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The importance of wildness

On Friday, I ventured to the office for the first time in three months. I had a pretty good idea of the condition the agriculture demonstration gardens would be in: disastrous.

But I was wrong.

Wonderfully wrong. Joyfully wrong.

Many months ago, three fantastic Master Gardener Volunteers and I built a poisonous pasture weed demonstration garden. We carved out a space in the lawn roughly measuring 20 feet by 20 feet, constructed raised beds, and thickly mulched the paths. We were days away from planting our new beds when the world was turned upside down.

Those newly created beds sat untended, unplanted, and un-mulched for three months.

Needless to say, our exciting new demo beds turned into a tangled jungle of waist-high weeds, vines, and grasses during those three months.

I knew what I was going to find. But, still, my heart sank when I set eyes on it.

And then I walked closer.

An oasis of wild, buzzing with life, at the Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension Office.

And closer.

And I started to hear buzzing.

And flashes of movement.

And streaks of color.

And life!

In the midst of an ocean of mowed lawn, our abandoned demo garden has become an oasis for insects.

At least two dozen species of plants have emerged, growing in a wild, sprawling tangle. Grasses, sedges, Florida pusley, gaura, Spanish needles, and more are in bloom, attracting scores of insects. Native bees and flies, beetles and butterflies dart from flower to flower, dustings of pollen attached to their legs.

Dragon flies, predatory wasps, lady bugs, and beetles of every color hunt for aphids, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects.

This little patch of wild has become a bustling ecosystem, providing shelter and sustenance to an entire microcosm of life.

Dusted in pollen, a Margined Leatherwing Beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) emerges from a Large-flowered Florida pusley flower (Richardia grandiflora).

As I stood and watched this little world, I thought about one of the core principles of permaculture I learned about twenty years ago: the value of wildness. In a nutshell, permaculture is a system of techniques and principles for designing and maintaining sustainable human habitats. It is design solidly grounded in ecology.

At the heart of an ecologically-sound permaculture design is a system of land-use zones. There are five zones, each with its own purpose ranging from intensive, daily use in and around the home to spaces that we only occasionally interact with (such as a few fruit trees near the back of the property) to a space that we leave entirely and intentional untouched and wild.

A paragraph in Toby Hemenway’s book, “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture,” perfectly captures the idea of this last space, the untouched and wild area:

One of three species of dragonfly hunting in our patch of wildness.

Every property needs a Zone 5. It’s the wild land. Whether it’s a corner of an urban lot dedicated to a wildlife thicket and a few rustling birch trees, or a nature preserve on the back forty, it is where we are visitors, not managers. We design the other four zones, but we enter Zone 5 to learn from it. There we observe, we play, we meditate, and we let the land be. Zone 5 is the instruction manual for the ecological garden and for keeping our lives in tune with nature.

With those words, I encourage you to make space for a bit of wildness on your property. It doesn’t have to be big, in a neighbor’s view, or something to add to your to-do list. Wildness will create itself, if given the chance.

So, give a little patch of wildness a chance in your yard or on the edge of your farm field. And take the time to watch the diversity of life that emerges.

It is truly inspiring.

2 Comments on “The importance of wildness

  1. Thank you for this inspiring observation on the importance of NOT turning every bit of land into something unnatural just to suit our selfish short vision tendencies. As a garden enthusiast I am often reminded of the impulse to transform nature into my vision without considering what is best for the natural eco system and in doing so I inadvertently loose sight of the balance and beauty of nature left to it’s own wisdom. Silly humans and their big brains! More like this please.

  2. I recognize that patch of land Sarah and glad nature made use of it during your absence. I’ll be interested in seeing the transformation back to the original purpose.