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. 

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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.