Saturday, August 25, 2012

Musings on Invasive Species - Chapter 1: "The March garden is a simple thing"


      The March garden is a simple thing.  One moment it is winter; the next it is not.  All at once striding forth from the endless blur of grays and browns of winter’s night come the dazzling bright colors of triumphal spring.  Even those of us with no calling to garden stoop and feel the earth, are pulled from their comfortable fireplace centered favorite chair or plasma screen focused seats to venture out into the glorious daylight and fresh air of a new season.  We do not have to know the names of the plants in bloom to know that for a moment we are in touch with Paradise – perhaps, even, we might touch heaven here on earth.
      If we stop and take a closer look along the edges of the landscape and in the cracks of the garden walk, we shall see early adapters and brave ubiquitous plants popping up with abandonment and in complete disregard for planning.  We may make a spontaneous choice deciding that some of the species belong and some do not.  And this we do with not too much aforethought.  Those plants that do not belong are quickly plucked, removed and thrown away.  There is a similar reaction for us to the newly arrived swarms of insects that invade our personal space, moving perhaps indoors through open windows with broken screens.  These flying and crawling species are pests in our personal space, violators of our little part of heaven.  We swat and spray reminding ourselves perhaps of plagues and ill health that follows these home invaders.  There is no time to spend on thinking about these reflexive actions for Spring is “sprung” in a sudden complete dance of life in motion
      Spring marches in without warning, unannounced and without a pause.  We look outside one day and there, where the quiet browns of winter’s reign once held court, now the garden blooms anew.  The cycles of the seasons are heralded by trumpet choirs of daffodils, and a chorus robed in green.  All of us are gardeners for a moment when spring arrives.  The suddenness of change beckons everyone to step outdoors.  In the novelty of the moment, life awakens and the world is renewed.  The garden has not yet been invaded by competing forces of nature; too new to have been damaged by time, the landscape is in a state of becoming.  The first intimation of a new beginning in the garden is without blemish, defect or irregularity.  In the first moment of spring, there is no imperfection, no invasion, and no thought of the coming conflict.  New harm to be caused by invasive species is not yet revealed and we have no thoughts of the destructive possibilities in growth and nature.  The garden is filled with dreams bounded only by the yet unreleased energy of the possible.  Every seedling is the actualization of a shade tree; every flower, the realization of a dream.
      Each spring, over and over again through the ages of human memory, the stories of creation are retold.  We are grounded in the universe by our nuanced sense of place which is found in the garden.  Our common grounding is reinforced by stories and myths of creation that make up our culture and civilization.   And these forces of the past, in turn, guide our core understandings of our purpose in the cosmos and our place in the world.  Like genetic information past on from generation to generation, the stories of creation and our beginnings guide our dreams and our designs.  The stories of creation influence our decisions about our homes, our gardens, and our environment.  The messages of these first stories reflect the very essence of our spring seasons, for where a moment ago there was empty nothingness, there now is a fullness of everything..
      The precise moment of renewal is impossible to establish; there is no absolute point of time when winter ends and spring begins.  We note the day and try to record the hour.  We divide the hour into minutes and search for the very second; this act of dividing can go on and on with no end.   The closer we try to see the exact moment of change, the more we see nothing at all.  Our attempt at precision delivers only an unsettling vagueness.  The closer we look the more unclear the moment becomes.   To lessen our discomfort, our creation stories set out to explain this mysterious beginning that produced this world in which we live.  The broadest and most basic ideas flow from our stories of the beginning.  The creation myths are a collection of ideas that functions as a discrete and definable enabling concept.  These stories serve as William Sims Bainbridge’s cultural genes.  Basic cultural concepts flow from these genes, becoming dynamic imperatives of civilization.  Ideas about the very essence of our world, of where we came, to where we may be going, are rooted in the garden of creation myths and stories.
      As there are unnumbered gardens so there are countless stories of creation.  As each garden is an aggregation of form and content, so each story constrains the infinite into manageable definitions which lead to understanding.  As a garden might have an untended wild areas serving as backdrops to more formal textures, so the legends offer contrasts and comparisons that help us define our place in the cosmos.  Our gardens and our landscapes are a reflection of the order of the world that is established in our culture’s creation story.  The values we assign to order and form are supported by the stories of the first spring.  We plant in rows and build walls in straight lines because Western tradition seeks a return to the order of creation’s garden – an order that brings a sense of certainty or surety in the midst of chaos.
      Our personal Edens, our gardens, landscapes and our dreams are haunted and informed by our culture and its stories.  The first garden and the first spring are proclaimed “[i]n the beginning [when] God created the heaven and the earth”.  The stories of the beginning inflect our ideas of landscape and individual ideas about the world.  Western culture is tied to linear the Abrahamic religions, the  Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith traditions in which received expectations of society dictate the recreation of the Garden of Eden and in doing so reflect  the story of creation.   We move step by step in a straight and ordered line of decisions from a beginning to an end.   We remember the safety and serenity of that first garden and that time when “… God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”.  In recalling the peacefulness and tranquility of that time and place, we desire to return to the predictability and serenity found within the garden walls.  We are deeply drawn to a divine place which is the ordered landscape of a garden.  
      The creation story tells of the separation of sky from earth, night from day,  land from water.  In doing so the process of delimiting and categorization begins.  Even the very notion of a beginning as a concrete, tangible start is a form of assigning ideas and things to sets and boxes.  Time has a start and moves inexorably towards a finish.  Time moves from a beginning to a goal.  The gardening as is in living involves planting a seed that has a beginning, grows, matures and dies; each stage, a specific quantifiable step on the way to a perfection found in its finality.  Inside the garden we find the good in life that are the qualities we seek through re-creation to emulate.
