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Paradigm Shift

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When I am asked to teach classes and seminars on organic landscaping or lawn care I am often under the impression whomever has asked thinks that I have unlocked some untold secret that might explain our company’s success in this field. I am flattered of course but truth be known, I might know the ins and outs of the industry but that hardly explains the success. All I do is, remind people what they already know.

Where do plants get their food?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask class participants. The responses range from blank stares to roots, soil, water, and inevitably fertilizers. I sometimes wonder if the blank stares are a response of “I can’t believe this guy just asked me to participate” or “Well duh, I know the answer but I don’t want to show anybody else up”.My hunch is more often than not it is the first response. I base this on the very audible reaction I get when I mention that thing called photosynthesis. Every class has a similar audible reaction, something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, I knew that”. I then continue gently reawakening what people learned as far back as grade school. Once I see the thirst for knowledge is alive and well, I know we can proceed onto bigger and just as fascinating aspects of organic land care. You may ask why I approach instruction in this manner—well, even if you don’t I am going to tell you.

I believe people as a whole are intelligent and are knowledgeable about these things, but somehow along the way we lose sight of them. Perhaps we file them away at the back of our minds. Maybe we are so inundated with bad data, half truths, lousy marketing, and misleading claims that we lose sight of these fundamental truths. Maybe we just think for a time they are unimportant.  Whichever it is, we have to understand how and why these things happen in order to create a sustainable landscape or garden.

Landscapes are complex systems

Control lies at the heart of the prevailing concept of landscaping and gardening, but in the words of Rachel Carson,

The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.

Perhaps if landscapes were not complex systems they would be predictable and consequently controllable; but that just is not the case. In organic land care, landscaping and gardening we strive to work within established systems; not control or dominate them. In order to do this we must understand them as complex biological systems; living organisms unto themselves. With this in mind we must recognize that every action we take i.e. fertilizing, pesticide applications, introduction of foreign species, has an effect on one or more the systems in our stewardship. If we successfully support these systems, the systems are able withstand many external pressures, including pests and diseases. But, even as we come to understand these systems and work with them there will undoubtedly be components that appear to be only moderately irregular, or unobserved, until a radical if not destructive event occurs. Determining what, if any actions are required of us to mitigate failures within the systems must be approached with an effort to minimize any negative consequences of our actions upon the systems.

In contrast to prevailing ideologies of landscape and garden care if we view our actions, or inactions, as a part of complex biological systems we have taken our first step toward creating beautiful and sustainable landscapes—but you already knew that.