With the afternoon sun beginning to sink, and only birds and honey bees to fill the comfortable lull in a long conversation, Diana Beresford-Kroeger finally stirred. « This is a holy place,’’ she murmured in the undulating remnant of an Irish accent. « This,’’ she said, ‘’is where I became an apprentice to silence.’’
It was in the liberation from noise that she could learn from her beloved garden, if garden could ever describe three hectares of plants, insects, herbs, amphibians, shrubs, grasses, snakes, mosses, trees, birds — everything that goes into a miniature ecosystem. It includes hundreds of endangered species ranging from black hellebore recently rescued from Bosnia, to English morello cherry trees of the last century, to black potatoes from the Magdalene Islands of the sixteen hundreds.
It was here, on a 40-hectare property near Merrickville in eastern Ontario, that she could bring her long academic and research training to bear on trying to understand how wholeness works. « We have this explosion of knowledge going on,’’ she said. But it is only the knowledge of parts. « The summation of the whole interacts in a way we haven’t begun to understand.’’
To her studies, Beresford-Kroeger brought four university degrees, a double degree in medical chemistry and classical botany, and individual degrees in organic chemistry and nuclear chemistry. To that, add a diploma in veterinary surgery and ten years in heart research.
In July she expects to see the release of her new book, An Ecological Guide to a North Temperate Garden. The publisher is Quarry Press in Kingston.
In any backyard in Toronto, she said, people can create gardens « with plants that help each other and where there is a space for all the beneficial and predatory insects, for the birds, for butterflies, for amphibians.’’ The more gardens, « the richer the life mosaic’’ — and this is where I began asking about the meaning of wholeness, a question that began a fascinating trek back to the ancient Druids of Ireland.
The pursuit of wholeness, she said, is the pursuit of unity. Her tools are science and the knowledge of the ancients gained from a great aunt and uncle who were born just after the Irish potato famine of 1845-46. « You have to remember that oral knowledge in Ireland is very strong,’’ she said. Much gets passed down.
For her, « Science is spirituality. The thread of God is the thread of DNA. It’s the underlying finger of perfection and every living thing has it.’’ In this sense, plants are no different from humans. They too have DNA which determines their makeup.
They too have inner communication systems that depend on electrochemical transmissions to operate. For instance, she says, last year there were drought conditions throughout North America. Before the drought took firm hold, trees aborted their seeds so they could focus their energy on survival.
How did trees pick up the message of oncoming drought and how did they process and transmit it into action? They did it in somewhat the same way as humans.
In people, messages are transmitted from nerve cell to nerve cell across the tiniest of gaps called synapses. In the majority of cases, the sending cell releases a chemical that crosses the gap. In the receiving cell, the arrival creates an electrical change that alters its chemistry in preparation for the leap across the next synapse. And so the message travels.
The same sort of transmission across cells happens in plants, and this leads Beresford-Kroeger to argue that plants have a consciousness. It’s different from that of humans, but a consciousness nonetheless. In humans, consciousness means thinking. In plants it means anticipating change and adjusting..The ancient Druids knew of this consciousness, she said. They used to sing to the seeds when they were planting. We now know, she said, that singing produces low-cycle radio waves and that all life is susceptible to radio waves.
« We also know that low-energy radio waves seem to produce an abundance of luxuriousness and extra growth in plants. I suspect it is because it increases the flow of plant auxins (plant hormones). Why? We just don’t know.’’
However, we do know that the ancients were on to something. And that the key to everything they did was a respect for all living things. « That’s what’s needed today,’’ she said. « Respect.’’