      Our gardens are a refuge from nature, the Other, outside our immediate surroundings.  At the first moment of spring there is a sense of perfection of the possibilities inherent in the act becoming.  While inside the garden it is peaceful, predictable, serene, safe and beautiful, the dualistic ideas of western culture lead us inexorably to consider that which is beyond the garden wall, Eden’s opposite, to be a place we do no wish to go, a place filled with terror, the unknown, the chaos of randomness and danger, a place that defines evil and is the very essence of bad outcomes.  It is from the forces of random destructive nature that we will protect our nascent spring garden.  We will make our garden safe from the invasions of unwanted, unknown animals, plants, insects and diseases.  We will struggle to oppose the uncertain and unpredictable forces just outside our garden fence.  The garden is our grounding and our center from which we are protected from and defend against the random chaos of the outside world.   Our Eden is the place within which we maximize our sense of control over a small piece of an uncontrollable universe.
      We establish control by regulating and labeling each of the individual parts of the landscape.  We give names to each object, species, and relationship with in the garden.   The daisy and the rose are friends because we know their names.   We choose the color, texture, size and placement of each species with in the garden.  Through this intimate familiarity of each piece and parcel we form a expectation of the arrangement and the geometry of the space which gives us a sense of comfort and control.  When we plant a line of trees to the garden gate, we can walk in safety from the starting point to the end of the known and the familiar.  We are guided and supported by the structures that we create with in the confines of the garden. The landscape is bounded by the infinite which defies our understanding and while encouraging flights of our imagination. 
      The ideas of Eden arise out of the Western religious traditions.  Non Occidental creation stories are imbued with holistic, cyclical, relativistic, animistic or illusionary concepts.  Some Eastern traditions are even quite similar to the great garden story of the West.  The Pan Ku in China divides the world at the moment of creation in to light and dark, clear and dense, sky and land.  Pan Ku’s egg like the west’s cosmos was without form or definition.  He created the sky and the earth, and ultimately his body gives rise to the landscapes with rivers and hills and features familiar to mankind.   Both creation stories tell of a dynamic intervention to shape nothingness into the rational compressible landscapes.  The Western tradition however separates the divine and spiritual from the natural and ordinary.   In the West perfection of the garden is a process rather than a realization; it is in motion rather than stationary; unique and discrete rather than repeating. 
      The perfect world of Eden is a landscape which is self contained and without error, blemish, problems or degeneracy.  And so the first Garden was without invasive species - no pests plants or insects or diseases; all species were appropriate, indigenous and purposeful.  The first awareness of the divine in the West is of God in the guise of a master gardener.  The Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity is a craftsman, an enabler, an artist, artisan and Creator who moves the earth, plants the seeds and arranges for the care and cultivation of his creation.  In doing so, he delineates a time between the winter of nothingness and the spring of the possible.  He lays down a template for western landscaping traditions and the ultimate model of our garden-life plans.
      The idea of the Garden of Eden as Paradise flows through our feeling and ideas about the landscapes which surround us.  The walls of a garden, of the Garden, serve to protect us, and create an oasis against the onslaught and rapaciousness of nature.  A paradise is literally a forming-around, a making of a perimeter, a word rooted in proto-Indo-European by way of ancient Iran, as is the word  garden which has as one of its root meaning, an enclosure.  Both paradise and garden are etymologically connected to the idea of an enclosure.  The chaos, uncertainty and unpredictable nature of the Other beyond the wall is kept in abeyance.  Our ordinary days are filled with the complications of the random forces we encounter as we venture out into the natural world.  A sense of peace is recovered when we return to the safety of the garden.  Life is defined as a struggle against nature.  We are overwhelmed and over-powered and retreat to our gardens to find safety and solace, protection and comfort.  Our journey through life is a trip from a definite beginning to a promised end and the garden is our refuge from the infinite Other that would distract us and detain us.  In the image of God’s garden, we recreate our Edens as sanctuaries of the divine.  The garden is, therefore, a reflection of divinity in nature.
      The Persian paradise garden was an enclosed orchard, a cultivated oasis of greenery in a harsh desert land.  The word paradise comes to us from the reconstructed Old Persian word for a walled enclosure.  Behind this wall with its requisite source of running water could be found all that was needed for life.  The dusty sand-winds of the desert would be muffled, the endless search to quell the parched realities of the desert - quenched, and the sweet fruits of cultivation - harvested to fill the reach of hunger.  Paradise was a garden which freed us from the eternal struggle to survive.  Paradise was the place that freed mankind from the uncertainty of tomorrow and let him truly live.   
      Hesiod, the 8th century BCE Hellenic farmer who may have been a contemporary of Homer and was either bored while tending his sheep or fell asleep counting them, described paradise as a time and place when mortals: “…lived like gods and no sorrow of heart they felt.  Nothing for toil or pitiful age they cared, but in strength of hand and foot still unimpaired they feasted gaily, undarkened by sufferings.  They died as if falling asleep; and all good things were theirs, for the fruitful earth unstintingly bore unforced her plenty, and they, amid their store enjoyed their landed ease which nothing stirred, loved by the gods and rich in many of herd.”[1]  
      The monotheistic tradition of Eden blends with and is reinforced by stories of the sky-gods pf the polytheistic Indo-European transmitted through mythological telling the ancient Greeks and Romans.  As an example, the special nature and connection with divinity is emphasized in the legend of the Nymphs of the Evening who tended the garden of Hera, wife of Zeus.  The Hesperides gave their name to  crystalline glycosides hesperidins, found in most citrus fruits such as orange peels.  They also gave European civilization their storied golden apples which were sought after by both men and serpents - apples that came in two varieties; one of joy and the other of discord, one of good and one of evil.  They show up as the fruits of the labor of Hercules, who was charged with obtaining by any means possible the Hesperidean produce, those legendary harvests of desire the yields of which of a garden still resonate through our Western cultural memories. 
