After months of planning, our Greenscapes conference kicked off at Brock last night. Our opening keynote speaker, Lorraine Johnson, kicked things off with a wonderful talk entitled “Tending the Earth.” Lorraine’s talk introduced a number of topics that I’m sure will come up again and again at this conference, so it was a really good introduction to what will unfold over the next couple of days.
One of the key themes of this talk was the idea that personal gardening practices are very much a public act. Johnson’s remarks asked us to stop and think about the various ways that the act of gardening has an impact on our community and our environment. For instance, Johnson talked about how, in recent years, people like Sandy Bell and Douglas Counter have fought for the right to depart from dominant gardening practices in their own yards (click here for a recent article discussing these cases). The idea of having to engage in a legal battle in order to plant something other than a standard, close-cropped lawn is so ridiculous, but it continues to happen. Why do neighbours and communities get so up in arms when someone decides to plant native plants or drought-resistant species or (gasp!!) vegetables in their front yard!?!
Johnson also talked about gardening that goes on outside of private homes and yards, and brought in numerous examples of urban garden projects that, I hope, can serve as examples of how we should be thinking about our relationship to plants in cities. She discussed, for instance, the Green Streets Program in Vancouver, the Alex Wilson Community Garden (Alex Wilson, incidentally, was the author of one of my all-time favourite books, The Culture of Nature), and the rooftop garden on top of city hall in Chicago. These examples, of course, all go beyond the individual gardens we have in our yards, and I think this is an especially exciting point. Why should gardening be confined to the home? As these examples show, there are tremendous community, social and environmental benefits from expanding our notion of what a garden is and where a garden can be.