The Interconnected Garden: A Parable of Community

We all need each other. It doesn't matter our gifts or talents, our faults or failings, we all have a role to play in sustaining each other, and enriching each others lives. Even the small and seemingly insignificant things we do can have ramifications far beyond the immediately tangible outcomes of our actions. Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul, a follower of Christ wrote the following in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12:

"The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ....... If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you." The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you." In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary"

Thinking about the high diversity of species within my garden, and the interconnectedness of it all, I can't help but think about it as a thriving community. A healthy garden has parallels with healthy human communities, and further illustrates Paul's thoughts of two millennia ago. How is that you may ask? How is a cabbage dependent on a parsnip, or a tomato on a bean? How is a chaotic and eclectic vegetable garden less prone to catastrophe than an orderly field of potatoes? All things are interrelated, and the answer lies in community. All the fruits and vegetables are part of a greater whole, and each have a role to play. Now before you think I am stretching a point, allow me to illustrate.

Some vegetables and herbs such as parsnip, carrot, coriander, and parsley have value far beyond their edible roots, or the garnish they provide. These plants (all in the family Apiaceae) have umbrella-shaped flowers that attract helpful predators to your garden, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps. These insects will fly in to visit the flowers and then hunt for pesky caterpillars on adjacent crops. So even if you don't like the the taste of coriander, or crave sweet roasted parsnips in mid winter, these are plants that are beneficial to your garden community.

Other vegetables do well following on from another crop, much like some people are leaders and others are better followers. Potatoes are great at breaking up new soil, and don't mind lumpy soils, or lower amounts of organic matter. Other vegetables, such as carrots, are followers. They need a well-worked fine soil, with manure that was applied before the previous crop. Beans also do well in soils not recently manured, and by fixing atmospheric nitrogen they prepare the way for more nitrogen-hungry vegetables such as sweetcorn. Each vegetable grows bigger, better, and healthier by being part of a greater community.

A true community not only recognizes differences but celebrates them. I am glad the species that comprise my garden community have different needs and yields. That enables me to grow a interdependent  community that is productive and resilient. Each season throws different challenges, such as prolonged summer rain, or plagues of leaf hoppers, but every year I know that some species will thrive and keep home-grown food on the table. And by growing a wide range of crops, I know that one plant disease can't wipe out all of a harvest.

So as we move into 2013, and the joys and challenges it will bring, I will try to foster even greater diversity in the garden. I am currently growing hyssop, galangal, ginger, caper bush, chickpeas, and adzuki beans to add to the mix - I know I will be able to find some space for them somewhere. And I will also strive to cultivate deeper friendship within my community, seeking to encourage and value the overlooked, the weakest, and the supposedly 'least important". And if I do this, I know that my life will be enriched in the process.

All the best for a bountiful 2013