Above all else a forest gardener needs to be in touch with their garden. My book ‘the garden of equal delights’ is my attempt to discover the essence of the relationship between a forest gardener and their forest garden, and thereby to tease out some fundamental principles to guide that relationship.
The key to unlocking these principles in real life is to use your eyes. I use the phrase ‘watching with polyculture eyes’ to describe what I mean because polyculture eyes are not the same as normal seeing.
“Watching a forest garden or a polyculture is not like watching a conventional vegetable patch or garden: we do not focus on looking for specific things like weeds between the crops, or potential problems, or even the amount of produce we may eventually get. The forest garden is a unity, but it is a complex unity. Every individual thing we see is looked at in the context of how the polyculture as a whole is faring. So we watch in order to soak everything up. We watch with polyculture eyes. Polyculture eyes see everything – just as it is – for the sake of seeing alone. No other purpose or agenda directs their gaze this way or that. Because they have no mandate other than to watch, they are patient, becoming utterly absorbed in, and fascinated by, the smallest of changes, witnessing its growth and change, letting it be what it is.”
“Have you watched your garden as winter closes and spring unfolds and unfurls? Eagerly watched for the earliest, tiniest indications of life returning and pushing green leaves from the soil and from bare brown twigs? Have you ever watched a plant closely enough to know the time it takes for its first leaf to unfurl and what shape that leaf makes? How it arises from a barely visible point and swells to its full size? Have you seen the same leaf you watched being born, dying? Have you seen it wither and change colour and fall to the ground? And then watched it dissolve and disappear?”
“This kind of watching is about letting nature in. It is watching in a ‘being with’ way much more than an ‘observing’ way. To watch like this, seeing everything all year round – this is the watching of polyculture eyes. Watching with polyculture eyes requires us to immerse ourselves in the garden. This is a particular quality of seeing, not a tick list of things seen and duly noted.”
As 2020 tips towards 2021 and as we in the northern hemisphere look forward to lighter days and shorter nights, now is the time to start to take your polyculture eyes out into your garden. But this is a practise that needs to become habitual, subconsciously gathering natural intelligence (the intelligence of nature) that will, in due time bear the fruit of fresh and deeper insight.
Forest garden principle: watch and wait.