Gardening and the Augmentation of the Complexity and Intensity of the Field of Intelligent Life

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I haven’t rambled on about gardening for some time, and it’s a Sunday morning in August, so why not? But before I do, I want to put in a plug for sheet mulch, permaculture’s gateway drug: The idea (oversimplifying badly) is to mimic the accumulation of organic matter on the forest floor by covering one’s beds with at least a layer of newspaper or cardboard, and then layering straw on top of that. (Gurus do a lot more layering than that.) You can see at once how the paper would act as a weedblocker, and I like that, because weeding is work, and I don’t like work, but what’s less evident is how good sheet mulch is at capturing and retaining water. I walked over the straw at the edge of a bed just now, on my way out to, er, mark my territory to scare off the deer, those pests, and I could feel the dew against my feet, quite wet, all captured by the time the sun has risen. Quite remarkable. I only water the garden while the plants are establishing themselves, in early June, and then I don’t water at all for the rest of the season, and I like that, because watering the garden is work. Did I mention that I don’t like work? Sheet mulch is the reason I don’t have to water.

This year I have been coming to the conclusion, or understanding, that what I really want from the garden is not the vegetables — though I love to eat vegetables, at least the ones I choose to grow, and even more to give them away — but what Ursula LeGuin in The Left Hand of Darkness describes as one goal of her fictional interplanetary polity, the Ekumen:

The augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life.

power My own intelligence, primarily, so I can sit in the garden and work at my laptop pleasurably through the summer and into the fall, but I suppose also other intelligences, like birds, or bees, especially if we consider the idea that living intelligence goes all the way down into the earth, immanent in the vegetables and flowers, the pollinators, the soil, the mycelial mat, the groundwater, and the rock, all the way to the magnetic core, rock being intelligent, just not very intelligent.

Anyhow, it would take a better photographer (and a better camera than the iPad) to really do my experience of my office garden justice; suffice to say that I’d like very square inch to be beautifully alive, and that bark mulch doesn’t figure largely in my view of proper gardening, as opposed to sheet mulch.

It’s very nice to work and sit in the midst of a blooming, buzzing complex system, and last year I thought of taking an inventory, and tried to count the varieties of flowers in my field of vision, and got up to nine (9) before I lost track. The annotated photograph below shows 15 (fifteen) but that doesn’t count the orange lilies which are on the other side of the property line, some tomatoes, some little frondy-like self-seeded wildflowers, and several kinds of weeds. And I forgot to label the clover, which appear as small white blobs close to the lungwort.

The photograph is also a little distorted, or completely realistic, in that from where I sit, none of the invading weeds and uncut grass at the bottom of the photo, are in my field of vision as, sadly, they are in the shot of my power source! So I see only a panorama of flowers, and smell the iris, roses, and honeysuckle, and watch and listen to the pollinators on their rounds, and flee for the porch when a shower passes overhead. So, immense pleasure from not much money ($200 tops over three or four years) and not much work (a day to get the stone dust path in, and minutes here and there for the flowers.

Anyhow, for want of a better term, we might call LeGuin’s goal aesthetic; certainly systems that achieve such augmentation are beautiful and are not ugly.

To add another layer: My garden is a way of maintaining diplomatic relations with the town; people passing by like to look and share their views. (“I never saw a squash plant die so fast.”) One also wishes to show progress, to improve, to not be the eccentric, or, if eccentric, not be the recluse with the property full of weeds. (“He’s bringing down our property values, Fred!”) So I’ve been thinking of adding a water feature. Preferably the water feature would be (a) made from a stack of stone, and recirculate the water from (b) a buried tank covered by mesh, and (c) be powered by solar. (Since I don’t like work, I don’t want to be filling the water feature all the time, or cleaning leaves out of whatever source feeds it. Also, I hate garden gnomes, resin, wishing wells, puppies, bowls, wooden barrels, tiers, accents, and fantasies of all kinds, LED lighting, the word “rustic,” and anything from Tuscany. All these are kitsch, and kitsch is about death, not life. I really do want just a pile of rocks with water cascading over it.) Unfortunately, all the water features I came up with on my small budget have had two of (a), (b), and (c), and not three. Perhaps I will have better luck next year! Oh, and the water feature has to survive the winter, maybe if I mulch it; I’m not dismantling it and putting it into the garage or anything like that. That’s work, and I know myself well enough to know that I will postpone the dismantling effort until after it snows, and then it will be too late.