      The idea of a garden of perfect with no necessity of labor and with endless harvest is used satirically by Athenaeus, a 2nd century common era writer quoting a 5th century BCE Greek comic poet, Telecleides. The extreme description makes the point of the impossibility of a garden without labor.  But the ideal remains with us today as the motivating dream of an  idealistic landscape:  “First, there was peace over all, like water over hands. The earth produced no terror and no disease; on the other hand, things needful came of their own accord. Every torrent flowed with wine, barley-cakes strove with wheat-loaves for men's lips, beseeching that they be swallowed if men loved the whitest. Fishes would come to the house and bake themselves, then serve themselves on the tables. A river of broth, whirling hot slices of meat, would flow by the couches; conduits full of piquant sauces for the meat were close at hand for the asking, so that there was plenty for moistening a mouthful and swallowing it tender. On dishes there would be honey-cakes all spinkled with spices, and roast thrushes served up with milk-cakes were flying into the gullet. The flat-cakes jostled each other at the jaws and set up a racket, the slaves would shoot dice with slices of paunch and tid-bits. Men were fat in those days and every bit mighty giants.”[2]  
      Seeking safety, mankind is hard-wired in some sense to want a clearing between the cave and the outside world.  The cleared area is a protective area, an interlude between the predictable and the chaotic.   We guard the enclosure around our homes looking out the doorway to assess movement without and to take action therein if called for.  Hoping to find our own priapean garden sentinel who will warn and threaten wayfarers and thieves away, we  lay out our landscapes and fence in our gardens so that if there is any movement we can shoot it.  With a wall to protect us,   the careful choices of species we permit within provide a comfort from the randomness beyond.  Each species is known, each contour of the land is planned.  Just as the God of the West created his world one step at a time,  so today we too reflectively plan and garden one step at a time.  
      In the shaping, design and planting of a garden sanctuary arises a sense of control over nature and natural processes.  The  gardener is added who took over the Creator’s task of naming and classifying all the division and species of the garden.  This first human gardener, Adam, was the master of all within.  He took on the role of classifier, namer and category divider, the value giver, and by extension the decider of good and not-good.  Adam standing in for all western mankind bequeaths the template of Eden enabling the establishment of basic catholic, orthodox cultural frames of reference.  Beauty and order within, disorder and not-beauty is accordingly found without.  From its use as a major setting in Milton’s Paradise Lost, to powerful symbolism in Shakespeare’s Hamlet the Garden of Eden as Paradise and refuge is restated and reinforced.  The special garden is reproduced in paintings throughout Europe by some of the most renowned masters such as Bosch, Bruegel, Chagall and Dali.  The idea of a garden in deeply held and ingrained within the Western psyche.
      The Garden of Eden is the prototype for the garden as art. It sets the aesthetic standards and principles; in its significance, the ordinary is divided from what is beautiful and appealing, and what is not.  There is at first no tension or strife in the Garden of Eden; the animals live together and there is no need for work or war.  The ideal of a place of rest, of inactivity, of a place where there is no discord, no pain, no labor, and no want is planted strongly within the human soul and depicted in western art.  This place of perfection was created to enable man’s relationship with his personal God.  As man is to God so the animals and plants are to man.  As Eden is to God, so a garden is to man. 
      The Fall from Grace, a separation of the divine the from natural that is reinforced by art has dramatic implications. The division of time into discrete components of a linear journey and the demarcation of nature from the divine are key concepts found in the Western story of creation and affect our ideas of gardens and landscapes as well as our perception of our place and role within the greater scheme of the universe. A garden has a beginning formed out of the nothingness of nature and through time and effort is transformed into a divine reflection of paradise, a sanctuary from evil of chaos.  At the core of the Western religious tradition recalled by art is the sense that the world was created for mankind’s use.          
      Unlike animanistic belief traditions or even those ancient teachings of Eastern faiths with holistic underpinnings, nature in the West is assigned a supporting role.  Nature and the natural world outside the garden are not a part of Eden, but a wilderness to be brought under control.  And that control is assigned to western Man when his God spoke and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”[3]   The drive to fill the bogs and wetlands, level the mountains and clear the woods is ingrained in Western culture.   With the recent advent of secularism, the concepts of man’s obligation to the divine as a check on unlimited personal exploitation are folded into the idea of the land shaped for and by mankind.  The drive to control is reinforced by the memories and actions of the asymmetrical struggles of nomadic humans in harsh desert reaches or river-tied early farming communities recorded in myths and legend.  These remembrances of the struggle against the ebb and flow of the natural energy and dynamics of annual river floods would return in the many stories of the garden as paradise.   
      We daydream of walking barefoot in a garden where there is no need to worry about bites and tears and pain.  We want to be surrounded by animals that are not a threat and pose no danger.  All the flowers will be fragrant and none will cause us harm.  We long to reach for any fruit and find it sweet and refreshing, and sip the cool clean running water when our fancy strikes.   The cultivated Persian paradise combines with idyllic Hellenic notions of a garden to give us a landscape template such as seen in the paintings of Nicolas Poussin:  The Spring; Adam and Eve in Paradise, 1660-1664   It is worth juxtaposing the Poussin painting of Spring with his painting of Winter; The Deluge.  The stark bleakness of winter divides us from the invitation of spring.  The desolate bleakness of Winter stands in opposition to the full possibilities of Spring.
