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To many of us, I fear, the garden is simply a setting in which plants grow in a somewhat artfully arranged and cultivated manner. We have no sense that the garden is a microcosm of the Earth itself, with all the basic principles of ecology set in motion.

–Eric Grissell, Insects and Gardens: In Pursuit of a Garden Ecology, 2001

The Garden: A Natural System

Gray Comma, Polygonia progne

A garden is far more than a static collection of pretty things, such as the glass flowers at The Harvard Museum of Natural History. Every piece of a garden, even the soil itself, changes with time. While a gardener can manage those changes, s/he cannot prevent their occurrence entirely. And do we want to? For me, part of the joy of a garden is watching it change through time. Each season brings new sights, and rather than repeating the same events precisely, with a new year we have the opportunity to discover something that we have never seen before.

I try to imitate natural systems as I design and maintain a garden. By avoiding the use of pesticides, and selecting a diverse array of plants, I encourage more diverse insect populations. Why would you want insects in your garden? You may not know it, but your yard is already full of insect predators that control populations of pest insects without forcing you to lift a finger. In addition if you like birds, you will be able to attract a wider variety if your yard is a complete buffet stocked with everything from berries, to seeds, to insects.

Although it isn’t possible to create a living garden that is completely maintenance-free, by fostering natural processes, I encourage gardens to take care of themselves in the long run, with the hope that each landscape is a piece of a greater living tapestry.

The balance of nature is not the same today as in Pleistocene times, but it is still there: a complex, precise, and highly integrated system of relationships between living things which cannot safely be ignored any more than the law of gravity can be defied by a man perched on the edge of a cliff. The balance of nature is not a status quo; it is fluid, ever shifting, in a constant state of adjustment. Man, too, is part of this balance.

–Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962

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