lauantai, 5. tammikuu 2019

How Gardening Improves the Land

Image result for How Gardening Improves the LandThe claim that gardening improves the land has been criticized from a perspective that sees any interference with nature as detrimental to the land, and any engagement in such an activity as detrimental to the human character, as it reinforces the notion that nature is there for us to shape as we wish and bend to our will. Thus I need to establish that improvement of land is at least a reasonable supposition before moving on; the claim that we are improved by damaging or degrading something else would seem hard to defend.

Gardening Improves the LandImage result for Gardening Improves the Land

When we garden we take a circumscribed area - usually already a garden, allotment, or a plot of thin soil over builder's rubble - and we combine our labor, imagination, ideas, and expression of feeling with what is there. We might introduce new plants or artifacts in an attempt to improve on what was there. The crucial question, though, is improved in what sense, or rather whose sense?

if I began by setting out what I think makes a good garden, this would be an unsubstantiated claim or a statement of preference. It would be better, philosophically speaking, to arrive at a notion of a good garden via the examination of what is good about gardening. However, I don't want to Claim 1 that gardening improves land, to rest on Claim 2, that gardening improves people. That would reduce the role of the garden to something akin to an exercise bicycle: entirely there for us as a means to something that has nothing to do with the furtherance or wellbeing of the bicycle. It's fine to treat exercise bicycles that way - I don't have a problem with that - but not gardens. 


Human impact on the environmentImage result for Human impact on the environment

There needs to be some sense of improvement that is good for the garden itself, such that after the gardening intervention, it is in a better state than before, or perhaps in a similar state - rather than the impoverished one that would have resulted from our lack of intervention. Of course, I am using the phrase "good for the garden" as a kind of shorthand here for "objectively better regardless of our human preferences." How, though, in a post-environmental philosophy context - where the dominant discourse has been about protecting wild nature from human interference - can we legitimately maintain that activities such as weeding and pruning are for anything other than the exercise of human power and preference?


 Improving nutrition through home gardeningImage result for Improving nutrition through home gardening

I am going to suggest three gardening activities that we can say improve the garden objectively. The first is the role of the gardener in the endless toil of improving the fertility of the soil. The garden as a quasi-ecosystem does this itself, but the gardener engages with those processes through mulching and Weeding, but mainly through composting. Composting is the major player here because it improves the structure of the soil (allowing the plants to develop. To know more see the link.


 Soil and Plant Nutrition: A Gardener's Perspective Image result for Soil and Plant Nutrition: A Gardener's Perspective

sorting roots, it improves water retention (necessary for plant survival), it increases the number of micro-organisms that break down vegetative matter into plant nutrients, and it supplies the raw material of those chemicals and traces elements the plant needs. Thus by improved soil, I mean soil that is more fertile or supportive of a rich and varied range of plant life. It is sometimes said of keen aquarium keepers that they don't keep fish, they keep water. A focus on water quality brings in its train the ability to keep healthy fish specimens. 

Types of gardensImage result for Types of gardens

Likewise, the gardener is a soil keeper who attends to this background element as much as to the showy plants that attract the attention of the non-gardener. When ardent gardeners visit gardens open to the public they can sometimes be seen feeling the texture of, and smell, the soil while their less obsessed brethren merely photograph attractive floral arrangements or, if already some way down that road, read the plant labels. As Karel Čapek puts it in his 1931 classic, The Gardener's Year. 

lauantai, 5. tammikuu 2019

Gardening: the secret of happiness

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Gardening is not just a pleasant thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, or a way to reduce one's supermarket bill - gardening is a human activity that engages with core philosophical questions concerning, among other things, human wellbeing, wisdom, the nature of time, political power and ideas, home, aesthetic experience, metaphysics, and religion. That is what the contributors to this volume aim to show, and we hope that the gardener will find rumination on these questions rewarding and illuminating, either at the end of a hard day's digging or as something to think about while deadheading the sweet peas.

Gardening - Philosophy for EveryoneImage result for Gardening - Philosophy for Everyone

There they will find this characteristically human practice of cultivating plants for their beauty, arranging them in varying degrees of formality, and accompanying the show with similarly ordered or not so ordered herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Perhaps the first thing to notice about this activity is that a terrific amount of hard work seemed to go into growing, say, those basil plants. There was the disinfecting of the greenhouse, the transportation of compost, and the purchase, planting, and watering of seed. The potting on followed ... all looked good, but then the seedlings started to wilt. Thinning them out and pinching the stems back did not lead, as the book said it would, to luscious, bushy Mediterranean plants. Nevertheless the gardener - well, this was me earlier this summer - seemed pleased with the handful of leaves he clutched on the way back to the kitchen. The spaghetti in pesto was delicious. But, the philosopher wonders, why on earth all the effort? A jar of pesto would have cost very little and taken ten minutes to buy. Why do people go through all this effort? In short, why do they garden? The reader will find various answers to this question in these pages.

