It’s a Matter of Balance

Carol A. Hand

Be moderate in all things:
Watch, listen, and consider:
Your deeds will be prudent.
(Midewiwin Code)(Source: Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

When it comes to gardening, I do read and listen to what the experts have to say. And then I study my environment. I watch how the light changes during the day, notice the various types of soil and plants that grow in different spaces, and observe how the land changes with the seasons. And then I contrast what I observe with “expert wisdom” – the newest fads and what the experts say is really true now.

Other experts got it wrong in the past. But now we know the truth. Don’t dig in the soil. Weeds are beneficial.”

All of them? Even if they’re deliberately-planted species from other parts of the world that have no natural controls in this environment and quickly smother indigenous life? From my perspective, that sounds too much like the colonial and capitalistic hegemony imposed on Ojibwe people for centuries. “Don’t think for yourself. We know best!” It’s taught me to question those who believe their way is the only right way – those who are too certain of their infallibility.

crabapple tree 2015

Photo: Crabapple Blossoms – June 2015

What happened to the spirit of inquisitive inquiry? Will I really harm the earth if I remove the nails, metal fragments, glass, plastic, concrete slabs and building debris that has been scattered for an untold number of years throughout my yard? Should I simply leave the land banked and contoured so all of the run off from the rain flows into my basement, or into my front yard from the neighbors’ artificially raised yards on two sides? I do know that I have no way of knowing what’s in the new dirt I’ve trucked in to address these issues, fill the newly-built raised beds, and improve the hard-packed nutrient-deficient soil.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to undertake labor-intensive experiments. Of all the various home remedies I’ve used to deal with deer, only a high fence worked. Using the sod I dug up when I created gardens to contour the slope of the land away from the house worked, even in the flood of 2012. Removing concrete slabs and gently contouring the land on both sides of the front yard seems to be working as well – not just in terms of preventing the formation of mini-ponds after heavy rains, but also with improving neighbor-relations.


Photo: Gardens – June 2015

Some things don’t work as well. Straw mulch does control weed growth and minimize the need to water during long dry spells, but there’s a downside. It provides slugs with an ideal breeding ground in a long, cool rainy spring. Once firmly entrenched, they’re truly destructive. And while high fences keep deer out, they don’t deter hungry squirrels who have discovered their appetite for small green tomatoes and baby squash.

I have also learned that maintenance is crucial, but there are always competing priorities in a fixer-upper yard and house. Still, it’s a great learning lab for creative problem-solving. Many innovations come from economic necessity and repurposing resources, like the sod I dig up or the boards I salvaged from the old fence. They’ve become part of the system to address higher land on either side or my yard.

ava's garden june 2015

Photo: My Granddaughter by Her Garden – July 2015

The other lesson I keep learning? It’s the process that matters. I can’t help trying to breathe health and beauty into the places I live and work, even though I know nothing is permanent. Everything could change tomorrow. What isn’t as likely to disappear are the memories my granddaughter has of watching the seeds she planted grow into flowers. Or the memories of my grandson who learned that it’s wisest to approach challenging jobs by selecting the least destructive alternatives even if you’re strong. In the long run, it often takes less time. Or the memories of my neighbors who say their lives are enriched and inspired by the gardens and flowers they can see from their windows or as they walk by.


Photo: My Grandson Holding His Team’s Rugby Trophy – 2015

Deciding whether to dig and weed is really a multidimensional conundrum nested within a specific geographic and human context. I don’t know what long range outcomes will follow from the decisions I make today even though I do my best to watch, listen and consider. I’ll be long gone, and perhaps my house and yard will be gone as well. It could be part of an extended parking lot for the church and apartment building across the street. It could disappear in a storm like the one that broke a huge branch from my beloved willow tree this year. Regardless, I do believe that the love we put into the things we do and the places we live survives as an essence in the places and people we touch long after we pass on.

Work Cited:

Basil Johnston (1976). Ojibway heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

30 thoughts on “It’s a Matter of Balance

  1. Beautiful Carol! Thanks for sharing this, Gardens is a reflex of our own life. The best teacher is Nature it self and we can learn so much from watching her doing her job on her own. Even those nails, metal fragments, glass, plastic, concrete slabs and building debris are now a part of that soil and I have seen many times Mother Nature to take the good ingredients of them and use them in her behalf.
    Thanks for this lesson Carol A. Hand!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This made me think of the experts and experimentation and observation of what we’re going through now in LA as some people try to convert their properties to drought-tolerant landscaping — and it turns out that some “solutions” cause greater problems. We need to pay attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These are challenging times to try to figure out what will work. I’d like to hear more about the solutions and problems for drought-tolerant landscaping. We seem to be stuck in the middle – sometimes it rains everyday for weeks, and others it’s windy, hot, and dry.

