Saturday, 3 July 2010

Dead wood and deadheads

Snip, snip, snip

|t is early July, high summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in Middle England it is not as hot as in some of the places where people read Conductive World, but pleasantly warm nevertheless. Time to enjoy the garden.

My roses have been flowering vigorously but the first blooms have now withered and died. They are looking decidedly unsightly, sapping the strength of the whole. Time for some dead-heading.

Snip, snip, snip

Most of my roses are ramblers, not wild ones but cultivars from David Austin of Albrighton. Despite their pedigree, however, this year they are not in the shape or condition that they should be. .

As I prune, I muse that this is is not the fault of the roses themselves, or of the weather – factors that I gather together as 'nature' – God if you prefer a theistic explanation. The fault is mine, the gardeners.

If you garden you soon acquire a insight into the workings of systems. As part of this, you see the nature of growth and of development over time. And you also take part in that greatest of mysteries, the relationship between man and nature in the process of creation.

You soon learn that you cannot ignore the laws of nature – and nature's (God's) limitations. You can do nothing without God and His laws but, left to Himself, what does He create? A wilderness.. It takes both together to create a garde

Snip, snip, snip

I am not a very good gardener.

For a start, I am too nurturing. Every feeble little shoot that I notice gets saved if I can mange it.. I tie it up, I even splint it. I should be more ruthless and go with the Darwinian flow. Chop it off, rather than leave it to entangle and weaken the plant or the garden as a whole.

For the main part, though, I just do not give the garden the time and consistency needed to achieve what I would like of it, for me to make become what it could be. God does, and takes over immediately my back is turned. This is what has happened with the these ramblers. Last year, for a variety of reasons, I just left them to get on with it.

They have become a mess, and are beginning to be a bit of a menace..

Snip, snip, snip

Roses are lovely, but they can be so unforgiving. A couple of afternoons back it was the unsightly dead heads that drew my attention and bought me out with a pair of scissors. It was the dead wood that send me back to fetch some secateurs – and punished me for my neglect.

A couple of balmy afternoons later I have the problem cracked but, as I have none of the refined, specially bred thornless roses, it was a painful and at times bloody job. Fingers, hands and arms will bear the scars for a few days yet. For the moment, however, thanks to culturally developed tools, mental and steel, man has won, as he tends to, and nature has been mastered, as it usually is, in the short term,. Doubtless, God and events will eventually shift back the balance of power., as they do.

Snip, snip, snip

Hardly for the first time, as I pruned I mused that it was small wonder that L. S. Vygotskii offered the 'parable' of a good gardener to ram home the message of the sociogenic nature of human mental development and the nature of human potential (in explaining the simple paradigm example of the zone of next development).

I have mused enough on this, however, over the years and seen it played out in all sorts of human situations. My intention was more occupied here by the thorns – and by Sod's Law. Fresh new shoots are soft and harmless, vulnerable to the slightest, careless knock. The dead wood that I wanted to to cut out was hard and entangled in its setting, it did not want to be removed – and, however careful I might be – its vicious spikes tore at my flesh. So easy to destroy or deform the fresh and the new, so hard and painful to get rid of the old.

Snip, snip, snip

So, dear reader, I persisted, bloodied but unbowed. That job was do-able and it was done. I have made the usual resolution that henceforth things will be different. I shall not waste time nurturing every hopeless little shoot. I shall prune back hard wherever I think that a plant is are getting too 'leggy', its blooms removed too far from its roots.

Maybe I shall achieve all this. Maybe not – life offers other attractions, less painful and less aversive.

Another allegory? Maybe so. That is up to you.

And no, there are no Open Days.

David Austin Roses


  1. Yes Andrew, another allegory or another frame of reference- the ICF, to explore the relationships between the rose biology, development and environmental factors, as componenets which impact the rose's 'well being'

  2. You may well be right.

    How might one explicate/test the connective mechanisms?


  3. This is quite easy in this example: by taking for instance three groups of roses seeding from the same type, color,soil etc, each in a hothouse with different environmental factors including variables such as sun exposure, water, temperature, human contact, pruning etc.
    Measures of growth, blooming duration etc. can be taken on a regular basis during the experiential phase, and conclusions can be drawn as of the optimum environmental factors that ensures the growth and development of high quality roses

  4. Reducing the question to the biological level for the immediate purpose of this present discussion, this is OK as far as it goes, but does it in itself lead to understanding why and how? I have to admit myself lost over this.

    I get even more lost when I try to think above the biological level, to where the object of study is a subject, capable of responding, consciously or unconsciously, to the experimental conditions. I am reminded of my puzzlement at the great operant-behaviourist surge in clinical psychology some thirty to forty years ago in clinical psychology, totally inarguable but ultimately not quite there.

    But never mind that, operance might still be argued as having been a progressive force in its time, maybe. Closer to home, though, I still need explaining where the ICF comes in. What unique advance(s) does it offer towards the (quasi-?) experimental approach that you suggest (which, by the way, if the behaviourist analogy is a fair one, should surely not necessarily require groups).

    And also by the way, my little rose-garden story above must have greater gereralisability that I expected. I was thinking not of the subjects of Conductive Education itself as I pruned away at the dead wood and deadheads, but of Conductive Education itself, its ideas, its values, its institutions, its people.