Recently, I organized my garden tools. The activity of making spatial sense of my garden toolshed, and its spillover effect on my work in the garden, has prompted me to explore the larger lessons of this task. What can I learn by placing gardening and blogging side by side?
Gardening is a hands-on creative practice that has many dimensions. Gardening allows me to observe the natural cycles of plants as they respond to environmental changes in light, moisture, temperature. I have grown into the practice and find comfort in its seasonal rhythms. When the creative task of planting design is accomplished, and the initial garden installation labour is complete, the on-going responsibilities of garden maintenance position me as witness to the passage of time and reveal the garden as a living composition. I appreciate how this connects me to the longue durée.
This spring, however, I realized that the garden and my role in it needed more support. I opened my shed and saw mountains of discarded pots, unsorted parts, and mislaid tools. If garden history can be told through its tools (as proposed in Bill Laws’s 2014 book A History of the Garden in Fifty Tools) mine needed structure. So, like generations of hobbyists before me, I found order in the form of easily installed perforated hardboard sheets studded with a variety of peg board hooks. I gathered my collection of tools and mounted them on the shed wall. Order restored, I could contemplate the variety of garden tasks that I typically undertake – weeding, trimming, cutting-back, deadheading, watering, transplanting – and appreciate the cyclical practice from a renewed perspective. By sorting, cleaning, and housing my tools, I could reflect on the task and the scope of the project. My practice is now much more intentional: I start my day by choosing the best tools for the task a hand; I finish my day by cleaning and storing them and reflecting on the work ahead.
Outside of the garden, part of my work as a design historian and researcher involves maintaining a Blog. Almost five years ago, I launched whitestudiolo as an online space for exploring connections between design history, theory, and everyday life. Since then, I have enjoyed writing long-form critical features on a broad selection of topics. Many posts have been prompted by insights about places visited or events experienced. Much like gardening, this has also evolved into seasonal work. As a busy educator during the Fall/Winter seasons, I look forward to the intellectual freedom of Spring/Summer break to follow my own curiosity and develop feature posts. But ultimately this ad hoc approach is externally motivated. And during the past 15 months COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have changed my access to those real, embodied encounters with the designed and built environment. I am not going out as much to see special places, exhibitions, or lectures. Without external stimulation, I struggle to generate ideas.
My approach to blogging needs restructuring and my garden has taught me that my relationship to a practice can change and evolve. I have also learned how motivating it can be to refresh an established project. Perhaps I don’t need to depend on site-visits, museum exhibitions and lectures for writing prompts. What I do have close at hand is an enhanced research practice via my academic research projects and teaching. Like a garden, perhaps research practice needs to be tended over the long term. As I look towards the summer as a time for research and writing, how can I re-imagine my blogging not as a separate creative activity but as an extension of this larger research practice? What links can I make between my research, teaching and the Blog’s theme of design history, theory, and everyday life? How can this Blog be part of a knowledge mobilization strategy that amplifies rather than replaces work that I am already doing? This sense-making effort has the potential to both reveal new tools as well as sharpen existing ones.