Gardening needs diversity

Over the last week I’ve watched what is happening in America in horror and disbelief, largely of course because the systemic racism that exists across the world isn’t experienced by me. So, I watched, and began to educate myself and pledged to educate others. I posted a black square onto Instagram in solidarity, but I know there’s only so much social media hashtags can do. The black square was a start – a powerful acknowledgment and rallying call for action.

Words however I know are powerful and lasting.

I’ve seen lots of people asking for action and to add to voices, which is important. One thing I’d like to add to that is a call to listen. Listening is a difficult skill to get right and it begins – as a wise friend once told me – with listening to understand, not to reply. Truly trying to understand what people are saying.

This week I have been listening to the black community and the fear, anger and other emotions they feel. It extends beyond this one incident and the USA of course, and I’ve listened and I’m learning. I’ve learnt a lot more about systemic racism and privilege in particular.

It had me thinking about the gardening world. One thing I contemplated early on was to share a list of my favourite famous gardens created by black people. And that’s when you see the problem, gardens are a good case study for systemic racism and white privilege.

Of all the big famous gardens I’ve visited, of all the designs I’ve seen in the public realm, they are all created by white people, with the exception of gardens I’ve visited in Africa. Not due to me choosing not to visit but because they simply aren’t promoted in the same quantities as those owned by white people in the West.

There are a handful of show gardens created by people of colour but too few. Historic gardens we celebrate have almost always been created by wealthy white people. The only truly inspirational garden I can think of created by a black person is by our friend Wayne Amiel around the corner. I’m wracking my brains for more, please share any you’ve visited below in the comments.

Obviously this is a monumental problem, as an indicator of where society is at, and of elitism and discrimination. This lack of diversity is also a huge loss to the gardening world.

For me personally it leaves a hole of creativity, inspiration and experience I love to see from different cultures, backgrounds and a person’s point of view.

Regular readers will know I’m not a massive fan of the traditional garden look anyway, at least not without a twist. I’m interested in exciting, different and personal gardens. Gardens that exude the character of the gardener or owner. The only way to experience characterful gardens that are different to each other is with diversity.

If all we see is a garden created by people like us to a particular vision or style, just imagine what we are missing out on.

There is so much more that gardening can be if we pursue diversity in all forms. I’m going to start by seeking out beautifully designed gardens created by more people of colour.

9 thoughts on “Gardening needs diversity

  1. I was in London last year, leaving the very day Boris was elected there. I thought then – and still do – two clowns leading democratic societies. They seem very similar to me. I have have Canada’s Trudeau than either T or J.

  2. Daily while in London I would walk to and soak my feet in the Princess Diana memorial, then walk to Kensington Palace to enjoy that beautiful garden. I often thought then how different the world might be if the good had been permitted to live and the creeps had been sniffed out instead. The older I get the less sure I am of anything .

  3. Unfortunately garden design is quite a profession for the privileged. You need to own a good sized space, preferably with a lovely old house as the backdrop, for your garden to be worth visiting. Then you need to spend quite a lot of money on materials, plants and installation, and have the spare time to nurture it to maturity. Underprivileged creatives without a house and garden will struggle to get into garden design. I’m not saying all BAME people are underprivileged, but that the ingrained privilege of the white majority is not going to open up many opportunities in our profession any time soon.

  4. Lots to think about here – thank you Jack. I don’t think I know of any gardens created by a black person. I will rectify this. I guess it’s too easy to live in a bubble and just assume everyone else has the same opportunities. I agree gardens are at their most exciting when they have more of their creators in them.

  5. Many POC in the Us are involved in community gardens. Ron Finley in LA comes to mind the ‘Gangster Gardener’
    I have started following several others on Instagram and will send more names if you would like.

    1. That would be great thank you Mary, Id like to follow more POC who a truly great gardeners, the best of the best.

  6. I guess you’d also have to ask “what makes a notable garden?” I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer in the Community Greenspace program through the Urban Resources Initiative, part of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology at Yale University. Through 20 years of greening the city, I met wonderfully creative neighbors who reimagined dusty, unsafe, overgrown spaces within their neighborhood and transformed them into oases of life, that attracted neighbors and wildlife alike. They may be less notable than our neighbors at the Conn Arnoretum, Brooklyn or the NYBG, but they really define community hope, and have made a major impact on our small city. Listening. So very important!

  7. Thank you for sharing this information about gardening needs diversity. It was useful and interesting. You have done a great job.

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