Gardening used to be something I did on the side when I wasn’t working on a big and bold idea. But slowly it is starting to dawn on me, that gardening may well be the biggest thing I can do for humanity.
As a founder of BlueO2 I have been able to lead an extraordinary group of people on a journey to find nature based solutions to climate change. After pivoting from one innovation to the next, our latest pivot has been that maybe we do not need more innovation, perhaps we just need to do the hard work of implementing the ideas that are already there and literally get our hands dirty.
Did you know 97% of all patents are never used? It means 97% of inventors pay absurd amounts of money for ideas that are sitting on a shelf waiting to be picked up. If you’re worried about licence fees, visit the library instead where you can find a plethora of free scientific research. There is enough knowledge. Whether and how we use that knowledge is another matter entirely.
I’m currently creating a community garden in a marginal area of my home town with local gardeners and volunteers. At first we wanted to grow fruit and vegetables. But water was a big problem so many of the plants died. The municipality provided a water tap, but it’s 500 m away from the garden. Although the Netherlands has a lot of rain, drought was proving to be a serious issue. But instead of approaching drought as a problem, we decided to embrace it as a challenge and create a ‘future garden.’ Using existing proven technology like rain water harvesting and xeriscaping, we intend to make the most out of precipitation and contribute to the hydrology and biodiversity of the surrounding area. By showing how to adapt to drought and heavy rain we create a real world example of climate change adaptation and educate people along the way.
It sounds simple but creating a garden is probably the toughest design challenge there is. It requires a holistic 5D perspective; three spatial dimensions, plus time and seasons and plant-species relationships. Every time I design a garden I tap into thousands of years of knowledge. I apply proven technology, but every combination is new and unique. Contrary to industrial or business designs, it asks of the designer to trust nature as a co-creator. So when I’m creating a garden I spend time observing nature and accepting my role as part of the ecosystem around me. I play a modest part, but by nurturing the garden I can create abundance and resilience.
I see a strong metaphor in this for our larger human endeavour. To survive we need to find mutualistic ways of ‘nudging’ our surroundings into providing for us. Hence, we have a saying in permaculture ‘everything gardens.’ Seeing the world as my garden helps me envisage and implement solutions, using nothing but plants, water and soil.
As a society we have become so fixated on big ideas that we seem to have forgotten about the real work, which is growing food and taking care of our home. We are like Icarus wanting to be close to the sun. It’s time to land before we burn. In these trying times, gardening is showing us a way forward. I realise now, that in fact gardening is the groundwork and the rest is something I do on the side. And having impact is not about thinking big or being successful, it’s about embracing my challenges one m2 at a time. Which is why growing a garden is at the same time modest and an act of greatness.