However. As it turns out my real reason for wanting a water feature has nothing to do with the town or the property; my subconscious was forcing a card on me: The water feature, besides attracting dragonflies and damsel flies (but not mosquito hatchlings, since the water will be in motion) will attract birds, and bird will eat the hated and icky Japanese beetles, currently copulating orgiastically all over my raspberries and roses, and possibly other bugs, like squash bugs and cucumber bugs. They will augment. My garden will be, not only more beautiful, but more complexiful. (I’m inspired to this vision by a friend who pointed out that I had successfully achieved a virtuous cycle: Two years ago I had planted self-seeding annuals from a wildflower mix, like Tansy and Borage, that attracted pollinators and then birds who propagated their seeds around the garden, and now I have not only more of these annuals but more beneficial critters, too.) I have plenty of bloom. I want more buzz, and then more blooms.

I’m happy with “complexiful” — it doesn’t seem to have been a word! And also happy to give aesthetics their due when designing a system. People should be able to augment their intelligence with beautiful, complexiful things much more easily than they can today; and we see the human impulse to do so all around. Perhaps LeGuin’s goal should be a goal of an enlightened political economy; it’s certainly one way to think about handling common pool resources.

Is the complexiful necessarily beautiful? A question for another day….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Clive

    I hate to pour troubles waters on oil, but do think carefully about a water feature. I’m biased because of a single disappointing experience so cannot possible claim any scientific basis for my out-and-out prejudice, but my uncle put one in for my mother-in-law. Just a simple small pond really with a few pebbles at the side. Unfortunately any water feature is a maintenance overhead. Without cleaning — and replenishing the water it contains with cleaner water fairly regularly — they can (certainly here in the UK climate which can best be summarised as “mild/coastal but prone to sogginess in Autumn and Winter”) quickly become rather slimy.

    If you’re in a dry/arid climate, they’re probably quite nice. Or else, if you are happy to clean them out every few months. I’ve just now got a Pavlov’s doggian aversion to them,t they instantly make me suffer a flashback to a miserable February day with rubber gloves on scooping out rotten plant material…

    For me though, not worth the hassle and there’s nicer things you can put in. How about a small amount of hard standing (just a concrete slab will do) and a seasonal planter which you can alternate ? Or a bird bath maybe. That really does help your avian visitors and has the benefit of being a water feature (technically !) but doesn’t suffer from the grot factor.

    Of course, anyone who starts trying to tell me what to do in my garden gets sent away with a flea in their ear, so I’d better pipe down at this point…

    1. lambert strether

      I think I mentioned I don’t like work, so a build up of slime would be distressing, especially because I would probably just let it keep up. Fortunately I’ve been promised the loan of a water feature, so I can test it out. Birth baths I’m allergic too. The image of a bowl on a pillar in the middle of a lawn… Just wrong. Even if its Tuscan.

      1. Ramon

        In addition to the plants my sanctuary includes a small apiary (5 hives), and bees need water during the summer. So I got a concrete bird bath to satisfy this need. Though I agree about the aesthetics (indeed I tried to hide it in some corner at first) it turns out that this functional necessity became a fascinating feature of the apiary. I put oak twigs in the bird bath to give the bees somewhere to land and to provide a lifeline if they fall in. Bees from all over the neighborhood–not just mine–come to this, and I’ve spent much more time staring at this thing than I ever thought I would. From a distance you see a halo of bees around it; up close you get to observe bees in safety (honeybees don’t sting while foraging). Maintenance of course is simple, though you need to be regular, lest the bees run out of water or you start growing mosquitoes.

    2. MtnLife

      I’ll second that. I’ve done a couple of varying sizes and uses from just recirculating noise makers to 1/2 acre ponds. Currently battling with my 20,000+ gal aqua/duck-ponics setup. Some advice: If you have an aversion to work – stay away from water features. The less work you want to have to do, the bigger you need to make the feature. One exception is features under 5-10 gal. Anything bigger is a giant PITA until you hit the size which can sustain an ecosystem that can withstand normal environmental intrusions, generally over 30,000 gal. Recirculation of water merely prevents mosquitoes from breeding. To keep the algae away your tank will need to be hidden.

