Normally when one thinks about an orderly garden, he or she would picture perfect even rows of evenly distributed plants. This scene would be absent of “weeds” and debris. The garden that we would be considering is actually as disorderly as a growing system can be.
As Bill Mollison so succinctly wrote in the Permaculture Designers Manual,
“Order is found in things working beneficially together. It is not the forced condition of neatness, tidiness, and straightness; all of which are, in design or energy terms disordered. True order may lie in apparent confusion; it is the acid test of entropic order to test the system for yield. If it consumes energy beyond product, it is in disorder. If it produces energy to or beyond consumption, it is ordered.”
So what we have here is a bit of bait and switch with words. When one says order most people automatically think about aesthetic organization, but in Permaculture we are referring to finding a balance in our design which makes our systems produce in a sustainable or even regenerative manner.
This is accomplished by creating situations that mimic (and actually are) natural processes, so as to reduce our inputs without reducing our yields. Some of the things we do to this end are: capture and store water/energy in the system, fill all niches so that “weeds” or pests do not have opportunity to damage production, we look for solutions IN our difficulties rather than using resources to fight them, and we build nutrient accumulation and distribution into our system so that it can regenerate itself whether we help it along or not.
In doing this we will usually end up with a garden that looks like this:
rather than like this:
While the second image appears more well “ordered”, it is not. In order to maintain that garden year after year, you would have to turn the soil annually, add many amendments to the soil, regularly water and still have to fight weeds throughout the year.
In the first image however, the plants are mixed so that they can form a “community” (I realize that sounds like a bunch of hippy gobbledygook, but I don’t mean this in any esoteric sense. I specifically mean that different plants and animals produce things that are of benefit to other plants and animals and in that sense they form a community.), where every feature provides many functions and every function serves many features. That kind of lush production comes from a well designed and balanced system, that once built will require one major input. Harvest.
Sure, you will want to walk through and clear some paths, prune some plants, maybe even remove or add one; but if the system is well designed it will function and produce whether you do or not.
So as you plan your garden, keep these things in mind. Ask yourself if you want a garden that appears well ordered but isn’t, because its inputs exceed its outputs; or would your prefer to reap the benefits of natures version of order?
If you prefer the latter, talk to your local Permaculture designer. Then your biggest problem will be getting us to shut up again.