Saturday, August 14, 2010

Garden design

I recently read The Design of Design by Fred Brooks, the guy behind the mythical man month and the magical silver bullet debunking. I'll save further commentary on the book for now, but one of things he mentions is that rules sometimes help the designer because it sets some boundaries within which creativity can blossom.

I have a couple of rules for my little patch of a garden.

A passiflora growing outside in the summer

A first simple rule is that there shall be no grass. None at all. While lawns are nice and everything, it takes a lot of labour to keep a lawn, ideally it needs mowing at least once a week. Even then, unless you have the perfect growing spot for grass (plenty of sun and water), chances are it won't be a pretty one. This is compared to the other beds which I weed maybe two or three times a year while otherwise enjoying the flowers.

Also everybody has a lawn. Most don't look pretty. No fun at all.

Another rule is that there shall be as little uncovered ground as possible. Naked fertile soil is a highly unstable labour-requiring condition, nature will have its way. It also looks silly.

Yet another, less simple principle is that the garden must grow organically, chaotically, like nature, as opposed to being a tidy, trimmed show case of culture. As few straight lines as possible. Make no mistake, it's still designed in the sense that I exert control, it's not nature; if I didn't manipulate it heavily, it would turn into a shrubbery in a few years. But I'm attracted to idea of a green wilderness, to seeing things grow vigorously.

So I tend only to pull up the most annoying weed, the species that are hard to get rid of, and I let the decaying plants stay where they die (from a pull-up or otherwise). It's easy and it works well, most of it is gone when the season is over.

I try not to have too many of the same species in the same spot. Nature seldomly has 10 similar specimens right next to each other at exactly the same age. This also offers some protection against various pests.

And most of the plants I've bought are from seeds or small specimens from the local super markets. There's no overall plan to follow, hence I can satisfy sudden impulses without getting into trouble. And I don't mind having to wait to see the results, watching things grow and looking forward to the adult specimen is part of the joy. It's like buying yourself a gift that you cannot in any way unpack until a year or two after.

A side-effect of the wilderness idea is that my little patch has a lot of small visitors. Which is certainly something to be happy about. Sitting a summer day in the sun, with bees buzzing around collecting honey from the flowers one has put in place many months ago, removing weeds here and there, noticing details one has never seen before, discovering new species that have invaded the soil on their own. I can think of nothing more peaceful.

Of course, I'm learning from this approach. This year I'm beginning to think I need one more rule. Plants on the pathways must be cut down no matter how interesting they look, otherwise it gets too cumbersome to get around, and then I seldomly get to see the outermost corners.

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