In my last column, I admitted I prefer my own garden to Garden Shows, though it does depend on how far under the snow my garden is buried at the time the shows are happening.
Symposia, on the other hand, are special treats. I invariably find them valuable, especially when the speakers are chosen to reinforce each other’s themes. I walk away from these day-long (or multi-day) events with pages of notes and a mind full of ideas, and often a crucial new awareness about gardening or life.
Unlike Garden Shows, which exist partly to sell us stuff, symposia exist to transfer concepts. This is what delights me about them. I am not opposed to shopping, but my capacity for concepts is practically infinite, whereas my capacity for stuff is limited (by space and money, at the very least). So I can walk around a symposium absorbing concepts with great abandon, while I have to keep my guard up against absorbing too much stuff at a Garden Show.
I came away from a recent ReThinking Idaho Landscapes symposium with a new appreciation for what visual creatures we humans are, and how one image, or one observed moment, can instantly reconfigure our thinking.
This is really my aim when I give a talk. I try to choose powerful images that will convey new concepts. But though an image is worth a thousand words, I’ve found the words stick better if I can also find (or make up) names for those concepts. Just a word (perhaps a short phrase) is like a suitcase, complete with handle, that can be handed off. The name is the key, reminding people of what’s inside the suitcase.
For instance, one concept I am trying to spread is the “freedom lawn.” These chemical-free lawns in which a person mows whatever grows have steadily become the norm in Canada (Quebec banned cosmetic use of pesticides for lawns in 2003, Ontario and New Brunswick in 2009, Alberta and Prince Edward Island in 2010, Nova Scotia in 2011, Newfoundland & Labrador in 2012, and Manitoba’s ban takes effect this year), and they are coming back into favor in the USA as well.
Once people have a name for this concept, it seems more able to grow into a full-fledged, legitimate option in their minds. It may not be something they choose to do, or feel they CAN choose due to neighborhood pressures or other concerns (or their own aesthetic tastes), but it does become something they can evaluate and consider and discuss, now that it has been named. And that makes it easier to keep the option open to choose it in the future.
I’m also hoping that the power of naming will help to ignite a change in how we landscape our hellstrips. These fragments of land between sidewalk and street are called by different names in different parts of the world, in different states and cities of the US. Perhaps a discussion about them using one unifying name (easy to remember, too!) will help people to find more solutions and to share them with one another.
What do you think? Does naming help you to think about and discuss a new concept?