Monday, September 05, 2011

Form Versus Function

Mars and I have become involuntary horizontal gardeners.

And it turns out there is more than one-way to practice horticulture on a plane parallel to the horizon. There also is a so-to-speak grass roots movement in favor of something called vertical farming – an attempt to effectively use the only real available space in most urban environments to produce food, and thereby reduce the need for a city to continually spread into its outskirts – and a shining example of the architectural principal that “form should follow function”.

“The idea is that skyscrapers filled with floor upon floor of orchards and fields, producing crops all year round, will sprout in cities across the world. As well as creating more farmable land out of thin air, this would slash the transport costs and carbon-dioxide emissions associated with moving food over long distances.” (“Vertical Farming: Does it Really Stack Up?” The Economist)

Horizontal gardening on the other hand is both easier to understand and to implement.

It takes two forms. In the first method landscapers use plants that naturally grow horizontally to spread across the ground giving the garden a carpeted appearance. Creeping Juniper, Periwinkle, Prostrate Cotoneasters and Wintercreepers are some of the varieties commonly used to achieve this effect.

In our case we have chosen the opposite approach. Out perennial beds are by design quite vertical, sunflowers of various varieties, Rudbeckias and, daisies. At this time of year, after Mars pruned them back in early June, these plants have now reached heights of up to seven feet in some places. Then hurricane (actually tropical storm) Irene passed over our property and squashed bunches of these tall-stemmed flowers flat against the ground into some parody of a motionless Busby Berkley dance formation.
It looks awful. And the plants know it. They are lying there just staring up at us with a “Please, just put us out of our misery” look. But here is the problem. Within the next week or so the seed filching finches will be arriving by the boatload to freeload off the ripe flower heads. Ordinarily the tiny yellow birds would balance gingerly on the barely-strong-enough stalks and peck away. This blonde on blonde feeding frenzy is a highlight of our autumn gardening season – and one of the main reasons that we grow such seed bearing perennials.

So this fall it will be “function over form”. We have opted to feed the birds rather than appease the aesthetic gardening gods. Maybe it will attract an even bigger crowd. After all it has got to be easier for the birds to stand on the ground and nip at the pips than to swing and sway and jab away.

Then next year instead of cutting the flowers back in mid June we could build a low wire roof over them and just let them spread themselves horizontally – our own modest attempt to control suburban sprawl.

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