The neighbour’s trimmed hedge versus this author’s untamed weeds. What does the garden of the future look like?
text PETER DEN DEKKER
Mans curiosity has always been limitless. It has driven him time and again to leave his familiar and ordered surroundings and enter the wilderness. Terra incognita held the promise of new and better living conditions. The attraction was evidently stronger than the deep-seated fear of the unknown or the wild.
These days, we venture into nature by hiking in the dunes, walking the dog in the woods, or heading into the mountains on holiday. However, one indispensable ingredient of wilderness – the possibility of getting lost – has now almost vanished. To truly get lost is no longer to know where you are or what to do. It means surrendering to what is to come, facing danger, and accepting an outcome that is uncertain. Our current nature excursions are safe and predictable. Paths, signposts and mobile phones see to that. On a map of today’s Netherlands, the red colour of built-up areas predominates. Buildings, roads and streets, pipes and cables, fences and signs are everywhere. Real wilderness seems to have gone for good.
Donald Loggins, Liz Christy in a community garden, New York City, 1970s, on view at the exhibition Garden Futures: Designing with Nature at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein
As man has cultivated every corner of the land, he has also domesticated himself. The wild natural landscape outside has been paved over and the wild inner nature suppressed, only rearing its head from time to time in a dream, in sex, or in a football stadium. Emma Marris opens her book Rambunctious Garden with the apt words: ‘We have lost a lot of nature in the past three hundred years – in both senses of the word lost. We have lost nature in the sense that much nature has been destroyed: where there was a tree, there is a house; where there was a creek, there is a pipe and a parking lot; where there were passenger pigeons and Steller’s sea cows, there are now skins and bones in dimly lit museum galleries. But we have also lost nature in another sense. We have misplaced it. We have hidden nature from ourselves.’
Since we bought a house in Amsterdam-IJburg, we have left the modest front garden-cum-car park to itself. The previous owner had left some flowering plants, a rose bush and a shrub. After five years of renaturalisation, the original order of this new-build neighbourhood, has become overgrown and disappeared. We have not kept track of how many plant species have arrived or had their seeds transported here by birds. In any case, there are an astonishing number of them.
In the sunshine of early spring, there is a coming and going of bees, wasps and bumblebees. Kneeling down, you discover a miniature jungle. This diversity contrasts sharply with the neighbour’s front garden, which consists of only two elements: hardstanding and a privet hedge. The whole thing looks uncluttered and, so to speak, maintenance-free, and there is plenty of space to park the car and bike. But the two adjoining gardens represent two completely different world views.
Read the whole article in See All This #30 – Paradise Found
curated by Piet Oudolf.
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About the author
Peter den Dekker is an author, gardener and Chi Kung teacher. He has a background in Chinese cultural studies and regenerative agriculture. He assisted in the developing of Amsterdam’s Groote Museum.
header image: Studio Céline Baumann, Parliament of Plants, 2019, digital print, on view at the exhibition Garden Futures: Designing with Nature at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rheim