First off: sorry that my first post on this forum commits the double sin of self promotion and jumping headlong into a contentious subject, violating Godwin's Law from the outset(!) By way of brief introduction: I'm a gardener (you see: I'm calling myself a Nazi too, so it's okay ), wild foods enthusiast, novice herbalist, etc. hailing from SE England. Now...
I read this quote in Derrick Jensen's awesome book, The Culture Of Make Believe:
The fundamental metaphor of National Socialism as it related to the world around it was the garden, not the wild forest. One of the most important Nazi ideologists, R.W. Darré, made clear the relationship between gardening and genocide: “He who leaves the plants in a garden to themselves will soon find to his surprise that the garden is overgrown by weeds and that even the basic character of the plants has changed. If therefore the garden is to remain the breeding ground for the plants, if, in other words, it is to lift itself above the harsh rule of natural forces, then the forming will of a gardener is necessary, a gardener who, by providing suitable conditions for growing, or by keeping harmful influences away, or by both together, carefully tends what needs tending and ruthlessly eliminates the weeds which would deprive the better plants of nutrition, air, light, and sun. . . . Thus we are facing the realization that questions of breeding are not trivial for political thought, but that they have to be at the center of all considerations, and that their answers must follow from the spiritual, from the ideological attitude of a people. We must even assert that a people can only reach spiritual and moral equilibrium if a well-conceived breeding plan stands at the very center of its culture.” (pp.589-90)
...and it rang, well, several bells in my mind which led me to write this:
Here's a taster from the opening paragraph:
I’ve touched before on the ‘curious parallels’ between the language people use when speaking about so-called invasive species and the ‘language of racism and genocide’, especially when you compare it to tabloid-style attitudes toward immigrants ‘stealing all the jobs of our native-borns’. It has also become increasingly apparent to me – as I work in the gardens of acquaintances and friends of the family doing all the ‘necessary’ but physically taxing tasks of mowing, weeding, pruning, trimming, and as I continue to work with a volunteer conservation group manipulating local habitats in an effort to replace ‘unwanted’ with ‘wanted’ plant & animal species – that the prevalent cultural attitudes and subsequent actions toward those we term ‘weeds’ closely resemble the irrationality, fear, prejudice and blind hatred so often evident in acts of genocide.
Anyway I felt proud of it and was interested to discuss some of the issues raised, but so far my modest blog readership hasn't risen to the challenge... Having lurked on these pages on several occasions (and, incidentally, learned a few valuable things - thank you!) I thought it might be the right place to broach the subject and have a conversation.
I'd be interested especially to hear about peoples' positive or negative experiences with herbicides and, more broadly, any observations of how ecosystems - including gardens - have evolved when left for the most part to their own devices. Are the fears of couch grass, bindweed, dandelions, brambles and himalayan balsam taking over the world well founded or not?
Best wishes and apologies again if I've made a breach of netiquette
Kirk: I tend to agree about herbicides, although I have trouble persuading people around me who are much more gung-ho about using them. Have you eaten H. Balsam yourself? I was just aware of the seeds as food (e.g.), but the leaves too? Lots of it growing near where I live, especially on damp soils & near open water.
everybody has something to contribute, even if we have a hard time seeing it.
Yes! I depend on the Plants For A Future website for discovering uses for plants that I've been assured are valueless.
Ludi: Couldn't agree more - the farmed fields around here look barren and devastated when the soils are left bare between crops (at least these vary from field to field, I suppose), e.g. this one which had its corn all torn out last Autumn:
Basjoos: Really interesting. I planted out my first garden veggies this year and have had the constant question niggling me about whether The Land really wants to grow these plants (most of which aren't native by any stretch of the imagination) as much as I do. Doesn't all the care and attention I have to lavish on them if they're to survive rather prove that they don't belong here? I guess that ability to spontaneously regrow from seed indicates at least a preliminary 'vote of confidence' from the ecology...
