“I had done something unforgiveable – I had introduced race and politics into the garden.” Jamaica Kincaid
Gardening is often seen as an apolitical relaxation pursuit. Yet in a time when neighborhoods are rapidly changing, gardens have become a place of race and politics, where history, contention, expression, resistance and negotiation meet. At the same time, the presence of an immigrant work force—landscaping companies largely staffed by migrant Latinos—means that the country’s divided opinions over immigration are at play among the plants. There is also a hidden kind of migration in the types of plants home gardeners buy for their gardens: Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big stores import plants from Mexico, Colombia and other countries, ensuring an ecosystem shift toward non-native species.
Creating a resilient garden means paying attention to the life histories of individual species and how they interact with others in the community. But just as importantly, it means understanding why, how and to what purpose humans craft gardens. How does gardening shape identity? Do gardeners see their land as expressions of creativity or history, or even resistance? Gardens have plants, but also fences and walls. Where do gardens divide? What happens when community gardens meant to serve poor populations end up in gentrified areas, with the families priced out of an area “improved” by that very garden? And how do gardeners see the global effect of climate change on their worlds, where some heirloom plants are fading and non-native species threaten to take over?
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