Just as I felt while in school, my second career, if one can call it that -- perhaps a midlife crisis -- is landscapes, gardens, etc. The garden is my way of making sense of emotions and daily interactions outwardly, an echo of the words I write. But my background is from literature and philosophy, not generally recognized as practical tools to landscape design or thought except maybe by some of the diehard landscape theorists. I am a horticultural outsider.
When I researched and wrote my first memoir, Morning Glory, I read everything about the history of garden and landscape design, and much philosophy on nature (hundreds of books and articles). I got into the philosophies and cultural critiques of deep ecology and eco feminism, which inform the activist role I see needing to be in 21st century landscape design. As much as urban vegetable gardens and food forests are an act of defiance and a call to level the cultural / social playing field, I see gardens focused on native plants a leveling of the cultural / social playing field among all species. Or, an act of empowerment.
See, we're disconnected from the world. You'll argue we aren't -- why, you just took your dog for a walk in the park this morning. But nature is absent from our lives. We don't depend on it actively, only passively, and maybe this is why some in the field lament the lack of interest in the horticultural field. Nature is background. It has been diminished to an aesthetic. Oh, isn't that pretty? What a beautiful view. Such lovely colors. Want to know how to make a festive container for your front porch?
But my larger point is we think of gardens with words that can't begin to hold the deeper power inherent in nature: words like "beautiful" and "pretty" and "gorgeous" and, well, other adjectives that border on the abstract. Do we not have the language necessary to convey our true feelings, or do we lack true feelings in nature? Is it both? Is it a tributary from our ancestral fear of the world, and abstractions help keep us safe from imagined predators?
I think people -- especially younger people -- want landscapes that make them think, and when they think, they get connected. If gardens become not just something pretty, but also something that stands for a larger meaning directly applicable to everyday life and other social movements, then we have something.
|Lincoln's Union Plaza can show & teach a lot more|
Why can't gardens do that? Why can't we create gorgeous gardens full of ecological processes that mimic even larger processes going on outside the garden's edges? This is place-conscious gardening on a much larger scale. This is, here in Nebraska, designing with native prairie plants. The plants will educate about local ecosystems and, ideally, connect people to their homeground in more meaningful ways. Often, these plants are completely unfamiliar, just as the call of a common blue jay is to my students, or the fact that we are tearing up the last prairies at a rate faster than before the dust bowl, or that with the loss of these prairies comes more social ills than you can shake a stick at.
Gardens, public and corporate, should be doing far more. They should be asking us to think while involving us in local culture and texture. They should be teaching us that nature is not a static pastoral painting that needs constant maintenance to keep it pristine, but that it shifts and evolves just like we do -- this will connect us to nature in profound ways. I'd also like to see public gardens that aren't destroyed at the "end of the season." If we're not gardening for all four seasons, we aren't connecting to place -- we're missing a solid 1/4 of our lives. We're also eroding some natural ecological process, a double teaching moment.
In talks I give and articles I write, I see a constant and growing desire to learn about both garden design and ecological processes, about the larger role designed landscapes play in a world we have now forced ourselves to tend as gardeners because we have our hand in everything -- climate change, industrial agriculture, logging, dams, the Pacific Ocean garbage patch full of plastic, et cetera. Since we are gardeners it behooves us to learn not just about aesthetics and good design, but the way in which garden spaces function to repair or create awareness of the need to repair larger ecosystems around us. When both sides of our brain become involved we are transformed -- the garden becomes an act of defiance as we reconnect and learn about the planet in ways many large corporations would prefer we didn't. When we garden with place in mind, we won't feel like outsiders, but will instead feel empowered. This is why we need to garden with native plants.
This -- "...I'm always conscious of combing lyric passages with researched knowledge; when a reader is both enveloped by the beauty of language and its rush of emotion while learning something practical and real... It's fully immersive." -- is particularly wonderful, and I love the application of this to landscapes. I avoid the word "aesthetic", since it is so fickle... in the 60s in my city, many streams and rivers were straightened and lined with concrete for what were espoused then as "aesthetic" reasons (along with misunderstood function). I tend to use instead words like engaging, delightful, makes your heart skip a beat :), when trying to talk about this part of the human relationship. So thank you for the language/communication ideas in particular, in your essay.
It is a fickle word, isn't it. Never thought of "fickle" but I like it. I guess the problem with any word, especially and abstract one, is it can carry so many different meanings based on personal beliefs and experiences which, for a writer, are impossible to anticipate.
As always, Benjamin, you get me thinking. Even in your "shorter" and less deep posts (if there is such a thing for you) there is always something there that I take away and ponder for days. For me, this time, it is:
"See, we're disconnected from the world. You'll argue we aren't -- why, you just took your dog for a walk in the park this morning. But nature is absent from our lives. We don't depend on it actively, only passively, and maybe this is why some in the field lament the lack of interest in the horticultural field. Nature is background. It has been diminished to an aesthetic. Oh, isn't that pretty? What a beautiful view. Such lovely colors. Want to know how to make a festive container for your front porch?"
This grabs me. I agree. We are disconnected - so many people are so ignorant to the fact WE NEED NATURE MORE THAN IT NEEDS US.
So that is what I will think about for days - why I need nature and why my family needs nature and why we all need nature and how I can do my part! :)
Heather -- then there's the argument that, well, aren't humans part of nature? Yes, we are, but that does not then excuse us from destroying it. Clearly we have a different, unique purpose, being the smart, feeling, abstract thinkers we are -- and we are abusing that purpose.
I like the way aboriginals and native elders see things - it makes everything make sense to me. Maybe it is the aboriginal blood in my veins! Of course we are part of nature - BUT the Creator put us at the bottom of the food chain, and not the top. I think if everyone thought like many aboriginals do, we would understand our place in the world. If we really "got" that we are at the bottom of the food chain, and plants are on the top, maybe we would all have a lot more respect for Mother Earth and would tread lighter on her...
This blog hit home and I resonate with: 'garden spaces function to repair or create awareness of the need to repair larger ecosystems around us'...I applaud your facility with language - it's difficult for most of us to communicate the vitality of the connection between us, our gardens and the larger ecosystems around us, but we sense it, we feel it, we know it's true and it's the thing that pulls us to nature, to our gardens, to be a part of something so much larger than ourselves.
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