Willy: re: wild roots I think I remember reading that they make up for their relatively small size with their nutritional density, which cultivated rootcrops sacrifice for sheer bulk. Not eaten any wild carrot myself yet, but I know a few who would beg to differ about their inedibility. Check these beauties out, for example.
Here's a blurb about it: http://ontariowildflowers.com/main/species.php?id=118
I also agree that domesticated plants, such as garden veggies, do indeed require more care and even coddling compared to a wild plant, just as domesticated animals typically cannot fend for themselves. That's the whole domesticated thing in a nutshell. But it's not like we get nothing from these domesticated plants. We put in more work but get more edible and more tasty per plant, generally; otherwise, we wouldn't do it. Lots of wild plants are very fiddly to eat and have strong tastes that we are not used to and even alkaloid levels that we can no longer accept.
Yeah, that's a good point to keep in mind: that all creatures shape the environment one way or another to suit their needs. I seem to remember Richard Dawkins calling it the 'extended phenotype' - a manifestation of genetics outside of the organism in question (he cites the dams made by beavers as one example of the 'long reach of the gene'.
I never heard of an animal gardening quite so ... intensively as many humans do, though. They don't move into an area, tear out all the pre-existing vegetation and start from scratch with their own imported species, then vigorously resist any attempt by the land to reinstate its former balance. Fostering the growth of your favoured foodplants is one thing, but for me it doesn't explain the fervour with which most of the gardeners I know eradicate any expression of independent wildness in the domain under their control. The veg patch I'm currently tending had been previously neglected for 2 years and as a consequence hosted a glorious forest of goosegrass, green alkanet, bindweed, dandelions, nettles and others. I was intending to try a few gentle no-dig & mulching methods, but a neighbour with more experience got there first and worked over the whole area with a fork, pulling up as many roots as she could and turning over the soil down to about a 1/2 metre depth. If our plants were to go in, all the others had to come out.
In his novel, Ishmael Daniel Quinn formulated the 'Law of Life' this way:
You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down your competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. (link)
... pointing out that civilised agriculture flaunts this law at every turn:
"Funny. . . . This is considered almost holy work by farmers and ranchers. Kill off everything you can't eat. Kill off anything that eats what you eat. Kill off anything that doesn't feed what you eat."
"It is holy work, in Taker culture. The more competitors you destroy, the more humans you can bring into the world, and that makes it just about the holiest work there is. Once you exempt yourself from the law of limited competition, everything in the world except your food and the food of your food becomes an enemy to be exterminated."
While the Production Imperative is generally more relaxed in gardens than on farms (although for the most part it is still all about us - our pleasure, our 'need' for pristine lawns and pretty flowers - regardless of who else has to live there), I was surprised by just how far this attitude of intolerance and fear carries over. I guess it's bound up in our cultural identity - "We are a farming people. This is how farmers behave."
That's a great point about duality, though. For me 'does the land want to grow this?' is an important question to ask precisely as a means to get back to that indigenity (yes, it's a word! - first I wrote 'indigenosity', which isn't). At the moment I'm painfully aware of just how alienated I am from that primary relationship. If I didn't ask that question where I am now, I would be capable of saying 'Yes, I want to grow corn' and then creating a wasteland like the one pictured above.
gardening does not require fascism, but it does require relationship and attention.
I personally think that the attitudes to non-native plants are very similar to attitudes about immigrants that have surfaced periodically in US history: they carry disease, they have too many children, they don't follow our rules, they don't know how to behave (aggressive growers), they push in where they are not wanted, they displace natives/take the jobs of US citizens, etc.
Great to hear I'm not alone in noticing this! Further, it occurs to me that, just as Kirk noted that 'invasive species' tend only to thrive in ecologies that have already been disrupted, likewise those who complain about immigration often fail to recognise the disturbances in social ecology that open up the space for these 'waves of invading foreigners' in the first place. (Although in this case it's more like the 'invasive' has had its home destroyed and so is compelled to seek refuge in the very place the attack originated from...)
