On Cultivation

The garden marks the space of the cultivated between the spaces of the home and the world, between the spaces of the domestic and the natural.  This cultivated space lies beyond the home, but it is nevertheless a part of the home, an extension of the home into the world.  It is the space that marks the transition from the domestic to the natural.  It signals that the door to the home is near but has not yet been entered, that the threshold of the home is close at hand but has not yet been crossed. It bears the marks of both the domestic and the natural, and so it is less a border between them than it is a borderland, a place of transition, where they are brought into a relation.

It is the space in which the domestic orders the natural so that it might be more aesthetic or more productive, but it is also a space that is always open, by necessity, to some degree or another, to the natural.  This is true even in the most urban situations, even where the natural has been most disrupted and displaced, even where the natural has been reduced only to the weather and to whatever remnant plants and animals have learned to survive in the midst of human development.  Even in these places, so long as the home is bordered by a garden, though it be only a hanging planter or a window box, the cultivated space marks the transition between the home and whatever remains of the natural, and it comes to offer itself as a space where the natural and the domestic both might better live and grow.

The nature of the cultivated space, therefore, marks the nature of the relation between the domestic and the natural in any given place, whether it be the unrelieved concrete of an urban neighbourhood, or the vast and ordered lawns of suburbia, or the fields of the farmhouse.  In each case, the garden reveals how the domestic relates to the natural.  For this reason, the creation of a garden is more than a merely aesthetic or a merely productive act.  It is also a political and a social act, and the choices that are made in its construction are not without their political and social significance.  The choice of whether to make the garden organic or edible or native; the choice of whether to make it hospitable to whatever might enter it, whether it be human or animal or vegetable; the choice of whether to keep only carefully maintained lawns and a few well pruned shrubs or to have a whole range of plants and trees: these all become significant, because they reveal how we cultivate our relation to the natural.

  1. d said:

    Have you read Fukuoka’s ‘The One-Straw Revolution’?

  2. John Jantunen said:


    I was thinking much the same thing whilst (liking this word, lately by the way) I was cutting the grass the other day. I use a push powered mower, of course, and Kai was out helping me (one advantge of using a non-motorized machine) until he grew bored with Daddy’s rules about putting his hands near the spinning blades. It struck me, in between snatches of conversation with whoever happened to be walking by (another advantage) that trees don’t look right unless there’s tall grass growing around their trunks. It just makes them look more tree-y, for no reason that I can discern except that I grew up in the country where trees always had a fringe and weedwacking was a sport rather than a vocation. Also, and this is decidedly off topic, we had snakes. My grandfather used to pay us 25 cents a piece for every one we caught. He’d release them at the foot of his garden (to clear the vermin away, he said, although I always thought that it’s just because he liked to give us money but hated giving it to us for free) and we’d follow their progress to the end until they were in sight of the ravine, and freedom, when we’d snatch them up and claim another quarter. Does anyone pay for snakes anymore? If not, I wiil. Set your kids loose in the fields and come back with a wriggling bagful and I promise I’ll give them a dollar for every single one even though we don’t have a garden or a ravine and they’ll probably just end up in the neighbour’s basement as snakes so often do.

  3. d,

    No, I have not read the book, but it looks fascinating. I do some of these things already. I weed, but I don’t take the weeds out of the garden, just lay them down as mulch. I interplant as much as possible. I try to encourage natural pest controls. I try to plant crops that seed naturally in our area. The further along I get, though, the more I realize that I need to know.

  4. Curtis,

    We had pretty low turnout, which seems to be the case every Mother’s Day weekend.

    Also, in future, could you please submit your comments to the most relevant post?

  5. John,

    I will actually be making some snake habitat under the trees along the one side of my house, so your kids can bring snakes by when it’s ready. I don’t pay in cash though, only in vegetables.

  6. I would have, usually you post a review right following the event, none such luck this time.

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