Sunday, July 26, 2009

Invasive Species & Collision of Desires

A collision of desires occurs whenever two or more groups with interests in a wicked problem support great ideas and outstanding goals that give rise to competing outcomes that are mutually exclusive. Invasive species wickedly and inconveniently provide many examples of collisions of desires. A dispute between a neighborhood association and a city council member over a small flower garden describes the fuzzy world of competing interests and a collision of desires wrapped in a question of taste.

The spot called Poet’s Corner has, one infers, a native look about it, and raises questions about native plants that might be called weeds. At one level we are dealing with questions of taste that derail any convergence of opinion. In the war on invasive species between traditional gardeners and naturalists, beauty is a battlefield front line and any arguments quickly escalate. The “look” of nature is one of chaotic landscape out of control of man. Our memories of the Garden of Eden wherein was found serenity and safety call us to prune and weed and chop and mow and order species into predictable rows organized by color and overlaid with hues of artistic references.
The back to nature gardener turns the landscape design matrix on its head reveling on the ecological interactions so disturbing to the traditionalists. Instead of pest free environs found in gardens of the past, all the denizens of nature are welcomed back into the garden; instead of a few reliably identifiable species that provide a common reference for understanding, a chaos of variety is a fundamental part of this new garden grammar requiring an education in order to “read” the landscape. Music offers an analogy with classical easily understood melodies composed in chromatic scales as opposed to difficult patterns found in music composed in 12 tone rows.

Eco-system syntax and grammar which are part of landscape literacy must be learned in order to see the beauty in patterns found in eco-systems and the services that they provide. Natural landscapes and gardens enhance the combinations of life and surprise. For the uninitiated the vagaries and unpredictable nature of a “natural” landscape is disconcerting. The uncontrolled and untended look “reads” as unkempt and dangerous to the current accepted gardening practices and expected principles of design.

The very garden wall that long “framed” the garden and kept nature at arms length is now symbolically (or even in deed) torn down so that nature can come in. For millennia the garden space defined the other we call nature. Now it is nature which defines the garden, a revolution in perspective. Where once we found grounding in the garden, we see definition in the wild areas and wilderness which encourage our aspirations…at least for some. The traditional garden walled out the complexities of nature reducing choices to a manageable few.

And the collision of desires comes when we try to provide an easy to understand garden with a limited palette and nothing to much moving about that cannot be easily identified while at the same time trying to support and enhance the needs of our ecosystem by planting host plants for insects and inviting other species to dine on the garden we plant. One hand wants plants that are inedible to insects; the other wants butterflies. We want an insect free zone and we want song birds. We want predictability and we want nature. We want it all. We want inexpensive food, but we also want pesticide free…yesterday. We want higher yields, but we do not want hybrids. We want security with out risk, and we want freedom without responsibility. We want restrictions of chemical controls of invasive species, so we get biological controls that bring in more exotics…exactly what we set out to diminish.

The collision of expectations gives way to unexpected outcomes motivated by well meaning desires. This then is the Collision of Desires. All stakeholders want to do the right thing. No one group sets out to do the wrong thing. But the complexities surrounding invasive species sometimes lead to solutions at odds with one another.

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