Wikipedia defines virtual reality as a term that applies to computer-simulated environments that can simulate places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds.
Greg Egan’s mind-blowing science fiction novel Permutation City is about virtual worlds and artificial life. Unlike gardens we are familiar with, which obey the laws of nature, gardens in cyberspace obey whatever laws the programmers have written for it.
‘Thomas sat in the garden, watching the robots tend the flowerbeds. Their silver limbs glinted in the sunshine as they reached between the dazzling white blossoms. Every movement they made was precise, economical; there was no faltering, no resting. They did what they had to, and moved on…
'...The stillness of the garden began to unnerve him. There was a blankness to the scene he couldn’t penetrate, as if he was staring at an incomprehensible diagram, or an abstract painting he couldn’t quite parse. As he gazed across the lawn, the colours and textures flooding in on him suddenly dissociated completely into meaningless patches of light. Nothing had moved, nothing had changed – but his power to interpret the arrangement of shades and hues had vanished; the garden had ceased to exist.’
Although this does seem weird and futuristic virtual gardens already exist.
Way back in 1994 a project called Nerve Garden started – describing itself as a public terrarium in cyberspace and a work in progress designed to provide experience of a virtual terrarium which grows, decays and evolves just like a “real” ecosystem.
A more recent example is an app called iZen Garden developed for the iPad. It is advertised as offering “All the peace and tranquillity of a Zen Garden, without the sandy mess!”
I haven’t visited Second Life for quite a while and have never surveyed the gardening scene there. But the opportunity is certainly there to garden and get whatever results you want, with absolutely no messy bits!