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Permaculture gardens and aesthetics

Our garden is at the time of me writing this coming along nicely and the project is moving along at a steady pace in spite of the pandemic. Because of the current situation I haven’t been able to be involved in the making of it quite as much as I’d want to, but my fellow board members and our dear volunteers have been working hard to make sure that our plans come to fruition. Since I’m not able to be there to help out with the garden I thought I’d write something about gardens and the way they look – and especially the look of ones inspired by permaculture.

When making a garden one has to consider multiple factors, but one of the most important is probably how the garden looks. Today gardens might sometimes be used as a way to grow tomatoes, potatoes, cumumbers, herbs or other edible plants, but usually a garden is first and foremost a matter of aesthetics. What I mean by this is that most gardens are made as decorations. This wasn’t always the case, and is in the grand scheme of things a fairly recent phenomenon (but that’s a subject for another article).

There’s nothing wrong with making a garden for recreational purposes and not as a food source. After all, even those who despise our need for recreation and pretty things will agree that more gardens are usually a better thing than fewer gardens. Every garden is after all a place to sequester carbon, regardless of its food producing qualities. However, logically, a garden that is mostly used for decorative plants will not be able to have as great of a yield as one focused on food production. Perhaps our rows of tulips look beautiful but they’re not very tasty, and most of us wouldn’t want our diets to consist of them. At the same time a garden or a field filled with only one type of crop made to maximize our yield might not be the prettiest thing in the world.

A garden exists for a multitude of reasons and each garden has its own goals and tribulations. So should a garden be “beautiful” or should it strive for something else, food security, biodiversity etc.? The choice is a one that doesn’t need to be made, choosing between being beautiful and practical is a false dichotomy, and a myth that permaculturists should strive to poke holes into. We don’t have to choose between the useful and the beautiful. Just spend a day walking in the forest or in a mountain range and you’ll find that useful beautiful things are all around us. It’s true that conventional monocultural farming on the same spot might give us a greater yield, but then we’d have to sacrifice other (perhaps just as important) values. The garden at Ultuna is something that’s meant to replace a space that was totally unproductive with something that’s both productive and aesthetically pleasing.

Our garden will in time grow to become something that fills the aesthetic function of the lawn it replaced, will also give us delicious vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Form and function work together and that’s the beauty of it all.

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