      There is a snake in paradise, however, an invader, a species destined to turn the perfect Eden into a flower-bed of strife.  The very notion of division is an invasion of paradise.   At the beginning there was no partition, no motion, and no movement in Eden.   After the moment of creation nothing happens, and mankind exists unaware of the static blissful state in which he lives without needs, demands or wants.  In Eden, moreover, were two special trees, native perhaps by definition as wel as a snake which was alien and exotic - an invasive species, likely to cause harm.   The Bible informs us that “[i]n the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”[4]  
      The serpent’s gift is the knowledge of good and evil that includes the tool of valuation.  The division of good and evil drives our incessant human categorizations of the world.  Once we imbue each action, object or place with a value, we become part of a world of continuously diverging possibilities.  If this place is good then it follows that there is one that is not; if this plant is good, then this one is not.  The serpent tempted Adam and Eve with information wrapped in desire surrounded by beauty – an apple.  The landlord on the other hand was not amused, and after quick consideration, decided that the two were in violation of the lease.  As the two wayward tenants were ushered to the gate, the landlord had an apparent bad hair moment and left them with their former charge of dominion over the flora and fauna of the earth.  All our current landscape challenges and questions of sustainability are imbedded with in this received Biblical imperative.
      The analogy of God as gardener creating perfection and the snake as invasive species causing disruption to the world is appropriate, concise and prophetic.  For metaphysical reasons the serpent changed from peaceful indigenous denizen of the tranquil garden into a foreign exotic alien with a mission incompatible with the ecosystem services of Eden.  The serpent’s actions upset the balance of Eden’s ecological system.  From both Mankind’s and God’s point of view the harm caused to the system was dynamic, irreversable and unsustainable.  The garden as it was could not go on; instead of etrnal permanence,  instantaneous change was the permanent recognized feature of gardening, landscapes, life  and the biological systems in this world.  Mankind had gained the knowledge of life which was to know death and to wage eternal, fruitless war upon it. 
      Mankind had also acquired the knowledge of good and evil which is to say mankind now knew how to categorize, name, label and assign values to everything.  This valuation of the world and the categorization that is integral to gardening, landscaping and decision making within our human biological systems.  That is to say, we decide each moment of every day whether some part of the physical work or species is good, has value and belongs in our garden or is bad, has no value, and must be removed.  In the process we sometimes get the boundaries of the physical world confused with the world of values for the dandelion in the lawn has no intrinsic good or bad value until we assign it one.  We describe the world of our garden and even the whole of the natural world by using material principles such as mass and energy and physical-chemical properties to which we layer our human judgments attaching metaphysical value tags. 
      The eviction from the Garden becomes symbolic of a degeneracy that takes place when cultivation does not keep the evil invaders at bay.   The exit from Paradise initiates the journey through life and the remembrance of things that might have been.  The frozen state of, the stationary perfection of Eden is lost in the motion of change.  And the desire to find this perfect moment, this unchanging simplicity compels the completion og our dreams and  our plans.  And the infamous invasive species gets the blame for bringing the blissful state of creation to an end.
      When the garden and landscape is disturbed by the action of a non native alien, the role of garden steward is brought to the forefront, as we try to recreate the ease of existence that once was ours.  We of the Occident, created with free-will, chose to know and in doing so began the process of division requiring a form of thinking.  The thinking itself is very upsetting for it tells us things we does not want to know.   For now we know that inside the garden is good; outside the landscape is bad.  The wild, chaotic, diverse, untamed, scary Other which lies beyond the garden’s wall is, moreover, a source of evil that must be tamed through culture and cultivation.
      The wilderness harbors historic phantoms of unimaginable evil.  The Bible uses the word wilderness some 300 times in the sense of a wasteland or desert bereft of life.  The biblical wilderness was uninhabited, vast and human survival was a problematic challenge at best.  While Eden, the Hebrew word for delight, was fruitful, the wilderness was desolate and unproductive.  Paradise and nature became physical and spiritual opposites.  The Judeo-Christian-Islamic teaching blended with the folk lore of antiquity to produce the stories of supernatural habitation outside of the garden wall.  Beyond the light of the cared-for garden in the shadows of the darkening forest slithered beastly monsters and horrific visions of cruelty and death.  The woods were full of inhuman terror for the unwary.   In the dark and foreboding gloom of Europe lived the wights and trolls, ogres and elves, magical denizens perhaps enthralled by Satan himself.  Wild beasts hunted among deadly flowers on unsuspecting or unwary travelers.  Myth and rumor surrounded the woman who lived beyond the village wall, who knew too much about cures and poisons, herbs and potions, to wit: a witch, one whom everyone knew knows.  The Other, the wilderness, nature itself was a vast storehouse of potential and uncontrollable trouble.  Nature was to be tamed by constant vigil.  Nature would strike down the unprepared and bring all to ruin if left unchecked.    
      The invasion of the garden is a second beginning, a new creation.  Many myths speak of the power of the snake in the processes of creation.  The Rainbow Snake of Australia controls the water and therefore life, its impact unpredictable and in this uncertainty is found the novelty of creation.  In India the drought-serpent and the world-serpent both play roles in the creation of the world.   The ancient Greeks symbolism of eternal cycles in a snake eating its own tail is recast as the story of Ophion, the Hellenic serpent-king and first of the rulers of the cosmos, impregnating a daughter of a Titan who lays a golden egg from which the earth is hatched, .provides a countermelody to the Biblical tale, for eventually Ophion is overthrown by Chronos, the god of time who casts out the serpent from Olympus       
      Gardeners today are guided by several mythologically driven premises.  These premises are deeply rooted templates used in the design and evaluation of our landscapes.  Valuation forms our reaction to the relationships of form, texture, color and variety.  Deciding what belongs in the garden is a by-product of the serpent’s gift.  The snake itself is summarily imbued with an aura of evil and otherness.  A visceral fear of the reptile is intertwined with the memory of the invader’s impact on the perfection of the moment of creation.  The snake becomes a native of the world outside the garden gate, its origins as a member of creation forgotten in the memory of the destruction of Paradise.  A set of ideas, places and things is created to contain everything that is not labeled good and therefore accordingly stands outside the garden boundary.