      I think the cheapest, easiest way to accomplish what you want: find an old screen door (metal grill a plus for strength/support) at the dump upcycle bargain center or make a crude frame for a quick’n’dirty meshing/screening (best is actually 2 layers, a mesh one to for support and a screen underneath that is easily removable for cleaning). Balance this over a small, stone foundation at just over the height of a 5 gal barrel. If you made your own (or have no grill) you may need to add some support underneath to carry the stones. Add your pump, garden hose connection, and a float valve (covers your not wanting to fill it) to the bucket. For those with absolutely zero handy-person skills, buy an automatic livestock waterer and just balance it in there with some rocks. Cover your screen with stones making sure they angle inward, snaking the tubing from the pump up through the rocks as you go. Extra filtration can be obtained with a large number of smaller stones. The bacteria that remove nitrates love gravel. Should be able to pull if off for under $50 easily.

      1. MtnLife

        Meant to add that you only need half of the screen door. Often the lower half works best because it is reinforced to deal with animals. Also a quick disconnect in the tubing coming out of the bucket would be a real help for the rare times you’ll have to pull the bucket out and wipe it down.

      2. lambert strether

        Thanks! This seems to be the basic principle of the ones I’ve looked. Recirculating, tank beneath, screen over tank — and around 5 or 10 gallon. I’m thinking small, definitely not an ecosystem in itself.

        Ya know, that’s a totally brilliant idea on the float valve. Of course. I think I’d rather buy it than build it, because I’m not handy, but I am going to add a float valve to the spec.

    1. lambert strether

      I am, but I suppose LeGuin’s goal could be seen as the antithesis of monoculture (and I should have said that). We have very bad issues with soil up in potato country; apparently there are fields where it’s like dust, just a medium for chemicals to be dumped into. Not ideal.

      1. Cassiodorus

        Wendell Berry wrote a passage in “The Unsettling of America” in which he describes how the Amish rehabilitate fields damaged by corporate ag, including leaving the fields fallow for awhile. I guess my point is that not only are we quaint stewards of intelligent life when we garden, but we also make some pretty tough ecological choices as well. Americans need to learn how to do that again.

  2. trish

    oh, bee balm. honeysuckle…all of it. envious.
    What I like about your garden- at least as far as I can see from the photos- is it’s still wild-ish looking, not trimmed and pruned and sheared and shaped. Sensuously complexiful and wildish and lovely.
    I so understand the aesthetic part. at my little hovel-sans-garden (cannot here), where I read must be “aesthetically pleasing” to me, a simple-lovely, and I have (whenever possible) flowers either from friends’gardens or wildflowers from fields nearby (I leave plenty for the pollinators- my pollinator-police sons are on that!).
    In your garden your brain can hum and sing and go about its biochemical burbling along with all the buzzing and warbling and green-stuff-growing around you.
    Re gnomes etc…why does one need fake stuff amid such beauty? but I have an aversion to the fountains stuff, too…seems so…trendy…new-age-y. artificial.
    I’d opt for a simple bird bath. really not much work. dump it occasionally. gets a bit greenish/brownish in bowl, so what…more life. I like the look of not-pristine and scrubbed.
    Ah, I’m fantasizing…your garden…
    Enjoyed your post.

    1. lambert strether

      If I had sheet mulched everything, I wouldn’t have weeds now in a lot of places I don’t want them. I do tend to stint. Sheet mulch is not just for vegetables! You can also put soil over the sheet mulch and seed with e.g. wildflowers.

      1. Brent Eubanks

        Yep. You can adjust the intensity depending on what you are mulching over. If you’ve got bermuda grass, four layers is not too many! One layer is pointless at that point.

        I’ve seen bermuda grass send runners 10 feet through the corrugations of the cardboard! It’s yellow rather than green, but otherwise very vigorous and healthy despite being denied the sun. Bloody stuff obviously has some kind of backup metabolism – I suspect a pact with Satan.

        In our current garden (more recent than the one pictured in the blog) we sheetmulched everything, built beds on top with soil, and woodchipped everything else.

  3. Lawrence Rupp

    Re: Marking territory to keep away deer.
    A large laundry detergent jug, kept next to the toilet to collect male urine:
    Much cleaner than usual miss aiming.
    Saves lot of water with no flushes.
    Emptied around edge of garden in the morning.

    1. ambrit

      If you have a zoo anywhere near, just amble on over and asl for a bucket, five gallon at least, bring your own, of tiger or lion droppings. Nothing of a herbivorous nature will cross that line.

      1. optimader

        Do they give you a little stool to sit on when you collect the bucket of Lion/Tiger pee?

  4. David

    Nice to read about someone else’s garden… You might want to consider, in addition to the simple birdbath option, which of course does require refilling and occasional scrubbing (work), a simple recirculating fountain from Stone Forest. They offer an underground reservoir atop which sits your chosen sculptural stone piece over which the water flows, then falls through a layer of pebbles, down through a rigid mesh… etc.

