Monday, May 12, 2008

Patterns, Eology, and the Garden

We are poring over the books that our permaculture gardener, Terry Lilley has loaned us: Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, The Integral Urban House by Helgo Olkowski, et. al. and of course, The Edible Forest, (2 vols.) by Dave Jacke. The design process is fun, and also, serious. Dave Jacke has written hundreds and hundreds of pages. Wow! Bret and I want to make the garden useful and right. Then, I read the chapter in Jacke's 2nd volume on A Forest Garden Pattern Language and I remember the first time I met with Stonehaus to discuss our involvement.

We sat at a series of tables put together in a horseshoe shape around a screen on a wall. I was fairly concerned that the developers were going to do what they proposed, this green development that included nature, and one that included community and health, especially of children. Bret and I came from an experiment of community building in Vermont around the notion of sustainability and community, nature and cultural health. It was a community particularly devoted to the future generations. It wasn't the best experience. So, I was very pointy with the staff.

There was this young guy there, a member of the development staff, who asked me some pretty interesting questions. Most people aren't that curious about what I do for a living, but this guy had some experience with my profession, and also had some interesting ideas. He said to me: Are you familiar with Christopher Alexander? No, I said. He wrote a book called A Pattern Language, he said. This philosophy influenced Belvedere's design. Well, I went and read that book so I would understand what he meant. Originally written in the 1970's, Christopher Alexander and his friends observed and analyzed development of home and community in many cultures and came up with a list of elements that he called patterns that could be used to create great places to live. This huge list could be considered building archetypes. Alexander examined what worked and what didn't work based on these patterns.

Dave Jacke writes about the same thing, only with regard to the garden. His patterns come up with ecologically sound and functional ways to plant, grow and enjoy a sustainable garden. Best patterns generate a sense of aliveness, he says, and patterns solve problems. I am particularly struck by three points that I think can be applied to anything. When designing, Jacke advises:

1. If you find yourself in a garden or other place that "works," (feels good), define the physical features of the place worth abstracting. What makes it so special? What is the essence that makes the place work so well?

2. Define the problem the pattern solves or the field of forces this pattern resolves.

3. Define the contexts where this problem or field of forces exists, and where this problem might therefore be useful.

This little bit has given me immense food for thought. I work to help resolve patterns that don't serve people. I start with the prenatal period. I work with couples who are expecting first, then assist in the birthing process, and catch the family on the otherside, educating, resolving, supporting, encouraging health in the system of the family. That is what I do for a living. I think Belvedere is a pattern that can help resolve the real estate development problems of our time, and apparently there are others out there who think the same thing (Reid Ewing). I want my garden to reflect this health in the system, what is possible, and what is alive. It all feels right to me.

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