Friday, March 9, 2012

Nature's way

I said I wasn't going to start planting anything until next growing season, but I was thinking purely from Spring through to the end of Summer. It has dawned on me however, since our weather patterns are changing, my growing plans need to adapt. I am considering an Autumn/Winter garden because we seem to get more sunshine and less rain during that time. So I popped off to the shops today, to buy some edible plant seedlings.

I have placed them near some of our indoors plants (indoors of course) as they came out of an air-conditioned shop. I'll place them outside in a sheltered position tomorrow. Perhaps near our new make-shift nursery.

Middle Ridge nursery had to be cleaned out for our chicks, which are now around 12 weeks old. So we set up a shelf on our verandah for all the plants to live. I thought I could build another chicken tractor for our chicks, but as always happens, they seem to grow too fast. It was much simpler to evict the plants and make way for the chicks!

I'm quite proud of my little pineapple collection now. Its growing all the time. They are "hands down" the simplest plant to propagate and virtually maintenance free once they go into the ground. Plus I love pineapples.

Right on the top of the shelf, is my growing palm collection too. I've selected some medium sized varieties (8 to 12m) to provide strategic shade on some of our slopes. Yet at this stage, the palms are very small. I deliberately buy them small because they're cheaper, and I nurture them for a few years - which gives me enough time to make the area I want them ready for planting. These probably won't find their way into the ground, until next Spring, when the danger of frost has passed.

But plants are only part of the equation when it comes to a garden. There are always more complex roles for other living organisms to play their part too. So where does the human gardener fit in? If you ask me, I've had to evolve a lot in understanding what makes a garden work. But there's often a very painful process involved while learning.

This picture looks quite innocent, possibly even a little beautiful, but it's actually taken of the garden we made as a memorial to the flood last years. Where these plants are, was the mound of dirt which was gouged out behind our retaining wall, causing it to collapse. We moved a lot of dirt to put the wall back together, but we left this little mound behind to remind us nature has ways we simply must respect. The marigold was a volunteer which sprung up after the flood. It must have come from a garden on the hill above us. Why mess with nature, if you don't have to?

Which brings me to the ways of the gardener. When I first moved here, I thought it would be awesome to have the biggest jungle of a garden. I thought it would be beautiful, but my expectations were to change over the many years I've gardened this piece of land. Nature IS beautiful, in all her many different states, but many of us come in with preconceived ideas of how nature is supposed to work for us. Consequently, we believe a garden should never look like this....

Beautiful pygmy purple would never see this kind of image in a gardening magazine. How can you appreciate how beautiful the patented product is, if you saw it being strangled by a native pea? These peas sprung up after the flood too. We didn't pull them, because we have learned nature has her ways. If a massive flood brings seeds down the slope, let them grow. Nature put them there, regardless of the beautiful selectively bred grasses we put in.

We will pull these peas very soon though. We let them have the garden for the growing season - pulling them towards the end of autumn means any disturbance to the soil, won't result in more peas springing up. Nature is going to slow down during winter, which will give the disturbed soil a chance to settle. By working with nature's ways, we build a better garden than what we first imagined. But it does come with a consequence.

You have to live with the varying messiness that nature will throw into your own mix. Can you see the plants I purchased amongst the hoard of weeds? This is what my garden looks like most of the time. Once we have weeded, it will look nice again, but only until next growing season when the weeds spring up again. There won't be as many though, because with each year my plants will grow and eventually create too much competition for the weeds.

This is nature's way though and people need to understand it. Whenever we disturb soil, nature has a natural band aide called quick spreading grasses and weeds. There is no exception to the rule. You can never pluck weeds out quicker than nature can generate them. Your only hope is to use nature's own tactic, and cover the soil with the plants you want.

Now this inevitably means living with varying stages of messiness. It's just natures way, but that's because nature always deals according to balance. Plants didn't come to rule the earth for billions of years, controlling all herbivores and carnivores, because it was weak. Plants dominate all carbon life forms and it won't be curbed by the kind of "look" we want for this season.

Natural selection, will kill some of the plants you paid for, while throwing in as many free weeds as possible. That is just nature's way. There should be 3 purple flowered plants (which I cannot remember the name of) in this picture. One died though. Don't ask me why, as I treated it the same as the rest. I originally planted 10 specimens in this row, and at least 3 have died.

Boo-hoo, but don't cry for me Argentina - because I'm glad to see nature pulling the plants is doesn't like. Because I know I'm going to get a stronger garden than the one I originally planted. I just have to live with (shock horror) disappointment of personalised aesthetics. In several years, I may come to understand Nature's wisdom in creating gaps in this line. Maybe it just wants to change my perception of organised?

It often pains me to read about people's failures in their own gardens, especially when they accuse themselves of being born with brown thumbs. They blame their knowlege or their inability to "get" gardening. I was the same and took some of those hard lessons on offer, to change the way I think. Nature's way of gardening is the best way. Mankind's way of gardening is all about endless cycles of labour and frustration, because we don't like things to be out of order.

Believe it or not, Nature and mess go hand in hand. New gardens are ALWAYS messy. But let nature in to help you shape the vision and you will soon learn how resilient a garden can be. It will grow in Nature's image - the original teacher of sustaining life, not in our own. Because believe it or not, much of the gardening information which comes out of glossy books and magazines, is not about gardening. It's about selling books, magazines and plants.

That's not a bad thing, but it gives the totally wrong message of how a garden works. All those pretty pictures, captured in a few artificial moments, won't make your garden look exactly the same. It's difficult to come down into the real jungle and find the beauty of Nature's way.

My garden is a big old mess and I love that animals, pests and the occasional person gets to maraud through the jungle. It wasn't the kind I was envisaging from the start, but it WILL get there one day. I will enjoy it in the meantime and take the lessons as they come.


  1. Your garden looks like parts of my own land! There are spots we leave alone though we will let the llama and his future companions roam the area to help keep things controlled .
    My food garden though...that is where we do our hardest work.
    I don't think anybody as a brown thumb,...just an inexperienced one. Seeds will grow.....if they don't we hopefully figure out why...often it's the seed source not the gardener. Live and learn is a part of nature too.

  2. Definitely - live and learn should be our nature. It's when we become locked into our own perceptions, refusing to budge, that we stop learning the valuable lessons of life.

    I'm actually glad to hear parts of our land look the same. To me it says, nature is working and we are not, LOL. Except for, as you say, in the edible parts where we benefit most from our labours.

    Happy gardening this coming Spring for my Northern Hemisphere neighbours. :)

  3. I am no gardener, but I read. Only in the last six years have I planted or nourished anything AT ALL. Oh, I stuck some six-inch azaleas in the ground. They will live through anything. I think gardening has two parts--intuition and knowledge. Sometimes, when I have done all I know to do, I just wait and watch. I get a feeling that things will be okay and just wait awhile longer.

    All that landscaping in books is like food styling pictures in magazines. Food has often been sprayed with something inedible just to make a photo better. In gardening pictures, I know that the plant just the right size might be plopped down in a pot amidst other plants and not be actually growing there at all. It is all for a glossy picture to sell magazines. It is sort of like photoshopping an actress to make her look so perfect that ordinary women cannot compete with her looks.

    My yard is a mess and will stay that

  4. Oh Linda (without an M) I've done it again! I thought your reply was LindaM's second.

    How rude you must think I am, LOL, I wasn't ignoring you - just confused again as usual. ;)

    I agree with your comment of photoshopping garden magazines, like they do models. Most gardens don't look that perfect all the time, just like women, LOL.


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