[Thoughts on the “made-ness” of gardens]


A garden is “natural” in that living things grow within a landscape and form an eco-system, but it is “made” from a deliberate act of causing those living things to come together and be there. Gardeners carry out their practices with careful observation and interaction with the eco-system they have set up (even unwittingly), whether the outcome is to encourage or discourage growth. Because of what a garden is and how it comes into being, the role of humans as actors is essential. This finds testimony in the classical gardens of Imperial China, which hold in open regard the act of careful curation and deliberate landscaping. The 16th century philosopher Ji Cheng described the most important garden-building principle as “jiejing”, or “Borrowed Scenery”, which aimed to “choose visions” amidst the “tumult of the city”, thus setting up a meticulously planned space that takes into consideration numerable factors as such views of mountains or rivers in the distance, aromas, sounds of traffic, and so on.

Garden historian Martin Hoyles has noted that “there is a kaleidoscope of cultural meanings attached to gardening”, and in describing the “meaning” of gardening he examined the activity in relation to urbanisation, gender roles, symbolism of morality and land rights (Hoyles 7-9, 1991). George McKay builds upon Hoyles’ in his treatise on “Radical Gardens”, describing the three “plots” of gardens as land, history and politics. The first plot refers to the physical space of the garden itself – “how it is claimed, shaped, planted” – which embodies the polemics of territorial and land-use issues (McKay 7, 2011). Next, the garden’s plot is a story, a historical narrative. Gardens exist not just as physical entities, but in imagery and descriptions that are shaped by, and reflect, themes of dominance and oppression. This is intimately linked to gardens as the site of “politicking” (the third meaning “plot” here as “scheme”), but not only that of government conspiracies and other similarly sinister forces. Gardens, McKay argues, can symbolise “a positive, humanist gesture in a moment of change.” (McKay 9)


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