Can we see succession first hand?
We can because we create a “major external event” (source) each time we clear the land and till the soil to plant our crops or garden. We don’t think of it this way, but if you consider all the species above and below ground that will be affected, then it starts to make sense.
What we see immediately happen to open soil is that many opportunistic plant varieties such as swiftly grown grasses, will form densely populated communities if the newly prepared garden goes unattended. We all have experienced what happens next in our own gardens. But do we really consider how our gardens impact on a larger scale. This excerpt is from a paper prepared by Penn State University, New Kensington….
“These invading plants are what we call “weeds”. Now “weeds” have very important ecological roles and functions, but weeds also compete with the garden plants for nutrients, water and physical space. If left unattended, a garden will quickly become a weed patch in which the weakly competitive garden plants are choked out and destroyed by the robustly productive weeds.
A gardener’s only course of action is to spend a great deal of time and energy weeding the garden. This energy input is directly proportional to the “energy” inherent in the force of ecological succession.
If you extrapolate this very small-scale scenario to all of the agricultural fields and systems on Earth and visualize all of the activities of all of the farmers and gardeners who are growing our foods, you begin to get an idea of the immense cost in terms of time, fuel, herbicides and pesticides that humans pay every growing season because of the force of ecological succession.” (source) I added the bold emphasis to the quote. The rest of the article is rather interesting also.
We step in and decide what has the fortune to remain in the newly developing ecosystems of a garden. We determine what replaces and shapes the new ecosystem. We interrupt the natural process of nature and the driving force of ecological succession. Every time a weed grows, the force is in action.
I design for a living, whether it is clearing the land for a building or landscaping after a structure is complete, we make major land changes.
Each structure added to a site will impact that site to a great extent.
- It will greatly impact surrounding structures and landscapes if not carefully designed.
- Sun conditions and shadowing will shade adjoining structures and change the vegetation that grows.
- We structure the new ecosystem by every single plant we install.
- We reform the ecosystem by complex grading and excessive paving of the site.
- We erect retaining walls, install berms, retaining ponds, swales, and change drainage patterns, often directed to roadway and storm or sewer systems.
- We change the path and intensity of the wind with both structures and wind breaks.
- We change where rain falls and how to remove it from a site.
- Buildings and paving increase surrounding temperatures of soil and air.
- Building materials raise surrounding pH levels.
- Ecosystems will no longer be viable and what moves in will have to deal with a changing and sometimes harsher environment.
Many weeds are suited to these conditions some even prefer dry, hot and elevated pH. Just look at those popping up between sidewalks.
Did you know weeds are harder to control in these conditions? They grow more slowly and adapt by growing thicker protective leaf cuticles to reduce herbicide control. Some increase root systems also. That is why you find pulling them out near home foundations more difficult. More is often below the surface than above.
There is no doubt, this is not how nature would be if we did not effect the land. We fight nature to install anything, even gardens, while nature is trying to free itself from the forces set on controlling and taming the inevitable succession.
I know if I move and acquire property, that I would not have gardens in the traditional sense, except a small vegetable/cottage garden. I also would:
- When we want forests, we can leave existing trees in place.
- If we want wildlife, we leave their homes and food sources intact.
- We want a meadow, well, just leave one develop. Certainly not create one, the actual ones by nature are far more appealing.
As much training as architects have to be considerate of the environment, it is inevitable that we make insurmountable change. Our job is to minimize the effects if possible. And change, as you can see, affects every plant and creature that makes its home on that site as the land leveler moves in. Even those deep within the soil during excavation are displaced.
Almost everything moves out. Out go the rabbits, voles, groundhogs, deer, raccoons, and certain bird species. Sure the opportunistic squirrels remain if we keep a few trees. But a whole new ecosystem develops with many new players.
Is there better ways to look at building and the making of garden? It all depends on the concept of garden and whether you view it in conflict with a natural ecosystem. Unless we are happy with what nature throws our way, there is only a choice of how or if we choose to plant our spaces. Succession makes a conflict a reality.
Traditional gardens are good for the environment and the reasons for gardening are sound if you value gardens as nature. Gardens are beneficial to nature, especially so if they are native gardens or sustainable gardens. But is that not what would grow if nature did the gardening, gardens with some native plants and the most sustainable ecosystems?
It is almost a silly concept if you think of it this way.
- We want native plants.
- We want less maintenance and expense.
- We want environmentally conscious landscapes.
- We want sustainability.
That is exactly what nature gives us. We just reject her offerings and prefer to make the plant selections and maintenance choices ourselves.
The only thing holding gardeners back from allowing nature to do the gardening is they would not like what grows. They would not have the need to care for it, and most of all, would lose any control over it. Aesthetics plays a huge part in gardening and many plants filled in by succession are not ones we would choose, like our dandelion or the untamed grasses.
So we will continue to create gardens. We will still see beauty in gardens created by man. But there will be a point when man will stop creating gardens when resources shrink. If water becomes scarce and it is between keeping us alive and keeping gardens alive, there will be no contest.
It really is something to think about as more and more of us inhabit this Earth. More and more of us equals less and less of everything else.
Was there ever a time when we lived sustainably? Up next we look at sustainability in a surprising turn of thought. And some really interesting dandelion facts. It is a sustainable plant, who knew?
I wish you all a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving.
Dandelion Days Posts, Five-Part Series, I bet you noticed, not one dandelion in this post!
- When Disaster Strikes, What’s Next?
- A Little About Gardening Touches A Lot About Life
- What Can We Learn From a Dandelion?