Full Circle: Everything is Connected

An organic garden offers lessons in living.

By Jeff Cox


It truly was my lucky day in February 1970, when I joined Organic Gardening magazine as an associate editor. Little did I know that the simple concept of gardening as nature intended would plant a seed in my mind—and that seed would grow through the years to encompass every aspect of my life.

It began slowly, with my first compost pile. Through the compost pile, one year's food and flowers became the nutrients for the following year's food and flowers. The recycling of garden debris mimicked what nature does in the woods: Leaves fall in autumn to mulch the forest floor and feed the trees and understory plants. Of course! How simple. How elegant.

I plunged into organic gardening with fervor. Every act in the garden revealed a valuable lesson. For example, I learned not to kill insects indiscriminately, but to welcome more of them into the garden until the sheer diversity of bugs set up an equilibrium that kept plant-eating pests in balance with insect-eating beneficials. Organic gardening represented a way to embrace life, not death.

My organic garden produced a bounty of luscious food in a relatively small space. I was learning how life works from simple creatures like nitrogen-fixing bacteria, tomato hornworms, and flowers that found a million colorful ways to sex themselves silly and shower the world with their seeds.

And then, one day when I was digging a raised bed and having a reverie about how the soil is a record of the past, how the soil surface is a snapshot of the present, and how the future arrives from above, a thought hit me. It occurred to me that organic gardening is just the horticultural aspect of a bigger concept: that all living things are interconnected, and our actions at home have consequences far beyond the garden fence. To quote the English poet Francis Thompson:

All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
Hiddenly To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.

Since then, I've learned to nurture this circle of life, starting with microorganisms in the soil. Working with nature instead of trying to thwart it produces a confluence of benefits, many of them unforeseen. This philosophy also can be applied outside the garden. Take a positive mental attitude, for instance. It doesn't come from excluding or fighting with people whose ideas differ from yours, but rather from welcoming them—like the myriad bugs in the garden—into the debate, learning from them, and discovering how their ideas—distasteful or indifferent though they may be—can enhance your own.

Organic gardening—bless its worms under my feet—was the portal through which nature's interconnected world, with all its positive energies and beneficial laws, became real to me. It colors my world to this day. I feel that I'm an organic human being, connected to Mother Earth, seeing my path ahead clearly, and in love with life itself.