      Because I have only lived here a short time, it’s hard for me to predict what the weather will be, although last year, my research students discovered that even long-term farmers and gardeners are struggling with this. The plants that do well and the strategies that work one year don’t work the next year because the weather is different. And what does well here won’t work at my friend’s house – just 20 miles north on the lake shore, the weather is much colder and rainier. This year convinced me that I need to keep trying to grow different vegetables and plants every year to deal with slugs and squirrels, and other garden pests. Doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t seem to work…


  3. You have beautiful gardens, Carol! It seems that much of your healthy experiments are working. But it’s labor intensive….I admire your skill and perseverance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Carol, well understood Permacultue, as any other approach, calls for the use of critical thinking and thinking in systems. There are no formulas: mulch doesn’t work everywhere and the type of mulch you select needs to meet the specific local needs that may even change from season to season…in regards to natives and invasives, Toby Hemenway, not only a permaculturist who has written books and taught many courses but also a practitioner, has interesting perspectives about natives and invasives, this is just one of the posts, with a video of him talking that you may be interested in:

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Carol for this insightful post. I followed you link to Deep Green Permaculture site. I finally have a better understanding of permaculture gardening. It seem instinctively I have been evolving my gardening in that direction. I naturally do that with my flower beds but have failed to apply it fully to my vegetable patch. You have given my husband food for thought to change how we garden in the vegetable patch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Honey. I’m glad to hear the information was helpful – and grateful to know that many of the plants in your gardens survived the rains 🙂


  6. The natural harmony of what you’ve created speaks with a wondrous detail a great deal, in spite of expert opinion.

    Your closing words remind me of a line from The Gladiator, when the general who became a slave, a slave who became a gladiator, a gladiator who defied an emperor (love that part) said just before rallying his forces into [imperialistic] battle, “What we do in life echoes through eternity.” A pithy quote; however, while it sounds all well and heroic, and heightened the emotion of the moment with its musical orchestral backdrop, it does nothing to address the diminishing strength of those reverberations. Not to be the pessimist, mind. Nor to be the discouragement, you’ve done wonderfully.

    Love the pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments and kind words, Peter. (I can often hear the echoes of the past, both good and bad. I think you can too in the powerful dreams that inspire your deep and lovely poetry 🙂 ).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved your post, it reminded me of dad, he created a duck pond to drain the water into (which he used water from for the flowers in dry times), he salvaged concrete slabs when a house was torn down, breaking them into the right size and then built a retaining wall (high), he obviously got ducks for the pond and they in turn kept the slugs from devouring the vegetables. He grew our vegetables and fruit primarily on a heavily sloped garden with heavy clay soil that he incorporated with compost over the years – I have so many memories of him working in his garden night after night – from when he was young to when he was in his 80’s and bent over…we were raised vegetarian so he had to produce a whole lot of food that mom had to preserve.

    Keep doing what you are doing, common sense works best I think…and you are correct, the memories are the most precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had the same problem with mulch promoting slugs until I became acquainted with the work of late Japanese permaculturist Manasobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka promoted the use of undercrops like clover and alfalfa instead of mulch and I’ve been doing in for the last 3 years. Like the mulch it protects the soil against evaporation, but it’s also much better at suppressing weeds. Legumes are also nitrogen fixing and reduce the need to add manure.

    It also reproduces the original horticulture (ie planting in food forests) practiced by many eastern native American tribes prior to the advent of Europeans.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ” I do believe that the love we put into the things we do and the places we live survives as an essence in the places and people we touch long after we pass on”
    oh, Carol-I HOW I have missed reading your posts:-)This summer— I have been digging a lot in my soil and making changes. I have not been on the computer much or read many blogs. I miss your writing. You are the best story-teller!
    Your gardens are lovely:-) My garden teaches me each year + I have to admit this was an off year, but oh well-there is always next year. I found that interesting about straw + will stay away from that in my garden.
    Your granddaughters garden is a perfect idea:-) Sam( my grandson that lives near us) is coming by today + he loves to wander and play in the garden. I can hardly wait for the day he can have a garden:-)
    I have to share-my son played football for many years and into college( first year) until he got too busy with his studies. He decided to quit football and do rugby. Well, I was terrified to go to a rugby game for I had a hard enough time watching him play football. I am not a football fan-lol-Well, I LOVED Rugby:-) I found I enjoyed watching it better than American football.
    Congrats to your grandson and his win:-) I am a fan of Rugby!

    As you notice, I play catch-up on posts from the past few months. I need time to read your posts for they are so “thoughtfully” put together:-) They deserve my undivided attention:-) I also enjoy your wisdom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing some of the things I have missed on your blog, Robbie. I have also been busy digging and trying to clean up messes in my yard, leaving me little time to read and stay on top of blogging.

      Straw may work in some places – it was just the wrong year here… And I don’t think I’ll try it again.

      I love hearing about your family and also learn about our rugby connection 🙂

      I agree that gardens teach us a lot about life and ourselves, and I love learning from your wisdom, too.


  10. A great post with some sounds advice. I have recently been looking into permaculture and am amazed by it’s success and also the fact that people don’t embrace it. It is the way forward in every sense and I just hope that more and more people begin to take it’s principles on board!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The focus of your recent posts is timely and important, Equality. Like you, I wish more people were aware of the principles and benefits of permaculture. I think you would appreciate Sylvia’s blog (above – Silvia TIC – I can’t get the link to copy here). She has studied permaculture and routinely shares important, practical information about permaculture and other useful skills (gardening, food preparation, planning for emergencies, etc.)


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