I also agree that domesticated plants, such as garden veggies, do indeed require more care and even coddling compared to a wild plant, just as domesticated animals typically cannot fend for themselves. That's the whole domesticated thing in a nutshell. But it's not like we get nothing from these domesticated plants. We put in more work but get more edible and more tasty per plant, generally; otherwise, we wouldn't do it.
Yeah, this is a tricky subject. There's so much about the process of domestication - what it does to both domesticated and domesticator - that I find distasteful. Yet here we find ourselves, enmeshed in a co-dependent relationship which, even while it fails to meet some of our deepest needs (e.g. to be wild and free, engaging with others who are equally wild and free), also happens to be what is keeping us alive right now. I see a way forward in what some of the American bloggers/writers I follow have termed 'rewilding' - basically undoing the process of domestication (which, now I think about it, both Basjoos and Willy seem to be doing already). As Jason Godesky writes in the article Ludi linked to (nice to have someone link to Anthropik before me for a change!):
cultivation does not need to be a literal world-wide catastrophe; it can also be a pro-active human involvement in succession, and can allow us to take some part in rewilding the species we’ve domesticated and healing some of the ecological damage we’ve caused.
Perhaps getting used to fiddling with wild plants and accustoming our palates to their 'strong tastes' can be part of this? I know I got used to the bitterness in dandelion, plantain and other wild salad greens pretty quickly, to the point where I find common lettuce bland and boring, instead actively seeking out the powerful flavours that make me sit up and take notice.
Some of the vegetables have gained some wild characteristics, but are still perfectly edible and often have stronger tastes than their blander tasting domesticated ancesters. The lettuce, which started out as Winter Density and Rouge d' hivor has stabilized as a slightly bristly oakleaf type that is totally undamaged by 8F winter temps and eventually gets 6 feet high, 4 feet wide as it blooms. Seedlings start appearing in Nov and start flowering in late June. Lettuce cultivars started in Nov are blooming right now and will be dead long before the wild lettuce finishes bolting and starts flowering.
The tomato was Matt's Wild Cherry, which is a wild species and has continued unchanged except for producing the occasional plant sporting yellow or pink fruit. A few potato leaved Brandywine seedlings come up every year.
The cucs were Lemon and have continued as Lemon.
Parsnips and carrots continued as fairly generic looking white parsnips and orange carrot. There is no queen's anne lace or wild hemlock native on my property to confuse the carrots with. Seedlings start appearing in late Oct, overwinter, then a few bloom that spring while most size up during the summer, overwinter, and bloom the following spring. I harvest during the second winter and may start roguing the 1st spring bloomers if it looks like they are becoming predominant in the population over the 2nd spring bloomers.
Winter squash has retained the Seminole look except for the occasional plant that is a Seminole X Thai Large cross. The cross looks like a smaller version of Thai Large, but has the long term storage ability of Seminole, which the original Thai Large didn't have.
Ludi: Hey, maybe we should start a fan club! Too old to rewild?? I don't believe it! By one reading you can't not rewild - it's what every living organism works to do, given half a chance. People have broadened the definition to include all kinds of different activities. As it says in the wiki:
The term "rewild" acts as a verb which implies an action, a motion. It does not symbolize point A (Civilized) or point B (Wild) but the space between. As a verb, it symbolizes a process of undoing domestication, not the endpoint. It may look like a woman breast-feeding her child. It may look like a group of people collecting wild edibles. It may look like someone turning off their TV for an hour a day. It may look like hanging out with your friends. It may look like refusing to pay rent or buy food. It may look like killing a deer for the first time, using a rifle. And it may look like using a bow & arrow. It may look like reading a book and changing the way you see Civilization. It may look like refusing to send your children to school. It may look like stealing from the cash register at your wage slave job. It may look like tearing up the streets with a sledge-hammer to plant crops. It may look like investing in "green" technology. It may look like taking down civilization. It may look like frustration at the current state of the world. Everyone has various comfort zones, social networks or friends who can show them things. Rewilding does not exist just for the small elite class of purists who band together and head for the woods to live a 100% primitive life. It serves as an umbrella term for all those who strive to undomesticate themselves, even if only in the smallest way they can.
