel tank to pop up and tangle the delicate flavors of mosses and edging plants and anything you really care about.
So it turns out that weeding – holding back nature with one hand while you cultivate with the other – is essential to preserving diversity in the garden. And if your approach, like mine, says yes to all comers until they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have to say no, then the constant gardener turns out to be the constant weeder.