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04 July, 2011

Garden 7: Volunteers

They come every year, volunteers. If they didn't, I'd despair at the bare areas. Even when their aim is off and I transplant them to another spot, I depend on these plants that come back on their own, no tilling or planting, no slaving at saving seeds and protecting them from damp weather and damned predators.

The volunteers just pop up. Some I've come to expect. The calendulas, dill, and red shamrock pictured above all fall in that category, just like the little Hawaiian currant tomatoes that I plant exactly once at each new abode, thereafter peeking between and beneath each Spring's growth to spot the volunteers that will ramble and rove, dropping enough seeds by fall to ensure the next generation. 

Some gardeners look down on volunteers and weed them out. Even varieties they like, they want from new seed or starters, placed in their appointed position. These may be the same folks who pray to a god for some particular outcome, who think that deity and power concerns itself with placing all the pieces of creation just so, with dictating their moves forever after. Me, I'm happy to be a lackadaisical creator, casting some seed and letting evolution take its course. Maybe now and then playing the vengeful god, ripping out a greedy weed, cutting short the life of an underachiever, unnaturally selecting out the obnoxious and weak. 

But then again, I tolerate a fair number of what some people call weeds. It might be different if I gardened in a more pristine environment, but I live in a residential development, in what was once an orchard in what was once a clear-cut in what was once a successional forest in what was once a prairie in what was once a virgin forest. Maybe not all of those, but a disturbed landscape nonetheless, where a red shamrock or a tomato does no real harm. If the weed be yummy, fragrant, or otherwise delightful, it is a volunteer.

In enough abundance, a patch of volunteers might be thinned into something approximating a row, but their nature is never so boring as that. A geometry more fractal and chaotic than linear, expanding sometimes exponentially, their math has what my dad always loved about that field, wonder and elegance, something very different than the cut and dried thing it is thought to be by the unimaginative.

Each volunteer is a mystery and a miracle. I never know how many there will be, or where they will emerge. Some, I don't remember having planted last year, or maybe ever. They may be gifts or offerings from the birds and rodents who also enjoy the garden. They may have awoken from some long dormancy, echo of a garden decades old. Some trickster may have planted them to see whether I could recognize a gift. Others reappear year after year, sensing that they are wanted and loved.

Every volunteer is a step on the evolutionary journey. Drifted from the carefully selected product of the seedsman, perhaps, but closer to being perfectly adapted to this place. Diversified and crossed, selected by nature so local it knows my yard better than anywhere else. Roots feeding hyphae feeding soil, growing a horizon particular to this garden, which will spawn who knows what new variation. Volunteers save us from the hubris of over-selection, from the trap of uniformity sought by the big corporate seed builders. 

And besides, who can hate something that pops up on its own, offering gifts? Whoever cannot love an echo that returns and blooms is deaf to the joy of creation.

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