  5. diptherio

    “Complexiful” isn’t a word because “complex” does the job just fine. While I appreciate a wacky neologism just as much as the next guy, I think you should give this one a pass. It just doesn’t add anything to the language. “Beautiful and complex” sounds pretty good to me.

    1. lambert strether

      This really should have ended as a meditation on whether complex living systems (if that’s not redundant) are in themselves beautiful, inspired by the discussion of causality we had on the Gulf of Tonkin thread. I introduced that word for use in that discussion. Unfortunately the clock ran out before I could advance the ball far enough upfield….

      1. MtnLife

        I may be a bit biased here having had my college years revolve heavily around the study of ecosystems (not that I use much of that to earn a living but use it a lot making a life) but, yes, complex living systems are gorgeous. It’s ballet with a cast of millions (each played by many actors) on a far more magnificent, intricate, and delicate scale than anything we could hope to choreograph and infinitely more important. You cannot tell the story of any single actor without explaining the importance of their supporting cast, the others they deliberately or inadvertently support, and their relationship with the physical environment. There are no bit parts. Nature doesn’t have waste. I aim to have no waste in the way I produce my own food and a larger goal of eliminating it from my life. The goal is to find one’s place in the choreography, not to run across the stage covered in nothing but the body paint of your favorite NFL team while blowing a bull horn shouting “look at how special I am!”- humankind’s default action.

        1. Jagger

          I was just looking into paper wasps. Very common here and apparently gardeners love them. They scour bugs off plants. Paper wasps are also very unaggressive although they can be provoked. However I don’t think I have ever been stung by one and they are everywhere around here. Never heard of anyone introducing a nest but when one appears, I let it stay.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            I work at a table that I didn’t bring in over the winter (that would have been work) and now the top is beginning to come apart. This has attracted wasps, who chew along the edges of it — making little scraping noises with their mandibles — to collect cellulose for their nests! So I am glad I left the table out, because otherwise I would not have heard this.

        2. Lambert Strether Post author

          Well, the earth is round. Presumably, therefore, humanity is entirely part of the earth, and therefore does not exist outside the context of the “ecosystem of ecosystems,” as it were. Therefore, the Vietnam war is part of an ecosystem (and not vice versa). So, is the Vietnam war beautiful and/or complexful? If it is not beautiful, is that because it is “too simple,” as it were? How about “wars” between ants nests? And so forth. I’m inclined to believe that war is not beautiful because it’s evil. That, however, would also imply that evil exists in nature, as well as good — both being adaptive behaviors. So….

          1. MtnLife

            The danger here is in conflating beauty with human moral standards of goodness. Most people will look out over your garden to see the brightly contrasting colors of the flowers and imagine the insects getting some innate sense of satisfaction carrying about their daily lives. Looked at with a different set of eyes you’ll realize you’re looking at some combination of pr0n and snuff film. In anthropomorphic terms the flowers are a bunch of naked people, their fertile genitalia exposed, with copulation involving at least one other species like some cross-kingdom orgy where the animal kingdom participants get sustenance out of the experience (don’t flesh out that mental image too much). Others are there to dine on other parts of the plant or use it for some breeding purpose like copulation or storage of eggs.. Not only are the exposed flower genitals attracting those craving their delicious nectar (or other bits) but they also concentrate prey in the same way water holes on the African plains do, making it a veritable killing zone for other insects, birds, snakes, and lizards. The colorful scene of tranquility is actually a backdrop for sex, death, and gluttony. Our prudish Puritanical roots have saddled these ideas with negative connotations. Life can’t continue without reproduction, eating, or the old giving way to make room for the new. You cannot have life without violence. Amoebas hunt and kill. Plants put out alleopathic substances to kill off local competition for light and nutrients. Death is natural. It is not a “good” or “bad” thing. Wars are a natural extension of our desire to survive when population strains resources. It is neither good nor bad intrinsically. Animals battle each other all the time for food and mates, often to the death when those other items are scarce. The problems come with unchecked excess. Animals battling for mates is one thing. Should one male come along and decide to keep more females than he can possible mate with while killing as many other males as possible things will not bode well for that species. Same goes for producing more offspring than can possibly be fed in an environment of zero predation pressure. The beauty in these systems come from everything working in balanced concert. No, it’s not a story of everything living “happily ever after” nor is any story worth telling devoid of tragedy. Humans are a part of the ecosystem but continue acting like they aren’t. We’ve taken our list of environmental checks and balances as a checklist for things we need to obliterate. Obstacles in the environment don’t remove our weak, we remove the obstacles from the path of our weak. For a long time the Homo genus lived in relative equilibrium with their environment until their intelligence began to outpace their physical evolution, rendering it unnecessary/obsolete. So far this intelligence has kept us ahead of the evolution of all of our other threats such as disease and other animals to the point where we are now the greatest threat, not just to ourselves, but to 95% of all life on this planet. Vietnam, had it been a result of local populations unable to feed themselves, would have been beautiful in the sense that it fit into the Grand Equation. It was, however, a war carried out by those living outside their eco-librium for the express purpose of extending their unnatural domination and therefore has zero beauty.