      From the dawn of human memory in the West comes the dualistic world view that works like a two cycle engine propelling the civilization forward one decision at a time.  Right or wrong, good or bad, the choices influence our landscapes, our views and our perceptions.  The value of good results in acceptance or inclusion in the landscape and, therefore,  a culturally inferred usefulness to the garden and to the gardener.  From the concepts of good come the ideas about beauty.  Mankind through the choices and decisions of the gardener is informed by the inclusion in the set he calls serenity, goodness, light, peace, security and certainty.  This is the set of things that belong in a garden and are good.
      The ideas of the perfect garden are branded into our collective consciousness.  Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we plan our landscapes based on remembered reflections of Eden that are burned into our collective cultural imaginations by the brilliant heat of the stories of creation.  The reality is that we are bound by our culture.  Our reality is a shadow garden that is built upon values reflected by the light of our mythologies.  Our landscapes are enveloped by values handed down through time and the lenses of our culture and civilizations.   The snake is out, the flower is in and so we make eternal choices of what belongs and what does not based on the patterns that are reflected by our cultural stories.
            These creation stories so powerfully reflected are reinforced through the generations by artists.   Milton set the eternal theme when he writes in book 3 of Paradise Lost that mankind was placed in the “happie Garden” where mankind reaped “…immortal fruits of joy and love.”   From the garden as an earthly mirror of heaven and the divine to the evil impact of Satin’s invasion of Eden, Milton cast the brilliant light of art upon the guiding principles of a paradise lost.  Even the very idea of an inherent goodness to be found in certain species is recalled when Milton reveals that there once  was a species known as the ”… Immortal Amarant, a Flour which once [i]n Paradise…”  This idea of inclusion is key to gardening and to landscape use decisions.  Milton provides an example of art building on the original theme reinforcing the mythis-based cultural paradigm. 
            In book 4 of Paradise Lost Milton compares the garden edge, the boundary between the luxuriant goodness of the Eden as a “…circling row [o]f goodliest Trees loaden with fairest Fruit, Blossoms and Fruits at once of golden hue…” with the other outside uncertain “...steep wilderness, whose hairie sides…[w]ith thicket overgrown, grottesque and wilde…”.  Milton repeats the dynamic western cultural imperative that drives society to view the managed landscape as good and therefore inherently beautiful.  The transmission of values infects and inflects our decisions about landscape use and the values we assign to various states of nature.
            There is ambivalence in Western culture’s definition of the garden and its relationship to the landscape.   In some sense we see the natural world as fallen with mankind from a state of perfect.  This descent from Eden and perfection requires humanity to right the wrongs and to work towards Eden in a continuo’s struggle against the wilderness which is in a state of sin with it.  On the other hand, Acadia, the mythological story of a pastoral garden where there was no fear or danger, no possibility of harm describes the golden age of a pastoral woodland setting also llonged for by man.  Virgil in the 4th Eclogue describes the possible return to a perfect nature as a time when “[t]he earth shall not feel the harrow, nor the vine the pruning hook; the sturdy ploughman, too, shall now loose his oxen from the yoke.”[5]  
            The ideals of beauty and serenity are held up in utopian models as goals to be obtained by design and work.  Man shall labor tilling the land and bring it back into a state of unchanging balance.  The ideas of loss, degeneracy and a falling away from perfection in the curse of eternal work in order to live is found when  the first man is told that “[b]ecause thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed [is] the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat [of] it all the days of thy life;  Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.” [6]  Yet there is on the other hand the promise of return to the dream of utopia offered by the prophet Isaiah recording the Creator words: “…For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind…There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed… And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.”[7]  So what is lost can be regained when the Garden of Eden is transmuted in Utopia, a noble cause towards which the best efforts of mankind must be directed. 
            Utopias and the drive to move towards them arise logically out of the western linear solution to the philosophic exigencies of life.  Given a rational sense of a logical movement towards a goal of perfection understood to be good by definition, the western belief system long held that work was part of the curse imposed when man chose to know the difference between good and evil.  The lot of mankind was to work and die, with the added penalty according to the Romans and Greeks of poenia or ponos - sorrow.   The goal in life was to make a journey away from work and towards a human independence of external things, self-sufficiency, and satisfaction.[8]    In other words mankind’s highest pursuit was to return to a state of perfectly held inactivity remembered with in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions as the Garden of Eden.
            By the time of the Protestant Reformation in Western Europe, work had become divinely inspired.  Work which once had been viewed as the punishment for mankind’s a-cursed action was now the tool by which man would recover Paradise.  Work had become an antidote to inactivity which was viewed a sin, something that happened outside of the garden perhaps in the wilderness.  The stewardship of the garden was emphasized rather than the inactivity implied in Eden.  John Calvin building on Luther’s thinking notes that a “…person who was indifferent and displayed idleness was most certainly one of the damned, but a person who was active, austere, and hard-working gave evidence to himself and to others that he was one of God's chosen ones.”[9]  
            A unsettling vagueness results from the fuzzy cultural bifurcation of nature from the garden.  The creation story divides the landscape of nature from the gardens of God’s design.  The unplanned uncertain nature of the world outside the garden is highlighted by the planned divine design of Eden   and as there is an uncertainty as to nature, so there is a corresponding vagueness as to the concept of work.  The perfection of a garden is lost because of the work of man and degenerates into a wilderness full of death which may be regained by the work of man struggling to recover by wisely using the resources of nature.  The works of man and nature are intertwined like the rose and the wisteria each affecting the other in an eternal dynamic braid.
            The symmetry of the cultural imperatives is powerful.  We go from nothing to the stillness of perfection to the motion of degeneracy in which the seeds of redemption through work are found.  Designed perfection is impacted by invasion and is changed.  The imperfection of the change is corrected by design that leads back to perfection.  And in the center of the story is man, the eternal gardener whose actions both allowed the invasion and returns the system to the ordered design of the original.  The gardener prepares the ground and in doing so enables the inevitable invasion of unwanted species that destroy the order and interrelationships of the garden.  Through his efforts the gardener removes the unwanted invaders and returns the garden to a state of order and balance.
