...The Forest is Not a Garden
In two previous posts I talked about some differences that I've observed between two types of garden- a perennial flower garden, and the mostly-annual vegetable garden. One type of garden is food for the soul, and the other provides actual food.
Another place where plants grow is the forest. The forest seems to be nature's idea of a garden. It is an entire ecosystem consisting of trees of varying heights, shrubbery, bramble, ferns, fungi, etc, all supporting a whole gamut of wildlife. It is a complex and intricate place.
I found in the book, Gaia's Garden, (by the way this book is stuffed with you-gotta-read-it info, and I'll blog about it another time), the author talks about "features of natural landscapes" , meaning forests, as having "deep soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter." But this is not the case in our forest here.
"Deep rich soil" does not exist in these woods. The "topsoil" is not soil at all, but is instead a blackened layer about an inch or two thick topped with fallen leaves, and intermixed with rotting logs in places. This layer lies atop sand and rocks. The trees seem to be rooted into veins of sand that keep underground rocks from bumping into each other. In some places, ledge forces roots to run along the surface of the rock making a tree liable to fall over in a strong wind.
The forest thrives regardless of what it is rooted into. Its mostly perennial plants are uniquely suited to the climate. It is persistent- forest will eventually take over a neglected yard or field.
The forest is more like the perennial flower garden than the mostly-annual vegetable one as described in my two earlier posts. But there are still major differences. The flower garden does not have the continuous forest floor- if you dig out a plant you are not struggling with a mat of intermingling roots. Compost can be made in the flower garden. In the forest compost takes on the texture of dry airy fluff, and myriads of tiny roots begin to pin it down and then it becomes indistinguishable from forest floor. I know this from having tried it.
The forest bears no resemblance to the mostly-annual veggie garden. And planting veggie seeds in the woods, I can tell you for a fact does not work. There's no mixing of the two types of "garden". Even fruit trees do not thrive in forest areas without completely hacking up the ground, adjusting ph, and adding soil amendments. This I can tell you for a fact also.
The forest has continuity, and the annual veggie garden does not. The individual rows of vegetables do not appear to mesh- one row is isolated from another, and many plants are not hardy enough to continue from one year to the next. We do not till, but many gardeners do, completely disrupting the soil life, further shaking things up from one year to the next.
So, why this comparison between our perennial flower garden, the mostly-annual veggie garden, and the forest? The answer is simple. It's about observation. It's about what can be learned by slowing down just a bit to think about those things we might notice in our own spaces, if we do in fact slow down and take note. And then we may come to notice how one area of a yard may be different from another.
Observation is a first step in adopting and using the principles of permaculture. And permaculture is all about creating a healthy, sustainable, food-providing environment.
It is interesting to think about how different types of gardens are distinct from one another, how they function differently, and how the forest does not resemble a garden. Have you thought about how "gardening" may be functionally different from one area to another in your own yard?
The keyhole garden we started last fall is one of our forays into experimenting with permaculture. Next I'll fill you in on what is happening with that. -jmm