Basjoos: I bow to your greater experience. I only have book wisdom to share in return. Your descriptions (and the discussion so far) reminded me of this passage from Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution (pdf):
The fruit trees of Mr. Fukuoka's orchard are not pruned low and wide for easy harvesting, but are allowed to grow into their distinctive natural shapes. Vegetables and herbs are grown on the orchard slopes with a minimum of soil preparation. During the spring, seeds of burdock, cabbage, radish, soybeans, mustard, turnips, carrots and other vegetables are mixed together and tossed out to germinate in an open area among the trees before one of the long spring rains. This sort of planting obviously would not work everywhere. It works well in Japan where there is a humid climate with rain dependably falling throughout the spring months. The texture of the soil of Mr. Fukuoka's orchard is clayey. The surface layer is rich in organic matter, friable, and retains water well. This is the result of the cover of weeds and clover that has grown in the orchard continuously for many years.
The weeds must be cut back when the vegetable seedlings are young, but once the vegetables have established themselves they are left to grow up with the natural ground cover. Some vegetables go unharvested, the seeds fall, and after one or two generations, they revert to the growing habits of their strong and slightly bitter-tasting wild predecessors. Many of these vegetables grow up completely untended. Once, not long after I came to Mr. Fukuoka's farm, I was walking through a remote section of the orchard and unexpectedly kicked something hard in the tall grass. Stooping to look more closely, I found a cucumber, and nearby I found a squash nestled among the clover.
On the other hand, there are many areas in the Pacific Northwest where English Ivy (Hedera helix) where its has replaced a relativley intact native understory, climbed trees, taking them down in the wind or ice, supressed seedlings and ultimately created an ivy desert. Some of these places are likely 30-50 years old. I have removed the ivy, and done some modest planting and a diverse understory returns.
There is a place on Olympic Coast, majestic spruce forest, untouched. Ivy was planted at an old hotel. It is now spreading into an old growth understory, coursing through logs and replacing the diverse flora.
The historic lowland meadow and prairie polyculutures that were a cornerstone of native diet are now essentially on life support and has mostly been replaced by eurasian pasture.
Simplicity is seductive, particularly if it fits our psychological want for order and clarity, wheather fearing the interloper or the yoke of domestication.
allthough i too can see many similarities between sentiments over invasive exotics, in human and plant populations, i do think one has to be carefull with seeing similarities between ecology and human behaviour/relationships.
like paul c. said, hedera can move in to an undisturbed undergrowth and eliminate it. to relativate the statement about needing an ecological or social disturbed population for invasive exotics move in:
how disturbed were indigenous peoples when europeans came to the americas?
and how were the aboriginals is australia doing when 'we' came there?
australia being an example of the damage that exotics can cause whe introduced in a stable, but previously isolated, population of plants and animals.
but again, it can be dangerous to outline similarities in human behaviour and nature. We do have brains to think with and something that we call 'ethics' and 'morals'. something nature/ecology hasnt.
So while we (humans) can devastate local environments and replace a local population by our own, when we enter it. but we can also choose not to, and behave more collaboratingly and respectfull
That said, reasoning in the absence of compassion or a broader vision can be dangerous as well.
For those who haven't... I found Jared Diamond's Gun's Germs and Steel a great read discussing some potential ecological origins of the colonial period in our history.
It could be that many ecological events are not distinctly good or evil, but cause suffering all the same. I think it would be hard to argue against the idea that floral and faunal invasions are largely caused by humans, are resulting in a homogenization of global biota, and thus are part of our current extinction epoch. But to say we should now try to stop that with herbicides, while continuing to live the life that fuels habitat degradation and climate change is pathetic.