            The archetype of the perfect garden has supplied western culture with the dream of the return to Paradise.  The dream consists of an idyllic landscape where everything has an identifiable place and relationship with everything else.  Order reigns supreme in Paradise.  Order achieved by placing and categorizing things each into its own prescriptive set; to everything a name, to everything a value.  The first set is the set of good or evil; the second is that of known or unknown.  If we do not know its place in the   garden its status defaults to evil.  Therefore something is good if it has purpose, and bad if it has none.  The archetypical Aristotelian sorting assures us that any division is finite and absolute; that something either is in the garden of the divine or of the alien other.  The dualism of the West leaves no room for something grey and vague and uncertain, for uncertainty itself is outside the walls of Paradisium.
            From this acute division flow two ideas.  The first concept is that evil flows in from without; the second that the natural world is without order.  And moreover, the chaos and disorder are arrayed against the work of God and man.  The awesome power of uncontrollable nature was pitted against the works of man.  The chaos, uncertainty, disorder are unpredictable and so  replete with danger and death.  Only in the controlled space where mankind works to select beneficial companion species can he find a respite from the ravages of the natural world.  It is constant work to maintain the order and balance of a garden against the swirling randomness and unknown of nature.  And it is a labor of love, for in bringing order to the landscape mankind finds a respite from the chaos of the cosmos.  Labeling, valuing, and ordering are the first tasks of the gardener.  We find a fact and give it a value, and then set it in our ordered landscape so that it may bring beauty and harvest.
            Since ancient times these archetypical directions have been the constraints that bind our landscapes.  In creating boundaries and restrictions by narrowing the universal set of all that is possible, our gardens become engines that produce food, clothing, shelter and energy as well as beauty, safety and a place of leisure.   The wall of the garden in the Islamic world enclosed an ordered sanctuary that according to the Qu’ran contained “…clustered plantains, and spreading shade, water gushing, and fruit in plenty; Neither out of reach nor yet forbidden”.
            The division of the world into a garden and everything else creates a relationship between the division of a whole and its parts and a model for further divisions.  The delineation of space into predictable and replicable shapes provides order within a predefined landscape.   Geometry brings order to chaos.  The poetry and art of Islam reflect the divine in its garden patterns and a sense of peace arising from repetitions of simple patterns.  The sense of security that comes from geometry and its relationship to numbers provides a connection in the garden to the safety found in an unchanging eternity.   The simplicity of patterns repeated throughout a design reinforces a surety and certainty within the walls.  A garden wall enclosing a square is divided into four squares each a reflection of the greater whole.  From the regularity of the repletion comes a sense of control.  With control come the possibilities however fleeting of a suspension of time and a restraint of change.
            The garden and its patterns bind time through the relationships of forms to one another.  The square bisected diagonally produces triangles; together, square and triangle, create stars.  Golestan Palace also known as the Rose Garden Palace in Iran is an endless variation on a theme of controlled geometry.  Carefully constructed geometric repeated patterns recede into infinity are reflected in a central pool, Eden’s mirror.  The relationship of numbers one to another brings order to the whirling winds of continuous, constant change.   The lines and shapes enclose and arrest random movement.  They guide our eye and control our walk.  The garden path and walk ways direct our vision and constrain our passions moving us in a controlled fashion from place to place within the landscape.  Lines of sight through arches become gateways towards the endless horizon leading to perspectives and controlled illusions.  Control of nature is enforced by the imposition of order.
            So the stories of creation give us three tools to use to understand our place in the world and the purpose of our work.  Naming, valuing and ordering are the spade, rake and hoe of Paradise.  With these three tools we recreate that longed-for moment of perfection before change shatters Eden’s looking-glass reminding us of the struggles of life.  The very idea of time is wrapped in our ideas of motion.  Creation’s garden held time at arms length in a changeless landscape.  Like the first moment of spring Eden stands forever between two events - eternity captured in an instance. 
            The undifferentiated nothingness from whence the garden arose remains just beyond the walls.  The outside alien Other haunts our sleep and complicates our days.  Outside the wall night-mares and the day-mares lurk in our dreams and words.  Thrown out into the terror of the Other, and denied the fruit of the Tree of Life we come face to face with morbid landscapes and mordant realizations of our own mortality.  When nothing changed and time stood captive, mankind had no appointment with death.   The invasive Other outside the wall exists in opposition to the stillness and the certainty of perfection of the garden.  The Other, without, is about change and movement; about not-knowing and not-valuing, and most certainly not about order or control.
            The lighthouse of Eden guides our perceptions of a perfect world frozen forever in blink of an memory.  Build in our deepest, distant dreams, Eden fires up our present imagination manipulating dreams of an eternal, timeless paradise.   To get there we venture through the undefined natural world carrying lanterns at night fearing Will o’wisps.   Our daytimes are spent struggling against the unpredictable forces of nature.  We protect ourselves against the unknown that is incomprehensible and in its nameless state terrorizing.  The untamed Other does not provide dependable sustenance, energy, or shelter.  It can however provide sudden death.
