I’ve been reading two new books on small-scale permaculture: Food Not Lawns, and Gaia’s Garden, both of which provide lots of useful information if you are interested in converting your stagnant yard into a garden (the Food Not Lawns might have a little too much polemic and activist sermonizing for some folks). The great thing about permacultural design concepts is that it turns conventional gardening stereotypes on their head; for example, I’ve always thought of gardening as back-breaking labor, ripping out weeds and pruning back trees and such. And this is because a conventional garden is oriented all around fighting against nature, as opposed to utilizing natural processes. In a well-designed garden, no weeding should be necessary. The permaculturist approaches a “weed” not as an enemy to be battled and overcome (which as we know is a constant battle that can never be won), but rather as a demonstration of what that particular plot of land requires. Weeds spring up where they are needed by the soil in order to recover from the devastation that conventional gardening wreaks upon it. As such, weeds can be considered “pioneer plants“, in that they are establishing the soil for new forms of vegetation (or are attempting to, before we begin pulling them out again).
At the heart of permacultural design is an enlightened perspective of nature, in which mankind is neither subservient to it, nor dominating it. We simply encourage natural processes to do what they do best, while reaping the benefits of edible and beautifying landscapes. And all it takes, really, is some forethought and ability to see processes as multi-dimensional and interrelated. It’s so remarkably simple that it makes one amazed that these design concepts are still considered somewhat new and cutting-edge, even though many of its processes have been utilized by tribal agricultural systems in the past. But like all things revolutionary, it is just in making that simple, small leap from convention that is so hard at first.
As a personal example, I grew up abhoring anything technical, and when my dad–who loves technical things and fixing things and inventing things–tried to teach me anything I just let it go in one ear and out the other. I never used a power tool until a few years ago. And now as part of my job I perform small fix-its and install hardware–activities that I would never have thought myself capable of doing. And the only reason I couldn’t do it before was simply because I never applied myself to it. Fixing things isn’t hard. All it takes is that small, simple revolution of the mind, where instead of approaching it from the angle of “this is broken,” you approach it from the angle of “how do I fix this?” It is these very small revolutions, these simple shifts in mentality, that allow us to go beyond convention and empower ourselves to innovate.