  6. Paul Handover

    Great article and comments reminding me of the benefits of cardboard under straw. Here in Southern Oregon we are struggling to develop a healthy topsoil.

    1. lambert strether

      The cardboard is also good for worms, I believe, stressing “believe.” As the “stuff” beneath the cardboard or newspaper rots, it settles, an air cap opens up, and that insulates, exactly as in your house. So the temperate moderates and the worms like that.

    1. fresno dan

      Kinda brings to mind the chicken coop scene in “Bread and Chocolate”
      “The industrialist takes him under his wing, only to commit suicide when he squanders his last savings. Nino is constrained to find shelter with a group of clandestine Neapolitans living in a chicken coop, together with the same chickens they tend to in order to survive.”

      Whats that saying??? Lie down with chickens and you start clucking….

      Also, I like that as she is talking, more and more chickens appear in the background.

  7. Eeyores enigma

    Cardboard is a pressed, laminated and glued product and has a whole host of chemicals including formaldehyde used in the process. The processing and mfg of cardboard is a very dirty, toxic, polluting process as is paper for that matter and is one of the leading causes of clearcut mowing down of forest. We need to stop using cardboard for EVERYTHING EVERYDAY in massive amounts, recycling accomplishes nothing, only encourages increased use.

    Kind of ironic but indicative of the willful ignorance of many of you “big thinkers” and your pitiful efforts to clear your conscience by being “green”.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Well, he did offer newspapers as an alternative. Most people don’t own enough birdcages to accommodate a full issue of the NYT or WaPo. With a big enough garden, sheet mulching with newspapers not only can improve the herbaceous environment, but also serve to responsibly recycle junk journalism. Win-Win!

    2. optimader

      Your soil is a whole host of chemicals. Formaldehyde biodegrades rapidly (hours to a couple days) and does not bioaccumulate.

      1. hunkerdown

        Butbut, it’s about *aesthetics*. Time has not passed. Entropy is the devil’s tool. The trees from which the cardboard was made are still standing out there somewhere out West. It is our moral imperative as Merkins to uphold the Whig Theory of History: that History is history!

    3. different clue

      Where is the willful ignorance? I see only lack of a particular item of information regarding chemical contents of cardboard. Now that you have supplied that particular item of information, we know it and can find other sheet-mulching materials if we care to. No “willful ignorance” anywhere in view.

      1. lambert strether

        Cardboard isn’t manufactured for the purpose of being sheetmulched. So I don’t see any ethical problem in using it. I personally don’t use it, because I like the way that paper drapes over the earth, and I don’t have a ready source of cardboard anyhow. Lots of people I know use cardboard, however (one a former paper mill chemist) so I can check into the chemicals….

        1. different clue

          And this reply offers yet more information with the possible promise of yetter morer information to come. So I still don’t see the “willful ignorance” that Eeyors Enigma is referrencing.

    1. lambert strether

      Well, I’m exaggerating for effect because (as I think is obvious) I work very hard, but only at work I enjoy. And is that really “work” and not some sort of play?

      I’m more reacting against the post-Enclosure movement Smithian concept that people ought to go to work in the factories, begad, because it was character-building, as opposed to living on the commons, making your own shoes out of our own leather, and getting loaded on your own beer six months a year. Honestly, that plus the Internets….

  8. sd

    We have 2 plastic pink flamingoes in our garden. They are in the wildflower section (aka the area we don’t do anything to). The pink flamingoes scare serious gardeners away.

    1. lambert strether

      Damn. I had two pink flamingos. I left them out in the snow over the winter. I wonder what I did with them?!

  9. jgordon

    You’re right to connect economics to the garden. The only true source of wealth available to human beings is the ecological systems that support us and every other living thing. Every thing else people view as “wealth” is just a delusional, sad distraction from reality. In line with this Truth, it stands to reasons that those who live most closely and in harmony with nature are the wealthiest individuals, and those who work towards creating healthy systems are those who are building wealth capital.