            The wilderness is the antithesis of the grounding that is the garden.  We are awe-struck by the idea of the Other, the not-garden as a philosophic ground state.  When the ground poetically rises up from the wilds of our dreams we are confronted etymologically by Grendel, the monster,  a creature completely of the bottom of all-being, a lone-walker, with no interconnect or relationship to the known world.  Literally invading the mead-hall, Grendel is the Anglo-Saxon incarnation of an invasive species replete with all the negative descriptions.  “Creeping cunning slinking through the night…Dressed in God’s anger…Grendel came slinking over the moors and beneath the mist-filled mounds.”[10]  It is hard to imagine better imagery for invasive species that mar the perfection of Paradise.  Even the description of the invader’s home is fearful when the poet speaks of “…haunted wolf-cliffs and windy head-lands unvisited by mortal feet filled with fearful fens-ways.”[11]  From such places come the attackers of our gardens, our landscapes and our efforts aspiring towards a higher culture.  But the reader must beware of over simplification in Old English poetry and in invasive species issues for there is a strange doppelganger quality to the description of the fight between Beowulf, the gardener and Grendel, the invasive species, as whence comes the invader and whither goes the invasion.[12]
            Amidst the dark sudden unexpected possibilities slinks the invading species, the snake of western creation myth.  The antithesis of all our efforts to bring order to the chaos of the unnamed Other is embodied in the unwelcomed force of nature.  Into our simple recreations of the perfection of Eden come the slippery secretive invasive species, the landscape and garden invader.  In a thrice it can undoes a season’s labor, it destroys the harvests, it undermines well-considered efforts of control and brings disorder to our structured patterns.  When the unwelcomed invaders come into our garden, they undo our work and leave us not only with a lessening of productivity, but subconsciously afraid, disconcerted by a lack of control.  The eye sees a fragment, a flicker of motion in the shade of the hedge-row; the mind fills in the missing pieces. Swirling tales, legends, myths, mistaken identities and resonant cultural symbols combine telling more about the minds of the imaginers than they do about the natural world.  But the telling-stories around the camp fire leave a deep and dark impression, a memory that comes alive to fill in the unknown with impossible evil.  We need look no further than the krakens and dragons which live on the edges of ancient map-makers imaginations.   The very word monster from the Latin words:  monstrare - to show, to point out; monstrum – a significant super natural event;  monere – to remind, to warn to admonish; mens – a mind, understanding or judgment.
            We live in fear of the unknown, of those things that come into Paradise un-summoned and like the Serpent wreak havoc on our life and work.  Venomous snakes and poisonous spiders, ticks and flies that bring pain and death, disease and pestilence, locusts and the plagues that destroy the food supply are ready to attack our gardens and our way of life. 
            The world around us is described from the point of view of the garden as a reflection of Paradise.  The area between our controllable personal space and the fluctuating unpredictable universe is the garden.  The garden is the moment through which we pass each day in our continues travels through nature and constant travails against the unknown.   And it is to our gardens that we return on our way from the battlefields of life.   We see, we know, we understand the world through the lens of the garden, through the choices we make based upon the values we applied.  There is an informational reference upon which we depend.  Our gardens and our landscapes are the eye of the storm we call life.   Only in the last 150 years have they sounded discordant to a few.   

[1] The Oxford Book of Greek Verse in Translation. 1938
[2]  The Deipnosophists of Athenaeus of Naucratis. Athenaeus translated by Charles Burton Gulick. 1929
[3] Genesis 1:26 
[4] Genesis 2:9
[5] Virgil’s Works. 1916. Translated by Henry Rushton Fairclough
[6] Genesis 3:17 - 19
[7] Isaiah 65: 17,20,21,25
[8] Adriano Tilgher. 1930
[9] Historical Context of the Work Ethic. © 1992, 1996.  Roger B. Hill, Ph.D
[10] “Com on wanre niht scriðan sceadugenga702 - 703…ða com of more under misthleoþum, Grendel gongan, godes yrre bær “ 710 - 711
[11] “Hie dygel lond warigeað, wulfhleoþu, windige næssas, frecne fengelad”  1357 - 1359
[12] Pronominal confusion as to whose hand or arm or thumb or claw is grabbing oe clawing whose is a key ambivalence in the story  “…nam þa mid handa higeþihtigne rinc on ræste, ræhte ongean” 746 -747

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Musings on Invasive Species - Chapter 1: "The March garden is a simple thing" by John Peter Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Invasive Species - Example of the Cost of Disinterest - wavyleaf basket grass - Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz

               The best way to control or manage invasive species is to find them early and do something about them quickly before they can get established and spread. This strategy is known as IPM (Integrated Pest Management) in agriculture/horticulture and EDRR (Early Detection & Rapid Response) in ecology. Identification of a novel species is the first step because you cannot control what you do not know. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to gardens, landscapes and natural areas.
               In the Mid Atlantic region of the eastern United States there is a new invader that is spreading rapidly, wavyleaf basket grass. It is now six years since I first wrote about this species. With the exception of the valiant work of a few people such as Imlay, Kyde, Bergmann, Swearingen, Marose, and a small group of concerned, volunteer weed warriors, we have done nothing, and the plant is spreading perhaps soon to a point of no control because the cost will become too great even as the ecosystem damage sky-rockets to a point of no return. We could have controlled this plant and even eradicated 16 years ago when it was first 'discovered' outside of Baltimore, and we could have done it for a few dollars and some hours if we had practiced the principles of EDRR. We did nothing and it is now in the mountains of western Virginia.                
               A review of the uncertainty surrounding accurate identification of Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz is in order. The genus Oplismenus is not economically important but has been known to western science since the early 19th century. As with many grasses, classification and categorization of the many species in the genus Oplismenus is difficult and confused. Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius was first described as Panicum undulatifolium by the Italian botanist, Pietro Arduino, in 1764. The great naturalist Palisot de Beauvois assigned P. undulatifolius to the genus Oplismenus (Palisot de Beauvois, 1812).

               The most complete descriptions of the various members or taxa of the genus Oplismenus was written by Ursula Scholz in 1981 - in German - so bone up on your foreign language skills (Scholz, 1981). Because o the description difficulties inherent in Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz as a host of synonyms or "other names" which add to the confusion when attempting to research this species on the internet.  

