One the way back from the discussion of the Future of the Internet earlier today, I walked through campus and saw yet again two contrasting ways of growing plants:
This walled garden is just outside Walton Hall, the Georgian manor house from which the campus takes its name.
I’m not the first one to note that these two contrasting approaches seem to have strong parallels with different ways of organising technical or educational projects (Martin Weller is fond of an ecosystem/succession model of HE institutional use of technologies, for instance). Or indeed with any human endeavour.
But it’s on my mind, and a good excuse to be outside in the Spring sunshine, and to (implicitly) sing the praises of lightly-managed endeavours like woods, meadows and hugely successful applications of generative technologies.
With a walled garden, you plan the layout of the garden, and spend intensive effort making sure that everything is neat and tidy and fits with the plan you’ve made. It’s largely about control. With a wild wood, things are a lot less tidy and constrained.
However, it’s a serious mistake to think that the two approaches are entirely at odds.
A walled garden needs regular attention, but with good planning that can be minimised, and if you imagine that you can control precisely what the plants do there … you obviously haven’t been gardening very long. You have to work with what actually grows, not your ideal of what should grow and how.
A wild wood also needs management and attention – it may not look it but it does – even when mature. Certainly, over-management is generally a bigger danger than prolonged periods of what the medics call ‘expectant management’. But if you don’t promptly remove invasive species you can easily end up with a stand of nothing but Japanese knotweed. And you probably need some mechanism to keep the woody plants from over-dominating: either natural grazing – a problem if you’ve fenced out all grazing animals in an effort to protect your wood – or something else. (This particular wood gets an annual cut of the meadow-like herbaceous lower layer – meadows are another of my favourite habitats.)
Creating a wood is a hard and long job. You can do some things to speed up the process – though not much if you’re going for semi-natural woodland, but you’re looking at many decades, not a few years, before it looks anything like mature. It can require as intensive processes of planting and weeding – at least in the early years – as any walled garden. It certainly won’t look precisely like you imagined it at the start, if you’re even around to see it.
And all that is assuming that the local environment supports the sort of woodland you’re wanting. If it doesn’t, you’re looking at tremendously intensive inputs, if you can achieve it at all.
Walled gardens can be spectacularly beautiful and peaceful places. But I much prefer woods.