    I have been reading Masanobu Fokuoka’s books on natural farming over the past few weeks. I would recommend starting with his final book “Sowing Seeds in the Desert”, which I found to be a relatively short and very enlightening introduction to his natural philosophy despite it being his last work.

    1. lambert strether

      Yes, that was where I was heading. Perhaps I’ll try again. The “wealth” is in the relationships and the cycles, not in this or that heaped up thing or token.

    1. MtnLife

      They forgot to mention japanese beetles love hops and everything in the grape family (even those crappy ones that don’t make edible grapes – great trap crop). Best control for them is hungry chickens early in the morning. Right when I let mine out I walk over to the raspberries, hops, and grapes, call my girls (and boys) over, and shake the plants. If you do it while it is still cool and the sun hasn’t been up for too long the beetles are too sluggish to hold on or fly away. The resulting feeding frenzy is almost frightening. My buff Cochin has actually learned to jump and chest bump plants to knock the beetles off. She is usually accompanied by a pair of Sussex who eat well by being total rentiers on her labor and intellectual property.

        1. MtnLife

          While I can see people being annoyed with roosters, zoning against chickens as a whole is ridiculous. Is it worded to be just chickens (and maybe ducks) or can you make an end run around the zoning with guinea hens? Yeah, they are noisy but will give you the natural pest control, especially ticks.

    2. Oregoncharles

      Can’t pass up a chance to gloat: No Japanese beetles here. We have slugs, instead, even more catholic in their tastes. There are certain plants I can’t grow because the slugs eat them off at the soil line as they emerge.

      This, even with great quantities of Sluggo (naturall sluggicide) around and a certain amount of patrolling.
      Incidentally: sheet mulching promotes slugs. I use it mostly around trees, partly because, even as a professional landscaper, I have only so much material available.

  10. toldjaso

    A beautiful, intelligent, virtuous complexicopia! Bravissimo! Thanks for working out the model.

  11. lambert strether

    Thanks very much! Next year, making the usual sort of assumptions, I’m going to make my plantings more complexiful by introducing annuals designed to repel harmful insects and / or attract beneficial insects and predators in the beds themselves.

    I’m appalled to note that that I have Marigolds, Morning Glories, and Zinnias — all of which Japanese beetles love. Perhaps they are too busy eating the raspberry leaves and infesting the roses.

    1. barutanseijin

      Japanese beetles clearly have a hierarchy of preferences. They go for raspberries, grapes & rose family plants, then other things.

    2. Paul Niemi

      I have been observing honeybees. I have the dog’s play pool, and I pour water in it now and then and sit nearby watching the bees arrive to wade in the water. They need a water source to drink and for the honey. This year they were out early digging in the pile of coffee grounds, then mostly disappeared as Spring was getting underway, then came back in numbers later. During the interim, I saw a few dying on the ground. There is a time in early Spring when all the gardeners, stoved-up from Winter, head for the Home Depot to get lawn spray, and you can smell the 2,4-D all over town. It was about that time. But I think also the Mosquito Control District treats standing water with a surfactant to sink the Mosquito larvae, perhaps about the same time. You don’t want an insect like a bee getting any soap or surfactant onto it. It washes off the waxy coating which is its defense against infection from airborne bacteria.

  12. different clue

    If I find myself living in a kitschy neighborhood full of kitschy neighbors, and having some garden kitsch in my garden would make the difference between them accepting my garden or them trying to shut my garden down; I would put as much kitsch in my garden as reasonably needed to give it a Cloak of Protection. Protective colloration, camouflage, all that.
    And one can turn kitschy objects into a genuine art installation. Picture a Santa’s Sleigh driven by a Garden Gnome and pulled by 8 Pink Flamingos all wearing the appropriate reindeer-style lines and harness and etc.

  13. Oregoncharles

    Just a personal observation, free associating from the article:
    Several local farms grow white clover for seed – seed is one of the main crops in the Willamette Valley. So when we go to the mountains, we drive (sorry about that) past vast fields of white clover, often with dozens of beehives.
    To my surprise, when in bloom they are overwhelmingly fragrant, meaning an intense fragrance permeates the car. You’d never know that, just growing it in your yard. I guess there’s SOMETHING to be said for monocultures. Similarly, sugar beets in bloom – they, too, are grown for seed here – have a very strange but oddly pleasing fragrance. Sure do look strange when wintering over, though. A whole field full of thick, huge leaves.

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