 Happiness in the Garden of Epicurus

A first, hedonistic, thought is that gardening makes us happy, and that is why we do it for the same reason that we lie in the sun or eat ice cream. At odds with such a view, however, are the all-too-common frustrations and physical trials of gardening. Double digging the vegetable plot is not fun, nor is keeping the viciously spined blackberry bush under control, nor are one's battles with bindweed. There are of course great pleasures - the clematis in bloom, the taste of a fresh ripe tomato, and the fragrance of the rosemary bush as you brush past it - but given their generally fleeting nature it is not entirely obvious whether one is happier through gardening than through alternative weekend activities such as watching movies or going to the gym. You can visit our website to know more.


Here, though, we are thinking of happiness purely in terms of pleasurable feelings, in terms of the sensual pleasure of ice cream as opposed to the pain of digging, and we are attempting to explain our urge to garden in terms of such feelings. There is, though, an older notion of living a good life -as opposed to a pleasurable one- and philosophical issues relating to this notion have been discussed since Ancient Greek and Roman times. Living a good life amounts to living a virtuous life and doing so brings with it, not hedonistic pleasures, but a kind of tranquility - the kind of state of mind that philosophers from Epicurus to Hume have seen as the goal of life. What we see as virtuous may to some extent have changed over the centuries - the actions of a chivalrous knight may not be as commendable as they once were - but many of our ideas concerning virtue have remained constant: it is good, for example, to persevere in a task rather than give up at the first obstacle, and it is good to be patient. The good life, then, is one that promotes such traits in an individual, and it is very plausible that gardening does just that. In learning to the garden one must, for example, learn to cope with defeat by cabbage fly and slug. One must acquire a certain level of stoicism, a trait that is plausibly a virtue. Gardening, then, can be seen as contributing to a good life, one interspersed with moments of tranquility that have their source in virtuous activity.

Categories of Visual Arts and CraftsImage result for Categories of Visual Arts and Crafts

Gardening, however, is more than just a means to acquire virtue and the associated tranquility that comes from its exercise; a dogged, ever-patient digger, hoer, and pruner would not be gardening well unless there was a further aspect to her activity. Gardening would seem to require an artistic element; some sense of the aesthetic appreciation of one's work is required, whatever the garden - from the arranging of a few pots in a backyard to the creation of a great estate. It's not clear that a piece of land would be a garden if no thought went into how it looked (even though it might function as one's vegetable plot, yard, or place to play football). Works of art naturally fall into certain categories and, following the philosopher Immanuel Kant, there is a temptation to see gardening as visual art and gardeners as artists working with a pallet of terracotta pots, plants, and trees. This is certainly something that a gardener sometimes sees herself as doing. The pot there is wrong; it takes one's eye away from the bed of hostas; it should be moved instead next to the low wall, and the garish hanging basket display needs to be toned down. Looking through seed catalogs and browsing at the garden center one can be seen as shopping for artistic materials. We have, then, a picture of the gardener, living a good life, a life that is further enriched by the artistic nature of their activity.

 How to Make Basil PestoImage result for How to Make Basil Pesto

Further, even though the activity of the suburban basil grower may, to some - those silly people who buy ready-made pesto! - appear to be a rather idiosyncratic route to a tasty supper, gardens fill the Earth and have done so since the first civilizations. And, looking at gardening through time and across cultures, there are patterns there to be seen, and sociological, political, and philosophical conclusions to be drawn from what we find. On a local scale, we can see this at home, at the allotment show, and in neighborly competition Plants or cuttings are taken with us when we move house, providing a link with homes past or family past. I can look out at the creeping geraniums, originally taken as cuttings from where I grew up, and at the myrtle bush that was bought from a street market as a seedling to place proudly in my first proper (backyard) garden. Flower and vegetable competitions across the country can be more than temporary diversions. They are taken very seriously and the size of a gardener's leeks confers a certain elevated status on the grower. If one has not been to an allotment show, one should! The prize-winning produce has an unearthly, almost magical, air about it. These growers are not like us: we are not worthy! And, as we shall see later in the volume, these psychological and sociological aspects of gardening are also played out on a global, political scale.

Various garden writers have also noted how great gardens reflect the philosophical predilections of an era. Digging up clods of earth, raking up leaves, and ripping out bindweed are not, one might think, activities that promote meditation on the big metaphysical questions.