Hello Paul and Joop - thanks for the interesting contributions.
Paul: Funny, I've heard those fears about ivy toppling trees over here in England too, but as Wikipedia notes, this 'does not normally occur in its native range'. Following the reference they provide for this statement I came across this in-depth article (pdf) on the plant which details some of the good manners it seems to have forgotten since leaving its home:
Ivy is found in most types of woodland (21/25 types of Rodwell, 1991; Tansley, Br. Isl.; Ir. Pfl.), although it is characteristic of secondary rather than ancient wood- land (Rackham 1990) as it is a poor colonizer of existing woodland. [...]
Ivy tends to become established from seed in disturbed or more open habitat, and does not appear to compete strongly with established woodland ground flora spe- cies, though it can avoid shading effects by climbing [...]
Ivy grows most vigorously in shaded, moist sites on heavy, fertile soils, and where it occurs in woodland it is frequently dominant in the field layer. This behaviour makes it very invasive as an exotic (e.g. Thomas 1998; California Exotic Plant Pest Council 1999). Ivy’s aggressive and communal growth on trees has led to it being generally considered a forest weed (e.g. Horne 1952); Rackham (1990) notes that Theophrastus (372–287 ) thought that ivy kills the tree on which it grows though seemingly from little actual evidence. Vigorous foliar growth in the canopy of trees is usually restricted to moribund individuals, as healthy trees tend to have a sufficiently thick canopy to suppress growth of the fer- tile shoots of ivy, although ash (Fraxinus excelsior) may permit enough light to penetrate the canopy for even a healthy tree to be infested (Mitchell 1975). Weak trees may suffer from constriction by multiple ivy stems joining around the bole, and trees with luxuriant ivy growth in their canopies may be at an increased risk of wind throw. However, an unpublished experiment con- ducted by the late Mr Arthur Arnold near Wickham, Hampshire, between 1890 and 1942 suggested no effect of ivy on the height, average girth or cubic content of oak trees when half of the trees in a wood were kept clear of ivy, and the other half were permitted to sup- port extensive ivy growths. Similarly, no significant differences were found between growth rings of host and non-host trees in a French study (Trémolières et al. 198. Ellenberg (198 reports that ivy is fairly tolerant of different soils in France and north-west Germany, but that it becomes confined to more fertile oak– hornbeam forests further to the east.
I can confirm that it prefers secondary woodland (in the UK), having worked with my local conservation group to clear a 20-30 year-old clump of sycamores blocking the view of a victorian monument, which played host to absolutely masses of the stuff, covering most of the ground layer too. Nobody could give me a satisfactory answer to the question of what would happen to the area if left alone for another thirty years though. An ivy desert? And what happens after that? Presumably it can't survive for long on its own, and other weeds would start to recolonise the area. But none of them belong to previous natives, you say? Hmm...
I don't want to deny the damage these plants can cause in other habitats, but once they're established it seems like the cat is out of the bag and the locals have to figure out how to relate to the newcomer, and if possible, help him to fit in - a long and painful process. Over here I try to spread the word about eating invasives like H. Balsam and Japanese Knotweed - which apparently cooks and tastes like rhubarb - as a means of controlling their populations and getting something out of it at the same time (where's the fun or popular appeal in bashing plants just for the sake of it?) Unfortunately it doesn't seem like Ivy has much going for it that humans can use, although the bugs, birds and woodland beasts supposedly like it just fine... PFAF come out with a few medicinal uses and other potentials ranging from dye to soap. Urban Scout made baskets out of it, encouraging people to 'Learn how to help the plant do its job, while learning how it can help humans, all while keeping it from killing the native trees and shrubs!' I don't know. It sounds like you've had some success with the 'kill-as-much-as-you-can' approach, but I have difficulty imagining this as a longterm or widescale solution. Even myxomatosis didn't work in the end.
What's the saying - if they throw bricks at you build a house? Something like that...