Women and the land are inextricably linked. As above, so below. We are simply a mirror image of each other, the land and us. That connection is deep and mysterious, and only becomes apparent upon close observation and contemplation.
We have objectified most of our land; used and abused it. Land is the embodiment of feminine energy, and our treatment of it reflects the way women have become objectified, used and abused throughout the world. Balance needs to be restored.
If you are lucky enough to own some land of your own, even if it is just a small garden, there is a huge opportunity available to you there. By restoring your relationship with the earth through the land you are caring for, there is a chance to rebuild that hole in our hearts that we ripped open as soon as we stopped growing our own food. This disconnection from the land has left us floating, spaced out, without an anchor or a sense of meaning.
We are only brief guardians of these portions of land we call our gardens. We do not and cannot truly own them. Our bodies are made of the Earth and return to it eventually, but the land will always remain alive. Everything we need to survive and all that nourishes us comes from the Earth, its soil, the atmosphere, the sun, and the stars beyond. We are simply walking pieces of earth.
We are drawn to certain locations where the land resonates with us and pulls us towards it. People can spend their entire lives looking for the places where they belong, places where they feel at home, where they fit and can comfortably set down roots. We are simply a reflection of the land beneath us, and nature is always waiting for us to return home.
The land connects with us in ways we don’t always understand. Each of us is attracted to a different place, reflecting our individual personalities. Every landscape also has its own character that helps shape the culture of the people who live there. The land and its people are simply echoes for each other, reflecting the state of each other’s general health and wellbeing. Our ancestors were keenly aware of this simple fact; by healing the land, we heal ourselves. We are mirrors for the land and it is a mirror for us, so healing the land leads us towards our own restoration, back to our true selves.
“Each individual patch of land longs to evolve into a healthy, self-sufficient grown-up, the same as any child. Even without your presence as guardian, the piece of earth you are working with has a strong intention of its own – a fierce need for stability and growth. It has the core intention of working towards harmony, balance and health.”
It’s just plain silly to work against the intention the land has for itself. Most of our gardening energy is spent trying to stop our gardens from becoming what they want to become. We call it ‘maintenance’, and a ‘low-maintenance’ garden is one that brutally smothers life out the land. If we work to facilitate the land’s needs, managing it just enough to allow our own expression and requirements to be part of the process, we are working within the flow of life.
Land can bond with the people who work with it, but that doesn’t mean it always does. The special relationship between you and your land is the same as the bond that develops between a parent and a child. The parent can choose to love, cherish and support the child, or treat the child harshly and without respect. The quality of their bond will be forever shaped by the quality of love, care and attention the parent puts into it.
Maturity is reached when nature is allowed to move through all the various stages of succession until it has settled into a balanced ecosystem. Most land that has been inhabited by people (apart from landscapes such as savannahs, wetlands and flood plains) would naturally revert to woodland over time, if allowed to do so. Forests have evolved over millions of years to become the most efficient and balanced growing system possible.
The environmentally sound future of planting design involves producing our own food within a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem. There is a huge opportunity in restoring land that is currently given over to unproductive landscapes. In the United States alone, more than 40 million private acres are planted with grass lawns. This is horrifying, to be sure, but it also reveals the opportunities that exist by restoring that one habitat alone.
Eventually, we will all return to local, sustainable living. I don’t believe we will have a choice. Mostly, people stopped growing food themselves less than a hundred years ago. Vegetable gardens were replaced with lawns, which gradually became symbols of status. It was a way of saying to neighbours, ‘Hey, look at how wealthy we are! We don’t even have to use our land to grow our own food!’
People have become way too separated from the production of their food and have come to depend on processed food and food produced on industrial farms. Over the years, this has led to a general decline in physical and emotional well-being. Our food is filled with hormones, agricultural chemicals, genetically modified organisms, and various concoctions that were created in a laboratory. It is not real food but a combination of ‘food-like’ substances. Our current system of food production is poisoning us, our farmed animals, the land, the water and the air. That human beings are getting sicker and sicker is a reflection of the earth’s ill health. It is slowly dying from those self-same chemicals we are ingesting ourselves.
The most powerful thing we can do is to heal those pieces of land we are the guardians of. To step out of those corrupted and poisonous systems of food production that leave us disconnected from our food and our land.
Forest gardening is a method of producing food by replicating a woodland system. You are not exactly gardening in a natural forest, but developing a multi-tiered woodland of your own making. Initially it sounded unrealistic to me especially for someone who has a small garden, but after I looked into it and did some research, I realized it was a simple, gentle and productive system of pure genius for gardens large and small. You don’t need a lot of knowledge about forest gardens to successfully create one, but a sincere effort to get to know your own land is required.
The development that ecosystems go through from youth to maturity is never simple or predictable. Disturbances such as fires, floods, insect attacks, gales and human activity are a natural part this dynamic and complex process. With guidance and support, it is possible to develop stable and abundant systems faster than they would have occurred otherwise. In fact, the whole point of designing and installing a food forest is to fast-track the process.
We are responsible for so much damage to nature and we are running out of time now, we are so close to ecosystem collaps, The reality is that we must be responsible now and we need to step up and restore habitats and healthy ecosystems in as much land as we are all individually able to work with. The final outcome will not be the dense, tree-shaded canopy of a late-successional forest, but rather a lush mixture of trees, shrubs, perennials, vines and groundcover plants that more closely resembles a mid-succession forest. The only difference is that as well as the usual native plants, there will be an abundance of perennial food crops, plants for medicine and fuel.
By working this way with your land, gently building a relationship with it and supporting it to be healthy and independent, something magical happens. The garden becomes productive and abundant in return, supplying you with food, fuel and medicine for yourself and your family. It is a multilayered system of food production so a lot of food can be produced in a small space.
We have simply forgotten who we are. We are the guardians of this planet. That is our role in this system we live in. In return for caring for nature, she will repay us with an abundance of all that we need. We have temporarily forgotten that we are children of the earth. Our mother is worn out and needs us now, so we must grow up, step up, and become the caretakers. Guardians are needed now, not gardeners. If you can just slow down and reintroduce yourself to the earth, a magical gate will open for you. Make a promise that you are committed to your land’s guardianship, willing to help it grow strong and healthy, and Nature will carry you with her on
the path. One day you will notice that both of you have healed over the cracks in your hearts and become whole again.
It’s the journey of a lifetime.
About the Author:
I set up my own company designing gardens in Dublin. A few years later, having lost the will to live from constantly designing modern gardens, I realized that I could no longer continue shaping land in the same way. I went back to my roots in my childhood, a time when I had a very strong relationship with nature and using that, I re-imagined my work.
I brought my new ideas to be showcased at the Chelsea flower show in London where I achieved a gold medal, unusual at the time for a first time effort.
I have continued to design gardens in my own wild way until another U-turn a few years ago when I realized I had to rethink the whole relationship I had with the land and designing in harmony with nature. That latest U-turn lead to ‘The Garden Awakening” being born. This book was written at night over the past five years when my two young kids were asleep.