Bruce Sterling on Sun, 13 Dec 1998 02:53:04 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Viridian Note 00028: Viridian Gardening

[orig to Viridian List <>]

Key concepts:  Gardens;  aging populations; Viridian Inactivism; 
horticulture; allotment movement; urban decay; xeriscaping

Attention Conservation Notice:   The term "Gardening" may be  
too dull to engage anyone's interests.   Presumptuous and 
patronising assumptions regarding the tastes of the elderly.  
Elements of fiddling while Rome burns.


Danny O'Brien remarks: 

Gardening is an obvious Viridian pursuit.  It's  ephemeral; it is a 
labour-intensive act that somehow manages to convince its 
practicers that they are relaxing; and anyone who has lovingly 
tended a compost heap has truly grasped the principle of  
"Embrace Decay."  For sundry reasons, gardening is also a 
massive attention sink for retirees.

     Could gardening be tuned even further to comply with 
Viridian principles?

     The ALLOTMENT MOVEMENT in the UK is a political tradition 
dating back to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. After 
protests by the suffering working class, concerned politicians 
allocated small patches of land that could be rented cheaply by 
dispossessed commoners. These smallholdings still exist today 
== they're generally hidden away in urban areas, are around 30-
300 square yards per plot, and are supplied with water and 
supplies for growing foodstuffs.

    They've recently enjoyed a boom that tracks the ageing of the 
British population.
(good Viridian URL, that)

     Encouraging gardening to spill out from the private gardens 
of the gated aged, and into small micro-plots scattered across 
urban environments, would provide a number of advantages:

* Conspicuous conservation
* Personal stewardship of public space, which looks to be a 
Viridian meme
* Prevents the isolation of the affluent, powerful older age 
* Useful as a reinforcer of climate indicators: a sparse network 
of small  plots, provided with enough amateur sensors (human 
eyes and ears, even), would provide a useful set of local 
pollution sensors as well as re-enforcing climate change 
indicators to its patrons.

     As it is, both the allotment movement and the nearest 
equivalent I can discover in the US, the Urban Gardening 
movement (, suffer from one major 
limitation. They're both, currently, chokingly dull. The whole 
topic stinks of granola.

     May I suggest an investigation into the possibilities of a 
mutated Allotment movement: namely, Guerrilla Gardening 
(alternate titles: Biosquatting, Random Acts of Forestation). 
This would involve small groups of Viridian non-activists 
selecting a disused location, and targetting it as their 
"allotment." The organisation of the gardeners would be as a 
paramilitary cell: individual members of the cell would not 
necessarily know the identities of other members, nor how 
many plots were in existence. Tasks would be minimal: work 
would be shared between enough inactivists for it to demand 
little, and degrade gracefully if apathy killed off a chunk of the 

     All they would see is that, for minimal involvement, an area 
of the public landscape would go from a barren lot to blooming 
greenery.  And, of course, with some suitable appearance of "Big 
Mike," the area would also become an advertisement for the 
Viridian movement.

     The unofficial tending of a public space may well lend itself 
to decentralised management, with limited involvement by the 
forces of law-enforcement, while nonetheless carrying the 
cachet of an illicit prank.

Why "Guerrilla Gardening" is Not Viridian

     The gardening instinct among senior citizens is already 
super-served by their own fine gardens.

   "Guerrilla" element unashamedly stolen from youth 

     The tacit encouragement of unrestricted bioengineering may 
be contrary to Viridian precepts.

    Recreational fiddling with fringes of urban ecology may be 
poor use of time and attention. The revitalisation of the urban 
center is a "problem" that may have already bottomed-out in 
developed countries.    Developing countries may lack the 
necessary affluent, aged, middle class.  It might be better to 
explore other potential horticultural extensions.

(((Bruce Sterling remarks:   I concur that gardening sounds 
mighty dull, but trying to jazz it up by making gardening illegal 
merely attracts the kind of sad yahoo who is reflexively 
fascinated by anything illegal.  If anyone is going to form 
militarized cells and throw weed seeds around, it ought to be 
*cops and soldiers.*  Cops in particular frequently find 
themselves tagging shooting victims in vacant urban lots.  If 
they had a packet of mixed local wildflower seeds on their 
utility belt along with the baton and pepper-gas, they could do a 
lot of good over a multi-year period.

     (((There is a deeper Viridian aesthetic issue here.  In America 
in particular, most people have no idea what the native 
vegetation of their area looks like.  Instead, they try 
desperately to re-create the rolled lawns of Britain on  the soil 
of an alien continent, despite the grim fact that this involves 
huge energy-consuming subsidies of fertilizer, water, 
notoriously polluting lawnmower engines, and so forth.  This 
highly counterproductive activity really should be made illegal.  

     (((Of course, if you simply abandon your American lawn 
through complete inactivism,  you will find it taken over by 
alien invader weed species, most of which are of Asian and 
European origin.  These species may be even more noxious than 
the original monocultured lawn.  But xeriscape groups are 
flourishing among the wealthy-aged demographic, and it is in 
fact still possible to restore whatever small landscape you 
possess to a tamer mimicry of the original pre-Colombian 
landscape  (minus the many wild species that sting, scratch and 
stink).  A pocket of biodiversity soon sets in.   You find the 
place swarming with butterflies, beetles, small birds and so 
forth.   Replacing fuel-supported, bland monoculture with 
colorful, insect-rich, inactivist biodiversity is an intrinsically 
laudable act.   We certainly must declare this activity 'very 
Viridian.'   Weirdly, in many urban areas, natural xeriscaping is, 
in fact, illegal.  Imagine the cachet and the illicit thrill!

      (((Unfortunately, given trends in climate change, natural 
xeriscaping may become impossible.   Colorful, exquisitely 
adapted, original native plants will no longer be able to thrive in 
their original biomes, because they'll die from the Greenhouse 
heat.   Once can then imagine a future gardening movement, 
probably government-mandated, that methodically replants all 
urban areas with natural species that had formerly existed  
*many hundreds of miles to the south.*   Farfetched?  People 
are harvesting bananas in Austin this winter.)))

Danny O'Brien (*)
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