If you spend any time in a garden, or out in the natural world, you will very quickly notice that we humans are not the only ones who alter our environments. Gardening and growing are, in essence, our own ways of shaping our surroundings to meet our needs. If we are wise about it, we work with nature rather than fighting it. We should always aim to be judicious ecosystem engineers.
Part of this, however, is understanding that we are not the only ones who modify our environment. In a sense, as permaculture teaches us, everything gardens.
This is basically another way of saying that each and every living thing shapes the world around it. From the trees, to the birds, to the humble earthworm and other amazing creatures beneath the soil, we have an army of gardeners helping us in a healthy garden.
Trees and other plants capture and store energy and water. They contribute biomass and protect or enrich the soil.
Birds move organic material – shifting twigs, moss, mud and other things to make their nests. They eat berries and seeds, and allow plants to move to new growing areas. They may eat pest species and keep their populations in check. And they contribute their droppings to fertilise plants and enrich the soil in your garden.
Earthworms are perhaps the most obvious gardeners within the soil. They tunnel through the soil, aerating it and converting organic matter to worm castings that enrich your growing areas. But it is also important to remember that there are legions of other organisms shaping the soil environment that we cannot see.
Whether you are new to gardening, and exploring the natural world for the first time, or are on old hand, this feature of the garden ecosystem is something important to understand. Growing your own food in your garden would not be possible were it not for the army of amazing ecosystem engineers – or, to put in another way, organic gardeners – which are there alongside you.
As humans, we tend to have an anthropocentric viewpoint. We all see ourselves as the centre of our own world. But when we start to accept that we are not the overlords of all we survey, we can begin to build a better world – not alone, but with all the other living things around us.