In his book ‘The Botany of Desire’, Michael Pollan puts forward the most intriguing premise that plants have shaped the path of development of human societies to their advantage as much as humans have shaped the evolution of plants. This idea hits home as I contemplate our early summer garden.
Clearly we have a synergistic relationship going. The plants face the biological imperative to successfully germinate their embryos, grow themselves to a reproductive stage, generate flowers and fertilized seeds, and disseminate their seeds, all in the short growing season that their local climate presents them with. Darwinian Fitness: the most successful individuals and species are those which leave the most offspring behind to carry their genes forward. So when we carefully warm the soil to assist the germination of the seeds, provide extra light and nutrients to push the little plants along, put them out in the garden covered with remay or wrapped in plastic to warm the air, and provide regular water, we are furthering the plants’ purposes very tidily.
And at the same time, of course, we benefit greatly from the reward of a sweet cob of corn (no cooking needed!), a crisp 5 inch long fat pole bean, a dark green broccoli floret, a tubby little zucchini, and OF COURSE, that juice-dripping-down-the-chin amazing-ness of a warm garden tomato. Yes, we help them along for our purposes, but they also manipulate us in their cunning little vegie way to advance their reproductive success, and we go to great effort to do so. If that isn’t SYNERGY, I don’t know what is! Perhaps co-evolution would be an even better word.
The early summer garden also makes me think of the unthinking forgiveness of nature. No matter our level of incompetence, no matter how preoccupied we might be with our little problems when we should be watering or fertilizing, no matter that we might accidentally SNAP!! the top off of that bean plant or tomato; the plants in the garden are just so darned eager to succeed that, when we turn back a week later, sure enough they have pushed another stem up from the break, crawled up out of the cracked earth, delivered a sweet bounty of fruit even to those of us who might least deserve it. Their broader cosmic objectives and our immediate gastronomic objectives are complementary, at least over these warm days of summer.
So the next time you walk among the plants in your garden, just ask yourself: who is REALLY in charge?