bushfires and gardening

This is an interesting and ambiguous cartoon by Ron Tanberg, published on the gardening page of yesterday’s The Age newspaper and discussed by Denise Gadd.

To Denise the cartoon means that “gardeners are a selfish lot who, while towns burn, continue watering their gardens.” But she goes on to argue that we are saving the environment from becoming a dust bowl, and should not be criticized for using water. Gadd believes that other interests, such as preparations for an upcoming motor racing event, use much more water, and this cannot be justified.

To me, however, the cartoon does not implicitly say this. It juxtaposes two realities: the tragic bushfires on the one hand, and the attempt to maintain a small private garden on the other. The difference in the scale and importance of these two scenarios is so great that it makes me feel uncomfortable and defensive to identify with the second picture.

But these scenes do coexist. Both represent the current struggle to live with nature - not to control it because that is impossible, but also not to be overwhelmed by its destructive force.


  1. I doubt if the small amount of water gardeners use makes any big difference and they are not selfish but trying to maintain a patch of green in an unfortunate sea of burnt out brown.

  2. To me the cartoon is a cute one showing how passionate gardeners are about their gardens. Nothing but tongue and cheek. The water thing, that is something that surely affects us all. It won't be long and we'll be in those dry conditions too. Not looking forward to it.

  3. Hi Catmint--

    The cartoon is clever. I can't imagine anyone interpreting gardeners as selfish. Water indeed is a precious commodity but so are flowers and bees and birds and beneficial insects--who rely upon our stewardship to survive especially when fire decimates so much of their habitat. Great post, Catmint. Grace

  4. thank you for your comments, Hermes, Tina and Grace. Your varied responses to the cartoon are fascinating and thought provoking. Looking forward to ongoing sharings.

  5. The cartoon seems to be lampooning the people who are out-of-touch with the severity of the situation, people who are completely and utterly unaware. The subject happens to be a "gardener". The extent of the gardening could go only so deep as to maintain an exterior, a front, a superficial facade without any deeper connection to plants and the earth as landscaping that's attractive and creates an atmosphere of affluence.

    There are lots of people in my neighborhood who seem to be this way. They want their yards to look nice because they don't want to look poor, and they don't recognize a connection between their gardening techniques or lifestyle and how it impacts the environment.

    Maintain the appearance of affluence (gardening/landscaping) at any cost (pollution, heavy water consumption, heavy energy consumption, etc.) and lack all awareness of the situation when that cost has to be reckoned with (e.g., drought and fires).

    I don't think this is about gardeners in general. It's a jab at a particular type of person through understatement and the ridiculous.

    Hope this makes sense! It's a cute cartoon.

  6. Yes - Redhead, that's it - people who do gardens as a fashionable status symbol, and have no idea or care about the environment. That's why the wildlife population has declined - trees are too messy, land too valuable to use for mere gardens.


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