Learning Cooperation in Chaos


By Gill Martin

Once there was a beautiful, flourishing garden which was adorned with rows and rows of juicy vegetables, trees and bushes which were laden with ripe fruits and berries.  The old gardener had invested a lot of his time and money into his garden.  He was planned and methodical in his approach, the watering system drenched the plants with fine bursts of dew as regular as clockwork, whilst the electric fence stood guard against unwanted four-legged intruders and fine netting wrapped the fruit bushes in a protective hold.  Every inch of the space was planned to perfection and the old man was proud as punch of what he had achieved.

The garden produce, along with the eggs from his wife’s chickens, provided a decent living for the gardener and his wife.

One Spring gardener fell very ill and was too sick to attend to his garden or go to market. The garden went untouched for many, many weeks, during which time the rabbits cottoned on to the fact that the gardener wasn’t around and dug under the fence and started to feast on the vegetables.

From that point everything started to go downhill.

The weeds started to take over the vegetable patches, strangling the growth of the young seedlings and drinking all the water so they couldn’t grow

The netting became insecure and lifted from the fruit bushes allowing insects to plunge into the ripe fruits and berries.

The chickens were terrified and stopped laying eggs as they were too frightened to come out of their coop as foxes began to creep under the fence and roam the garden.

Perched on the gable end of the shed, a wise owl sat and watched the disarray that had become of the garden – knowing how disappointed the gardener would be as his pride and joy was being so openly abused.

‘I suggest you stop and think how you are all behaving and the potential consequences of your actions’

The wildlife heckled back at the owl, ranting about the controlling old man and how they were finally able to enjoy freedom. The rowdy group became louder and more rebellious, arguing amongst themselves!  The Wise Owl flapped his wings up high to a bid to regain their attention ‘since you all have different views of this garden’ said the owl ‘why not share your thoughts and concerns …..but please speak to each other in a respectful manner’.  The garden fell so silent you could hear a pin drop – …. ‘what’s your view of this situation ‘he asked’ pointing at one of the weeds…

The angry looking weed replied ‘well at least we now get a chance to grow where we want instead of being ripped out and thrown on the compost heap. What a way to end up – it makes us feel worthless’.

The lazy caterpillar who lay stretched out on a cabbage leaf said ‘don’t worry yourself Mr Owl, I won’t be sticking around for too long!  I’ll chomp through this lot so I’m stuffed full, then I’ll get my head down for a bit and grow myself some wings; when I wake up I’ll be off to see the world!

The greedy sparrows chirped “we’re not complaining, there are loads more big fat insects than there used to be.  We have growing families to feed! The caterpillar gave a nervous laugh and quickly retreated into the darkness of the undergrowth.

The rabbits raised their heads from the lettuce patch and said ‘we can have heaps more lettuce, far better quality than what’s usually left on the compost heap, glancing over at the weeds!    ‘How rude!’ replied a dandelion.

The potatoes, carrots and beetroot were under the ground listening intently to the conversations above their heads – ‘blimey, it’s a bit of a war zone up there’ said one of the jersey royals, but I think if we keep our heads down and ride it out, we’ll be ok”.  At that point a brave little carrot spoke up.  “I can’t believe you all.  Apart from the fact that none of you will probably ever see the light of day at this rate, if you do nothing you’ll over grow, split and start to rot.   Don’t you see that our fellow comrades are under attack up there! Will none of you stand up and speak out?  We’re all in this together! And with that he asked a passing worm to give him a big shove, and the little carrot pushed up through the earth and popped his head up above the soil.

Blinking at the bright sunlight and feeling the fresh air for the first time, the little carrot took a moment or two to adjust and compose himself then, in the most authoritative voice a carrot of his size could muster, he shouted “the biggest losers are all the fruits and vegetables!  Either way we get eaten but with the gardener at least we get a chance to be respected, nurtured and appreciated so we can grow big and healthy.   Without us you wouldn’t have a garden to enjoy!  Think how sad he’ll be if he were to see his garden now. What if he never comes back to plant more of us; he’s unwell and he’s not getting any younger.  What if it’s too much work for him to get the garden back into shape.  I think you are all being extremely selfish!

The wildlife looked at each other and the penny finally dropped “the little fella is right’ said a rabbit, “if this free for all carries on then the garden will be destroyed and once this is gone, it’s gone for good”.

So the weeds, caterpillars, sparrows and rabbits got there heads together and began to make a plan, with a few compromises thrown in for good measure.

The weeds grew but only round the edges of the garden.

The insects agreed to stay off the vegetables and only to eat the fallen fruits which covered the ground.

The sparrows made patrols of the garden, eating any insects which broke the rules and strayed onto the growing fruits and vegetables.

The rabbits stayed off the main vegetable patches, again eating the fallen fruits and berries whilst guarding the perimeter fences so they could alert the chickens to the unwanted presence of any devilish foxes.

The chickens began to relax and started to lay eggs again which pleased the gardener’s wife, as she could make tasty omelettes to help the gardener regain his strength.

After a few weeks the gardener felt as ‘fit as a fiddle’ and well enough to return to his garden.  He was pleased to see things were not as chaotic and overridden as he had imagined.  He went back to work, maintaining the garden and planting more crops with even more growing success than what he previously achieved; this pleased the old gardener knowing that he still had green fingers.  With a spring in his step and a whistle while he worked, he prepared the produce for market, much to the amusement of the wildlife who continued with the ‘behind the scenes’ teamwork to help the old man maintain his garden, their home.