I was thinking about writing this morning. "Writing," not really as "I wrote an essay today," but writing as something one may do all the time, a part of one's process, taking notes, leaves of paper and notebooks, saving a thought for later, posting reminders. I have this "problem" - again, not "problem" to say "a bad issue with something" but "something I am working to solve" - all of the above mentioned items, scraps of paper, notebooks, folders, design notes, post its, etc - they end up scattered about, without connection. But all these pieces floating about are what I am working on here.
I have a note I put up on the board - another mechanism to try and bind things together into wholes - that reads "Give the work form." I think I have heard writers or artists say this. To me it is a saying to recognize that the space of ideas, dreams, inspiration, and creation aren't material and that you have to make something - be it poetry, sculpture, drawing, or sound - so it can find its way into the real world. Give it form.
I have spent a lot of time in the past, mostly in the old days when I was in school, with people who wrote many exceptional essays. All of these people, who I was thinking of this morning, could sit down and write wonderful stories and accountings of everyday life. But I could only think of one person, my friend Allen, who, like me (or me like him), collected fragments and scraps..
This trajectory on writing started with yesterday's notes that collected on my kitchen table following a Zoom seminar I participated in titled, "Trends in Horticulture." I captured another thought or two this morning as I had coffee and wrote them on the same sheet of paper.
During this seminar, I shook my head a lot. The speaker was someone my dad's age or a little older. His points on "trends" were about edibles, organics, native plants, naturalistic gardening, prairie and meadow gardens - and after a few hours of thinking about it I came to word this issue as - he was confusing a long term social movement he was inside of with a different social thing, a trend.
Edibles, organics, natives, nature... these are all ideological positions one can occupy in their practice. There is a belief system that accompanies them.
The movements listed above are not short term things. These have been growing, to the point of being mainstream, for thirty years. (While at the same time we can find many of their roots back in the arts and crafts movement)
Part of my irk over this has to do with the seemingly unrecognized conservative or right wing aesthetic of the local industry. We see this in what follows. I try to map this with neutral description. Please accept my short comings with it.
When "nature" and "the natural" are talked about in the industry, the market, and literature, the words point to different emotions - the linguistic term "registers" might be used here - and someone in one aesthetic/emotional/ideological construct can project themselves into a position of power by using and occupying tender words to point towards their (the speaker) harder forms of making the world.
On the "The Left," we might say you have environmentalists and "tree huggers" - who may express concerns over "The Bee Problem" with a flavor of guilt that we, as a civilization, are doing something wrong and bad, and need to stop out of ethical consideration over the value of the bees life. On the right, the concern over "the bee problem" may be equally intense. On the right one may find the valuable position of "The Conservationist" who will most everyday wake up in alliance with the "Environmentalist." The conservationist tends to have their position based in the protection of nature, protecting the bees as an important resource to everything we humans find important. We need the bees to pollinate the the fruit trees and the flowers we love, to keep everything in nature natural so it can be experienced and visited as something we value in life. These two positions are ideological opposites. (these are just rough sketches)
There is of course the basic opposition: One position sees humans in a struggle opposed to nature. Another opposite position sees humans as nature and inseperably assembled to it.
We also see an ideological division when "the landscape" is talked about as nature. On the right, it is imagined that when we make landscapes and gardens we "bring nature to the city." The left perspective - which is a very small minority of the everyday world I inhabit - sees "the landscape" and "the garden" as something man made, just as material as brick or glass in the city.
From this point, we see a different relationship between how some speak of gardening and landscape as "art." I am not sure how to imagine oppositional positions here, but I imagine one opposition being "architecture and the landscape as part of art history." It is a monument of human culture. How we make the landscape today is in dialogue with all the landscapes and ideas of the past. This may include conversations about nature. Opposite to this, I think there are a lot of different separate positions. One word, so cliche in garden writing, "Whimsey" comes to mind. Or, maybe the way to think about the opposite of a landscape that is in dialogue with cultural history is a landscape that is in dialogue with the immediate moment.
In some research on Hydrangeas yesterday, I was reading Michael Dirr's 2020 revision of "Hydrangas for American Gardens." I won't try to articulate this difference as left or right, but it is definitely a different form of imagining. Dirr works back and forth from a number of "positions" - positions I will call "botanical science," "gardener," "commerce." On the one hand you will read pages and pages of dialogue about the history of different botanists attempting (the impossibility of) to classify, with specific name, all the different repeatable observed characteristics of thousands of Hydrangea around the world. And then in his next paragraph Dirr will write "occasionally nurseries will use the name..." to recognize the separation of the pure botanical sciences from commerce. The nurseries and agriculture, while full of their own knowledges as well, are not "University Science."
Dirr's work is beautiful to me. It helps inform my own work. But the thinking and work that happens in the Buffalo Horticulture Project is different and has its own specific expertise. Buff Hort works with the built environment; Buffalo Horticulture deals with commerce, and studies plants and construction as commodity forms and art in history. My study in horticulture (among other things) is of plants that are in cultivation and available as materials for us to build the landscape with.