Tuesday, February 23, 2010


This topic came up recently in a Permaculture discussion. An interesting conundrum.......

Previously I quoted something Bill Mollison said in one of his design courses:

“We should not confuse order and tidiness. Tidiness is something that happens when you have frontal brain damage. You get very tidy. Tidiness is symptomatic of brain damage. Creativity, on the other hand, is symptomatic of a fairly whole brain, and is usually a disordered affair. The tolerance for disorder is one of the very few healthy signs in life. If you can tolerate disorder you are probably healthy. Creativity is seldom tidy.

Tidiness is like the painting of that straight up and down American with his fork and his straight rows. The British garden is a sign of extraordinary tidiness and functional disorder. You can measure it easily, but it doesn’t yield much. What we want is creative disorder. I repeat, it is not the number of elements in a system that is important, but the degree of functional organization of those elements – beneficial functions.”

[Bill Mollison: Transcript for a Permaculture Design Course.]

I am very creative and so this really tickled me. I know some people so bound-up in the need for showpiece tidiness that they are only kidding themselves that they are creative. Our modern hyper-tidiness cannot produce creative abundance. Same with natural systems: Functional order in natural systems can look chaotic. But regimental tidyness - regimental visual order - is chaotic functionally. In terms of abundant human creativity it is death.

Question: Which do you want? Lots of rows of tidy plants gasping out an existence in neatly weeded bare earth? Or a mass of happy low-effort productivity? These two ideas are mutually exclusive.

When we have a diversity of plantings together they take care of each other. Different root depths ensure minimised competition. Some plants bring up what others need and give it later in leaf fall. Some need shade, some don't. Easy to see where this goes. Synergism with the many integrations producing beyond your wildest dreams.

I must admit to having had a bit of fun with this quote. I know he sounds a bit rough, but I had some things happen that brought it into clear focus. He is misunderstood as advocating untidiness. That is functionally disorganised too! But this extreme hyper-tidyness - an extreme kind of perfectionism and control - that seems to create a need to regiment everything into straight lines and perfect "order" kills synergy.... and creativity too! :-) And what do you have left? Monoculture rows of plants propped up with chemicals and poisons to produce on a diminishing return. And no special happenings in enthusiastic synergism. A bit nuts in my view.

Until next time,


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