Systems Thinking

I am not a traditional horticulturalist. I admit it, but I am involved in the world and work of Horticulture. Horticulture for those that aren’t familiar is the study of plant cultivation, disease diagnosis, breeding for variety and trait, irrigation requirements, landscape designs, and on. Basically, if it involves growing plants it is somehow related to horticulture. It is standard in the academic world to examine these disciplines from each separate compartment; to specialize, hone in and focus on a single area of expertise. But within every separate component is the application of that knowledge in urban communities, industry, agriculture and natural areas.  As a lifetime student of the environment, it is impossible for me to remove any one part from its intrinsic system. Every application of a horticultural principle will become intimately enmeshed with the system it has affected. To approach these topics from a systems thinking perspective allows us to plan appropriately for future feedback loops, examine possible external consequences and to determine our downstream impacts. I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of all of these finite moving pieces and would like to use these blogs to discuss and muse on the topics of horticulture from a ‘big picture’ perspective with a focus on practical application of that knowledge.

Many of the everyday practices that we take for granted are intrinsically linked with the larger world and yet we don’t stop to contemplate our effect. A garden is not just a pretty fixture in our yards but also an extension of the natural world into our personal landscape. We provide habitat for our non-human kindred, we use water (often potable) to irrigate a crop that is never harvested and we use chemicals to poison the weeds and insects that we don’t want around. Each action taken to maintain our lawns and gardens has an impact. What are the consequences? What are the benefits? What does the science say?

As an environmental educator, I teach to foster sustainable change within the local community. Within that goal is the necessity for us to be able to look at the world from a systems perspective, to see the connections between the moving pieces and not just the pieces themselves.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”

-John Muir

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