Hip in the Center


The basic Metagardens principle is that garden design has failed to keep up with the digital age:

At the beginning of the XXI century we find ourselves immersed in a new era where due to advances in biotechnology, artificial life and computerizing in the last 50 years the spheres of the natural and artificial are merging into one…. Consequently, the idiom has changed: Our cybernetic culture sees Nature as something constructed, synthetic, and ready to deliver far away from ‘naturalistic’ theories that dream with a romantic and uncontaminated environment outside of our culture or, even worse, as a return to the past….But while the rest of the artistic disciplines are mutating to adapt to the new challenges garden design practices and theories are still based in outdated ideas incapable of dealing with the complexity of the new situation.

If you’re wondering about the excessively original approach to prepositions, Gonzalez grew up and went to college in Oviedo in northern Spain.  Oviedo–a small city no one has ever heard of, hidden inside a forbiddingly ugly industrial ring designed to keep it obscure.  My husband and I visited Oviedo many times in the summer of 1987 and absolutely loved it.  If you managed to penetrate that industrial blight, the most surprising things lay in the city center: a medieval core with a few mind-blowing 9th century buildings thrown in for good measure, an ancient university, excellent food in a part of the world that, at least 20 years ago, was not the kind of place you’d want to eat your way through.  Plus,that cheerfully transgressive post-Franco culture you see in early Almodovar movies: transvestites on every bar stool, barely clad women sharing the sidewalk with old ladies swathed in black, punk bands, painters, and rule-breakers of all kinds. 

Just the place to produce such an envelope-pusher on the garden design front.

And Gonzalez’s argument is not entirely wrong.  Read about the work of materials scientist Angela Belcher if you want to see the degree to which the natural and the artificial are merging.  The truth is, gardens are in essence artificial.  A manipulation of nature, not nature.

But the chilly garden designs themselves?  I hate to be stuffy, but not in my yard, thanks.  Not interested enough in plants.  And predictably enough, the only one of Gonzalez’s designs for which he seems to have a client is that dreaded "return to the past," a super-traditional design for a 17th century London house, complete with vegetables, fruit trees, and hornbeam hedge.

Here’s the thing about cyber-age garden design:  As Amy pointed out in the post below, we all already subscribe to Wired.  No one heads into a garden in order to better understand his or her relationship with the cutting edge of technology.  What gardens are good at is helping us understand the eternal.  Of course, the shapes and textures of gardens–particularly the gardens of rich people who can afford to have them designed by European geniuses–are going to reflect the cultural concerns of the moment.  But the mysteries I want to connect with in a garden are not the mysteries of the machine.

If the garden is not about God, in my opinion, it’s not about anything.


  1. Michele, your closing statements border on the sublime. You summed it up so cogently that I am in awe.

    It is too much to hope that Gonzalez himself will read them.

  2. “The truth is, gardens are in essence artificial.  A manipulation of nature, not nature.”

    Every time a bird builds a nest, beavers build a dam, an ant milks an aphid, a squirrel buries a nut, or a sweet pea synergizes with root bacteria to fix nitrogen from the air, it’s a “manipulation of Nature.”

    I myself prefer to think that I’m part of the ecology when I’m gardening. Sometimes I’m offering things to invite birds and insects in to prey on other insects, sometimes I’m trying to keep the squirrels from uprooting something I just planted, sometimes I’m just providing the things plants need to do what they do — grow, bloom, set seed — but I’m just one of many influences, like the sun and the rain.

    Sure, I try to influence things to my own liking, but in return I’m subject to conditions that occur; I have to weed if the grass invades, I have to spread nematodes if the winter isn’t cold enough to kill off beetle grubs, and I don’t always get my way. I have to learn to live with that, too.

    So maybe a garden is a manipulation of Nature, but it also acts on the manipulator. Any time you take on something like that — feeding the birds, feeding the squirrels, adopting pets, gardening — you have to learn to give and take.

    I don’t think that’s unnatural at all.

  3. Heavens to Betsey! Every garden reacts to the environment in an nteresting way – the plants grow!

    Let’s keep gardening GARDENING.


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