Regenerative Gardening – the theory
I was reading an article on regenerative agriculture in the July-August 2017 issue of Organic NZ magazine recently, and I have also been involved in organising an evening of presentations and discussion on ‘Regenerating Banks Peninsula’, to take place in Diamond Harbour on August 28. This got me thinking about the word regenerative, and how it seems to be supplanting the term restoration when it comes both to agriculture and nature conservation. It’s a longer, clunkier word, so do we really need to use it, and why?
I think we do, because restoring something means putting it back to exactly where it was, whereas regenerating means moving towards a healthier and more whole state. Restoration is sometimes possible and appropriate for historic buildings or machines, because an old house or Baby Austin has a fixed date of construction and comes with plans, drawings and other information about how it was originally. A restorer works back to that date, and is able to select the appropriate materials to use and ignore everything else. Not so for the would-be restorer of nature. Any date to work back to is essentially arbitrary, as nature does not have a ‘construction date’. Nor does one have a free choice of materials to work with. Thousands of plant and animal species have been introduced and naturalised in New Zealand since humans first began settling here, while hundreds have gone extinct.
So regeneration is not about manipulating natural materials in the the way a house restorer would manipulate constructed materials. True regeneration requires going back to ecosystem first principles, and that means starting with the ways in which energy is created and dispersed throughout the system, to encourage some forms of life and discourage others. It also means looking at the function of organisms in their ecological context, rather than focusing on whatever appeal (or lack of it) their form may have to would-be restorers. What this means in practice, and how we can apply it in the garden, will be discussed in my next post.