The Maryland and Virginia populations have been positively identified as Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz . An ornamental variegated pink, green and white form is sold under numerous, varied names such as O. hirtellus “Variegatus”, O. africanus 'Variegatus', O. variegatus, O. burmanii 'Variegatus', Panicum variegatum, “Ribbon grass,” or “basket grass". This ornamental variegated Oplismenus used in gardens and sold at nurseries is not Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius. It is a sterile variegated garden species has been propagated and distributed under numerous names since its introduction to the florist, garden and nursery trade in the mid 19th century (Long, 1874).

               Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz  is native to Europe and Asia. It is a shade tolerant, low-growing, perennial grass, with leaf blades that are flat, dark green, about 0.5” wide and 1.5-4” long, with rippling waves across the grass blades.  The leaf sheaths and stems are noticeably hairy.  O.  hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius has spikelet's that form long sticky awns (Scholz, 1981; Peterson et al., 1999; Kyde & Marose, 2008; Westbrooks & Imlay, 2009).

               Be very careful when planning a control effort because there are two native species:   Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. setarius (Lam.) Mez ex Ekman and O. hirtellus subsp. fasciculatus U. Scholz. Also beware that wavyleaf  basketgrass looks like Arthraxon hispidus (Thunb.) Makino and Microstegium vimineum (Trin.) A. Camus. Microstegium vimineum is the ever present rampant invasive also known as Japanese stilt grass.

      I have just finished a datasheet on wavyleaf basket grass, Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz, for CABI's Invasive Species Compendium   


1         Atlas of Living Australia 2012 Oplismenus undulatifolius (Ard.) Roem. & Schult. Australian node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
2         Beauchamp, V. B. 2012 Niche requirements and competitive effects of a new forest invader, Oplismenus hirtellus spp. undulatifolius (wavyleaf basket grass). 997th ESA Annual Meeting (August 5 -- 10, 2012) program annoucement and abstracts.
3         Chen, S. & Hillips, S. M. 2012 Flora of China. Harvard University Herbaria 22, 593–598.
4         Dakskobler, I. & Vreš, B. 2009 Novosti v flori severnega dela submediteranskega območja Slovenije (Novelities in the flora of) the northern part of the Submediterranean region of Slovenija. Hladnikia 24, 13–34.
5         Dalziel, J. M. & Hutchinson, J. 1948 The useful plants of west tropical Africa: being an appendix to the Flora of west tropical Africa. Published under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies by the Crown Agents for the Colonies.
6         Davey, J. C. & Clayton, W. D. 1978 Some multiple discriminant function studies on Oplismenus (Gramineae). Kew Bull. 33, 147 – 157.
7 2012 Flora of Pakistan.
8         Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) 2012 GBIF Data Portal. GBIF Secretariat.
9         Hitchcock, A. S. 1920 Revisions of North American grasses: Isachne, Oplismenus, Echinochloa, and Chaetochloa. Govt. Print. Off.
10       Hitchcock, A. S. 1935 Manual of Grasses of the United States. Miscellane. Washington, D.C., USA: United States Government Printing Office.
11       ISSG 2012 Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). Invasive Species Specialist Group of the IUCN Species.
12       Kyde, K. L. & Marose, B. H. 2008 Wavyleaf basketgrass in Maryland: an early detection rapid response program in progress. Invasive Resources,.
13       Long, E. A. 1874 The home florist: a treatise on the cultivation, management and adaptability of flowering and ornamental plants, designed for the use of amateur florists. Buffalo, NY USA: Long Brothers.
14       Palisot de Beauvois, A. M. F. J. 1812 Essai d’une Nouvelle Agrostographie. Paris, FR:
15       PCA-APWG 2010 Wavyleaf Basketgrass Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz. PCA-APWG.
16       Peterson, P. M., Terrell, E. E., Uebel, E. C., Davis, C. A., Scholz, H. & Soreng, R. J. 1999 Oplismenus hirtellus subspecies undulatifolius, a new record for North America. Castanea 64, 201–202.
17       Plants for Use 2008 Oplismenus hirtellus (L.) Palib. POACEAE Common names: Basket Grass (Hortus).
18       Scholz, H. & Byfeld, A. J. 2000 Three Grasses New to Turkey. Turk J Bot 24, 263–267.
19       Scholz, U. 1981 Monographie der Gattung Oplismenus Gramineae. Phanerogamarum monographiae 13, 213.
20       Snow, N. & Lau, A. 2008 Notes on grasses (Poaceae) in Hawai‘i: 2. Records of the Hawaii Biological Survey, Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 107, 46–60.
21       The Plant List 2010 Version 1.
22       Thompson, J. P. 2009 Invasive species: wavyleaf basketgrass - Oplismenus hirtellus subsp. undulatifolius. Invasive Notes Weblog.
23       USDA ARS 2012 Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN). National Genetic Resources Program.
24       USDA-APHIS PPQ CPHST. 2009 Differences of Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius to native and horticultural taxa. , 33–35.
25       USDA-APHIS PPQ PERAL 2012 Weed Risk Assessment for Oplismenus hirtellus (L.) P. Beauv. subsp. undulatifolius (Ard.) U. Scholz (Poaceae) – Wavyleaf basketgrass - ver 2, June 14, 2012.
26       USDA-ARS 2012 Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).
27       Valdés, B., Scholz, H., Raab-Straube, E. von & Parolly, G. 2009 Poaceae (pro parte majore). Euro+Med Plantbase - the information resource for Euro-Mediterranean plant diversity.
28       Wavyleaf Basketgrass Task Force - 2009 Wavyleaf Basketgrass Task Force Meeting Minutes. , 9.
29       Weakley, A. S. 2011 Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. North Carolina Botanical Garden & University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
30       Westbrooks, R. & Imlay, M. 2009 Wavyleaf Basketgrass – A New Invader of Deciduous Forests in Maryland and Virginia.
31        Wipff, J. K. 2009 Flora of North America - Oplismenus P. Beauv.- 25.06.