Understanding Resiliency: A Community Garden Perspective

What comes to mind when you hear the word resiliency?  As it becomes more and more a part of our common conversation, we need to continue to make sure we know what we’re talking about; to avoid the creation of just another buzz word.  The breadth of definitions can be dizzying, but I found a few that capture the scope, and keep it simple:

“the capacity to keep functioning in spite of shocks to the system”

“the ability to recover quickly from misfortune”

“the ability to adapt and respond effectively to disturbance”

Notice, the emphasis is not just on surviving or sustaining, but on responding to changes and challenges, and evolving in the process, as needed.

Gardens themselves are great teachers of resiliency.  A healthy, balanced garden is one which can continually rebound from a season’s worth of weather, bugs, disease, weeds, and other natural and unnatural challenges.  Over time plants must also adapt to local conditions to survive and thrive.  And thus must also the gardener rebound and respond to these same challenges and more.  Any long-term gardener will readily admit that the garden is always teaching them how to be a better steward of plants and how to adapt and evolve with changing conditions.

Christine Patton, in her blog Peak Oil Hausfrau, captures the essence of the resilient gardener: “In order to recover after a catastrophe, you need the will to go on—to replant, to rebuild, to try again after poor results or failures.  But a resilient attitude is one in which you not only have the tenacity to persevere, but also have the ability to notice and discard what is no longer working and start experimenting instead (Resilient Gardening – Part II, para. 22).”

A resilient gardener (who strives for a resilient garden) is one who takes the time to observe and interact with the garden, and in doing so is continually gaining a renewed understanding of that particular garden’s eccentricities; its deficiencies and its glory.  A resilient gardener considers what resources are available to them within their garden ecosystem and figures out how these resources can work together to create a healthy, robust garden.  A resilient gardener seeks diversity and interaction between the elements of their garden, and meets the needs of the garden in multiple ways.

Not only the act of gardening, but the skills, knowledge, and emotional capacity built by being a part of a garden community are what make community and school gardens such incredible opportunities.  As garden leaders, we can take our lessons from the resilient gardener and build the capacity for our gardens’ people and programs to respond and adapt to change.  We are all cognizant of the challenges that face our community and school gardens—funding, time and energy, gardener and volunteer engagement, community buy-in, garden up-keep—you know them—and of course there are the climatic changes that are here to stay in all their extreme forms.

As garden leaders, we address many of these challenges as they come, and we seek the quickest, often least expensive and easiest solution available to us to ensure that gardeners can continue to be able to do what most of us came here to do—garden.  When we take on a resilient attitude, the question becomes not how can we solve this isolated problem, but how can we build solutions that make our community and school gardens more resilient; solutions that build the resiliency of our garden ecosystem, people, and programs.

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