The law of unintended consequences, or serendipity

Today my son sent me a link to an article about a fascinating example of the law of unintended consequences at work. It seems that all that Greek yogurt we’ve been devouring has created a huge waste problem: the whey that’s strained off the yogurt to make it thick is highly acidic. It can’t simply be discarded, because it pollutes both land and water, so no one knows what to do with it.

Life is full of unintended consequences, and gardening has its share: Spray the aphids and kill the ladybugs. Plant a tree and shade the perennials. Turn over the soil and expose the weed seeds, allowing them to germinate.

Our interactions with the environment lead to much bigger and more serious unintended consequences: Pave over a field and create a flooding problem. Plant genetically engineered crops so you can use herbicides to kill weeds and destroy the only food source for monarch butterflies. Burn lots and lots of fossil fuels and overheat the planet.

Sometimes, however, unintended consequences are pleasant ones–we call those serendipity. Gardening is full of these as well. Leave a  narrow strip of lawn unmown and allow a mini-forest to create itself (more about that in a future post). Allow some weed seedlings to grow and welcome an aster species new to your garden. Plant native ginger next to Canada anemone and discover a way to control the spread of an aggressive species.

Lots of happy garden surprises arise from sloppy mowing or weeding. When I didn’t weed one of my perennial beds carefully enough, this lovely white daisy fleabane, a native annual, popped up in the midst of orange butterflyweed and pink bergamot:


Garden mindfully, and help ensure that most of your surprises will be happy ones.


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