In an organic garden, it is important to work with nature. And that often means finding ways to copy nature and natural systems to achieve the required or desired results. The concept of trying to mimic nature is not a new one. But more and more people, in many different fields, are recognising the benefits of biomimicry, or biomimetic design. Biomimicry can be useful in many different arenas – nature often knows best.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at exactly what it means to mimic nature in your garden. Read on for some suggestions about how to garden in a more natural and eco-conscious way.
Create Layered, Diverse Planting Schemes
First of all, it is very important to think about how balanced, stable and resilient ecosystems are created in nature. Whether we are looking at forests, grassland biomes, wetlands, or other ecosystems, when it comes to stability and resilience, diversity is key.
As gardeners, we have to look at the world’s most successful, most biodiverse ecosystems. We have to think about how we can mimic nature. And create thriving ecosystems in our own gardens. By looking at the natural world, we can begin to see how plants and other elements in an ecosystem interact with one another. And we can plant in biodiverse polycultures rather than mono-crop plantations.
When we create layered and diverse combinations of beneficial plants, suited to our particular gardens, we can create abundant ecosystems that stand the test of time. Like nature, we can also make sure that we think in the vertical, not just the horizontal plane. We can layer plants in space, and in time. Making sure we aim for abundance, and avoid bare soil.
To Mimic Nature, Let The Strongest and Best Suited Thrive
In gardens, we have to be highly selective. We choose the right plants and strategies for where we live. We consider the best plants for the best places. And so work towards creating the perfect garden. But one other important thing to think about is that we can also experiment. We can learn from nature as we garden – making note of what works and what does not over time.
Sometimes, in a garden, it is best to mimic nature by not being overly proscriptive or selective about what happens in our space. As in a natural ecosystem, we can have a garden which evolves over time, in which weaker or less well suited plants fall, and the strongest and best suited thrive. We can mimic natural systems by letting certain plants out shade others, for example, over time. And by allowing plants to spread and self seed in a more natural way.
Compost in Place – Mulching, Lasagna Beds and Hugelkultur
One other crucial way to mimic nature in an organic garden is to copy the natural ‘recycling’ mechanisms which are naturally in place in wild systems. In a natural woodland or forest ecosystem, for example, leaves of deciduous trees and plants fall in autumn. Those fall onto the surface of the soil, where they are broken down over time into a rich humus.
Of course, we ourselves can and should create systems where this natural composting process is allowed to take place. Forest gardens, woodlands, and borders can all be left more natural – to allow this natural composting process to take place. Mimicking nature in this way can often be a better, lower-maintenance strategy than collecting material to compost elsewhere.
But we can also mimic nature’s ‘recycling’ process, protect the soil and grow healthy plants in other areas. We can mimic ‘soil creation’ in a natural ecosystem by employing a system of sheet mulching. Moving materials to compost in place around our plants.
We can also mimic forest floor formation in the way in which we build up new beds or growing areas. Or even in how we fill pots, containers and planters. We can make lasagna beds or hugelkultur mounds by mimicking the way in which natural materials build up in natural ecosystems, fostering an environment where there are plenty of soil micro-organisms and other soil biota to break them down.
To Mimic Nature, Eschew Straight Lines, Choose Organic Shapes
In our gardens, we might also mimic nature not just in function but also in form. If we want to rewild our gardens and make them feel more natural, we can avoid the straight hard lines of our built environment and look instead at ways to bring in more organic, natural, flowing shapes and forms.
We can make more naturally shaped beds and borders, choosing natural materials for pathways and bed edging. And we can think more carefully about how our garden will blend in with the surrounding landscape. Curves, circles, spirals… all these are shapes taken from nature that can help us to create beautiful and productive gardens.
Mimic Nature By Making Use of Natural Ecosystem Engineers
By introducing ecosystem engineers into a garden landscape, we can use them in creating natural ecosystems which function in holistic ways. There are two main types of ecosystem engineer – autogenic and allogenic.
Trees are an example of the former. They alter the environment around them by modifying themselves. Trees are one of the best examples of autogenic ecosystem engineers because they work on the environment around them through a wide range of complex mechanisms, forming habitats, enriching and anchoring the soil, catching and storing water and nutrients, providing shade, and so much more.
Autogenic ecosystem engineers modify the environment around them. Beavers are one common and well known example. But there are also plenty of other ecosystem engineers of this type that you can welcome into your garden. Encourage mammals, birds, and diverse insect life to make sure that your garden mimics a more natural and ‘wild’ system.
And Become a Beneficial One Yourself
Of course, we humans also alter and affect the environments around us – often in hugely negative ways. But we can also be beneficial ecosystem engineers – altering environments around us for the better. By working with nature – copying its systems and patterns – we can tailor our gardens to meet our own needs and wishes while helping rather than hindering natural ecological systems.
Learning from and mimicking natural water systems, for example, can help us create more sustainable and effective rainwater management systems, reduce runoff, and catch and store water for garden use. By choosing the right plants, taking care of the soil, and perhaps undertaking earthworking schemes in certain situations, we can develop more natural systems. We can value fresh water and mimic the global water cycle on a smaller scale.
And this is just one more example of the many ways we can employ lessons learned from nature in our gardens.
How do you mimic nature in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.