The Gardening Animal: The Biology of its Behaviour

March 4, 2010

in Articles, General Interest

by Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen

Not everyone is consciously aware of the fact that we are part of that large species the human animal. Most know about the human part but the latter? It’s important to realise that we are of the animal persuasion and that it influences us on a much larger scale than many people think. Take gardening for instance…..

Gardening is mainly about pleasing our inner animal, catering to our body, our senses. We want to surround ourselves with something that feeds us, is pretty, smells nice, feels good to the touch and is music to our ears. A garden can provide all that and more. There is however more to gardening than a mere pleasing of the senses, it goes deeper than that, much deeper.

Nature is our natural habitat; it’s where we come from, where we used to live. Nowadays our gardens or nearby parks are the closest approximations to what once was our natural habitat. It’s not for nothing that scientists have found through extensive research that nature restores us, body and mind. Even looking at a picture of a tree makes us feel so much better, calm and rested. Nature is who we are.

Not all that long ago, evolutionary speaking a mere blink of an eye ago, our ancestors were hunter- gatherers. Alas, even today we are still living in what is mainly a man’s world and therefore in the past much emphasis has been put on the hunter part and not nearly enough on that of the gatherer which played at least an equally important  if not more important role in the survival of the human species.

The gatherers were of the female persuasion and they had the important task to gather fruits, nuts, roots, leaves, herbs and everything else that was edible for the survival of both themselves and their families. Not every hunt for meat was successful so gathering food was probably the mainstay of life then.

Gathering food was a complicated business, you had to remember for instance which bushes would have edible, not poisonous, fruit when so that you were there at the right time and in the right place to harvest the ripe fruit. Women developed an eye for detail here, and an excellent memory about what, where and when edible stuff was to be had. Only the skilled gatherers and their families survived as they had access to food even in lean times. This is one of nature’s ways of selecting the best, aka survival of the fittest.

The transition from hunter- gatherers to that of settlers was made quite some time ago and how it came about is still shrouded in mystery, although a tip of the veil may have been lifted.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that the first person to discover that from little acorns big trees grow was a woman. It was after all the women who dealt with anything vegetable; the men were more preoccupied with all things animal.

This leads us to the not unreasonable supposition that the first gardener was a woman. That this is not a farfetched notion is evidenced by the fact that in so-called primitive tribes that still exist today, it’s the women folk who work the land.

So what did the first gardeners grow in their gardens? Life was hard and survival not a given so it is reasonable to suppose that they grew vegetables, fruit and herbs for food and the latter both for cooking and medication. But flowers must have been added to the very first gardens quite soon as well. Dried flowers have been found as gifts/farewells to the dead in ancient burial sites and all over the world temples and churches throughout the ages were and still are decorated with flowers. Animals we most certainly are, but spiritual ones. As the prophet Muhammad so succinctly said: Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed the soul.

The human, spiritual, animal cannot live without flowers, without nature to feed us body, mind and soul. So we grow them in abundance in our gardens, we decorate our houses, churches, temples, weddings, funerals, streets, cities etc with them and give big bunches of flowers to friends and family.  Most people feel quite uplifted at the sight of flowers; flowers remind us of where we came from, we sad outcasts from the Garden of Eden. And they also show us where we aspire to go, to an afterlife that is depicted in many cultures as a glorious garden, a veritable Paradise.

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen

Copyright 2010 Y.E.W. Heuzen

Biography: is a Dutch writer (gardening, genetics, population genetics, animals, and animal behaviour), gardener, translator (English-Dutch), and interior and garden designer.

Yolanda has two garden blogs; Bliss in English and Tuin Tirades in Dutch

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