Folks – this is an older post that I just ran across and thought you might enjoy a reposting.
I’ve just finished reading and absorbing one of the most fascinating research reports on a biodiversity study in recent memory. It has to do with biodiversity – how different species all manage (or not) to live together in an environment. (Science Feb 25)
Carrying Capacity Of Your Garden
Traditionally, we’ve thought that an environment has a certain carrying capacity (the ability to support life) and all species within that environment competed for resources. We thought this because we tried to simplify the huge complexity in a living system to averages. The average number of plants, the average number of insects, average amount of rainfall etc etc. By focssing on averages, we wound up with incomplete information. But trying to figure out all the niches, all the relationships was so overwhelming this was the way our science attacked it (reduce it to easily understood bits of information)
Dr. Jim Clarke – a biologist with Duke has just finished a research report detailing an 18-year study detailing 22,000 individual forest area environments spreading across 11 forests in 3 regions (that’s a lot of trees). In short, he found that individual species share the resources but that the resources vary in complexity. A tree in one area may get slightly more moisture, have a slightly different soil than another tree a short distance away. One may get slightly more sunlight along with the previous two variables. Bottom line – the individual characteristics a plant/environment relationship is incredibly complex and the amount of variability is equally complex. And species don’t compete – they work within this incredible complexity.
So one species of plant may be found only in a slightly more moist environment in a forest while another thrives a few feet away in ever-so slightly drier soil. There’s an overlap but each is taking advantage of a micro-niche. No average exists but merely complexity and taking advantage of smaller niches. A distinct environment might only contain a single tree according to Clarke.
So what’s this really got to do with your garden?
How many times have I been asked why a clematis will grow on one side of a doorway but not thrive on another?
How many times have I been told the neighbor can grow this plant but I can’t?
How many times have I been asked about the conditions that exist for insect populations? Why do they thrive in this area but not that?
In short. The advice here is to explore and help create biodiversity in your garden.
By doing so, you’re going to enrich the environment and create more spaces for your plants to thrive. You’re going to do this by eliminating as many artificial inputs as possible. Every time you spray to control weeds – you wipe out diversity in a wider range than if you simply dug them out. Every time you spray you do the same to non-target insects. Grow more than just one kind of plant to support different insects, insect predators, disease suppressing natural controls etc etc. The more of an environmentally sound and rich environment you create, the better your garden will be.
You’re going to have to experiment more with plants. You may find (as I do) that a plant will thrive in one section of a garden but not in another (I have a hardy orchid that’s being moved this spring) Do not hesitate to move plants around to take advantage of tiny micro-climates in your garden – this may be the key to success with some plants that are “marginal” in cold tolerance or heat tolerance.
Having said all that – it strikes me the first step is to embrace organic and environmentally sound gardening practices. To try to eliminate as much as possible any non-natural inputs. And yes, that includes organic controls as much as possible as well. And when you do use a control – target it specifically to that problem.
Try to enrich your garden by adding inputs for good growth of all plants. Things such as organic matter and compost naturally occur in all gardens and common garden plants (that are not Southern) depend on this kind of material. By enriching the soil, you’re going to make your plants healthier and able to support broader ranges of other creatures. For example a good lawn will easily tolerate a population of white grubs/beetles with absolutely no visible damage. Healthy ornamental plants don’t shrivel up when eaten by a few pests (their gardeners looking for a perfect plant might have trouble but the plants thrive)
The more biodiversity the better.