gardening and philosophy: book review

When a book has 18 chapters on 18 different topics by 18 different writers, you would expect to enjoy some chapters more than others.  I found the whole of this book pretty interesting and 4 chapters riveting. 

If you love to think about the meaning of gardens and gardening, then this is the book for you: Gardening: Philosophy for Everyone - Cultivating Wisdom, edited by Dan O'Brien. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

Gardening themes are to do with history, anthropology, ethics, sociology, aesthetics, art, ecology, philosophy, politics, botany ...  our entire relationship with our environment, natural and built, dreamed and envisaged.

The chapters I found riveting are worth future posts devoted to them. I'll make do now with brief summaries.

In Escaping Eden: Plant Ethics in a Gardener's World, Matthew Hall argues that plants are living beings and should be thought of as worthy of ethical considerations. They don't exist solely for humans to use as they wish.

In Hortus Incantans: Gardening as an Art of Enchantment,  Eric Macdonald writes about the notion of enchantment, a garden as a magical space, fusing nature and art.  Dumbarton Oaks is this kind of garden. '... a sacred kind of haven in a disenchanted world, the sort of place where it might be possible to once again become attuned to the mystery and wonder of life.'  I think this is the kind of effect that I have been trying to achieve in my garden. This approach celebrates the ever changing complexity and fundamental uncontrollable unpredictability of the garden.

Finally(??), the most fascinating and weird dimension that we and our gardens live and die in: time. 
Time and Temporality in the Garden is about different kinds of time: time that measures and time that refers to an appropriate moment - to everything there is a season ...   There is subjective, and shared or objective time. And cyclical time. All these kinds of time are experienced in gardens. 

Gardens, Music and Time is an even more interesting read. Until I read this I mainly thought of the garden as a work of visual art like a painting, influenced by artists such as Monet.  Paintings only deteriorate in time, whereas plants are always growing or dying. Focusing on the visual dimension alone ignores the processes of time, growth and change. 

And then there's musical time. All growth is movement, and there is a pattern to this movement in the garden that is analogous to rhythm in music. But unlike in music, this rhythm exists in chronological time and cannot be speeded up, slowed down or erased completely. 

'Gardeners use the passage of chronological time as a fundamental artistic material, but by so doing they create their own complex arrangement of temporal patterns and thereby offer us opportunities to think about the implications of time and its passage.'  

Contrasting examples of this are Zen gardens that change slowly and invite us to think about geological time, slow moving time or eternity, and a garden of deciduous trees and annuals that changes each year with the seasons and invites us to think about the fleetingness and inevitability of time's passage.


  1. Thanks, Catmint...much to be intrigued by here.

  2. I think I would love that chapter Gardening as an Art of Enchantment. I do think this way ;-)

  3. I love book reviews - many thanks for such a good one.

  4. Interesting book. Will look up whether our local library has it.

  5. oh, I like that it's a compilation. Sounds like a great read.

  6. Thanks for posting this. It sounds like just the kind of book Steve and I like to read and discuss!

  7. Dearest Catmint,

    Love Eric Macdonald's description of gardening! Sounds like a real interesting book indeed and yes 'TIME' is a key word for all of us... But it is so rewarding and far better spend than watching all the crappy movies that are around. Guess I would score very low on that but high on botany...
    Enjoy your Sunday!
    Lots of love,


  8. Thanks for the post mate you have written it very well.


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