“It was like hiking into a Hemingway story; everything was sepia-toned and bristling with subtext.” - Leslie What
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” - Chris Maser
If there is one thing the Aspie neurotype is good at, it's spotting patterns. There are other things too, but this is certainly one of them. In this context, a pattern is “a natural or chance configuration”: for our purposes, you find patterns in the configurations of plants, habitats and resources, so patterns are a result of the shifting actions of natural processes. We derive meaning from those patterns in the landscape as we design our forest habitat.
I've seen this done so badly so often that I think that it's likely that it takes a variant neurotype to hold all the information in hir brain, which emphasises the need to plan the whole thing on paper. This is absolutely not randomness. Some patterns will arise from your goals. Other patterns will emerge from the relationship between your goals and your site. A simple pattern might be a herb spiral (yawn), but good analysis will tell you whether a herb spiral will fit into the site, or if you might want to consider a different pattern for growing herbs.
Different designers use the term pattern in different ways. For some, patterns are just templates for solving design problems. At worst, this means the rectilinear designs of our cities and suburbs, but our herb spiral may be an example too, at least in some circumstances (is there a spot close to the house that lends itself to a circle: if so, how big is it, because perhaps a bigger circle might lend itself better to, say, a mandala pattern of one sort or another, maybe with a broader range of herbs), but patterns in forest gardening go beyond this. The goal of patterns here is to create wholeness in our environment.
A pattern language, then, uses a vocabulary and syntax to create a coherent wholeness. You can create the pattern equivalent of “The cat sat on the mat”, or you can create the equivalent of a Shakespearean sonnet. A herb spiral might be equated to the cat – but is it a tabby on the doorstep, Eliot's Macavity, an untameable wildcat, or Blake's Tiger, complete with “fearful symmetry”? Most of the time, they are declawed tabbies. Good patterns live, solve problems in the landscape, resolve conflicting forces, and manifest uniquely, because each habitat is unique. Some patterns exist within the landscape: others are created in response to it. We need to create patterns that allow the landscape to manifest in a healthy way – to give good yields in a self-renewing landscape.
There is an argument that such patterns are inherent in human culture but most of these patterns seem to me to have been oversimplified to allow most humans to be comfortable with the familiar (the cat on the mat: see the nearest shopping centre) – which is not my objective. I want to live in the pattern equivalent of a sonnet, not some childish doggerel. The authors have selected patterns, and these need to be utilised in the context of the understanding of ecology outlined in volume 1, or possibly a more sophisticated one, but the creative designer will be looking for the opportunity for pattern language neologisms, especially where the environment demands it.
Thus the use of the pattern language involves the definition of a field of relationships that can be applied to specific circumstances. The authors admit they are only creating the beginnings of a pattern language for forest gardening – it's a college dictionary and foreign-language grammar, not the OED. It can't be anything else, but it is a very good college dictionary.
The patterns described apply to the landscape, site, garden or element levels of design. You start with creating a productive mosaic, linked by wildlife corridors. Other patterns will arise from this, in terms of the creation of diversity, but also places to live. This is as much your habitat as it is habitat for the other organisms that live there (but it's important to remember you are a partner in this process, not its master).
It's possible to define your forest garden formally, or by mimicking natural ecosystems (my own preference) or by applying the principles of forest gardening to the landscape, or presumably some combination of the above. The chapter covers all of these. I think one important point is that western gardens use rectilinear patterns, making harvest easier, but maximising the ratio of path to growing space. Nature simply doesn't work that way, but works in more irregular forms (which can be great for creating microclimates). Some of these use very long-term patterns, beyond human lifespans; others take into account the fact that different plants have different lifespans. Both flowering and harvesting need to be staggered.
I found this chapter to be particularly inspiring. It's the way to bridge the concept of the garden with the concept of the semi-natural habitat.
It falls down somewhat on the question of climate-change resilience, and a good planner really needs to be thinking about this – how to, for example, create internal windbreaks that will slow down the wind whatever direction it's coming from. How will it manage drought or flood? It also doesn't go far enough (although, to be fair, this book is already a brick, and more philosophy is probably more than many readers will want). In this sense it is weak on how pattern language relates to verbal language.
If you haven't already, stop thinking about your garden as a “property” and start thinking about it as habitat in a landscape. Give things names that describe them. Are parts of your habitat barren or lush, soft or hard, dry or wet? Some places will be rich with decomposition, or ripe with fecundity. How do energy and nutrients flow from one to another? Yes, the allusions are quite deliberate. Name the places accordingly. If you take the above into account, this becomes the intersection of gardening and poetry.
I think my advice here is to break the whole thing down on paper, so you can see how the relationships between physical landscape, soil, water, the natural places for paths to run, sunlight angles and so on interrelate. The patterns described here, and hopefully many more that you can come up with, can then be implemented in your forest garden. I'm just frustrated that I'm not in a position to get on with it.
"A herb spiral might be equated to the cat – but is it a tabby on the doorstep, Eliot's Macavity, an untameable wildcat, or Blake's Tiger, complete with “fearful symmetry”? Most of the time, they are declawed tabbies."
Thanks, Neil, that was fun to read.
I remember talk (from Bucky Fuller?) about how we humans are like a knot in a rope; one can tape another rope to the first, slide the knot over the taped spot, and it's still the same knot, even though it's on a separate rope now. As we munch our way through our lives, we pass most of the matter that entered us, yet we remain. (It was better when they explained it).
That new kid is a freak. Show him this tiny ad:
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