Chaotic Gardening? 

     The term chaotic gardening grew out of the connectedness between a few close gardening/nature friends as we designed and delivered a conference* on native plants in the landscape. We were hoping to inspire increased connections not only among the human inhabitants of the world, but encourage this with the rest of the living beings.  But for me, the roots go back a little further.

     While a late blooming undergraduate, I was 'chief weeder' at the native plant garden surrounding Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC. I saw myself not as the creator of landscapes, but instead as the curator of an exhibit of plants-responsible for proper placement and lighting and some interpretation. While I certainly did transplant new plants to new places, most of my work was uncovering what was already there and giving it the space it needed to grow, thrive and become a major subject of the painting that is a garden bed. This was, perhaps, easier in a place where diversity is such an obvious mainstay and where the moisture is forever encouraging growth of all kinds (including my own).

     For me, thinking about the bed as a evolving painting helped me get from a lovely chaotic tangle of species, to a slightly more orderly tangle that allowed impatient human eyes to visualize the splendor that was already there. This meant removing select plants-and so knowing species at juvenile and mature stages is imperative. The removal of select plants, if chosen properly, allowed for another species to take over the space-even if that takes time. Knowing which plants to bring forward, upward or outward in this way requires an eye into the future bloom and growth patterns and thoughts about balance, symmetry and proportion. Somedays, it was a stop and a look-bending down to remove one representative of a certain species. Other times, as the summer grew its hair out, it was simply an adjustment of the way in which the bed was visualized. Critical reflection was always part of the path. The reveal was, in large part, up to the natural components of the system. I simply provided proper placement to help human eyes see.

     As a young scientist, the concept of chaos resonated with me. From these gardens that were part of my life (I still visit) to the everyday changes of my family, life and house-I am always shuffling between order and disorder. Though the term has largely fallen out of use, it still makes my heart sing. On the other hand, nested non-linear complex systems describes it for those with impatient human brains.

*Chaotic Gardening: Appreciating Natural Landscapes was held in 2002 in (what is now) the Jocassee Gorges Visitor Center. Speakers included David Bradshaw, Larry Dyck, Tom Goforth, Patrick McMillan and Rekha Morris -- all focused on talks about connecting to and understanding natural landscapes and native plants.

© Karen C. Hall, 2010