Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 12: Domestic Garden Landscapes of Memory, Mortality and beyond 1

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

CHAPTER 12: Domestic Garden Landscapes of Memory, Mortality and beyond 1

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

The British domestic garden is at once a popular icon of national identity and a private, guarded space. There is now a large body of literature on British gardens, which are seen as offering a chance to nurture and to be nurtured by nature, as well as express and congeal cultural identities. This work stresses that the garden is a contradictory space with many unresolved tensions: private/ public, work/leisure, security/insecurity, homely/unhomely. The relations between people, plants and space are also shaped by long-term historical and economic processes. Gardening as a mass pursuit in Britain is a phenomenon of the twentieth century, through which a garden moved from the necessary leisure of the inter-war period towards being increasingly seen as a lifestyle choice by the 1990s. The gardening industry, worth some ?5.5 billion a year, after rapid growth during the debt-based economic boom (the so-called 'Ground Force effect' in reference to the popular television programme), has lost many of its younger customers since 2008, retreating to both its older customers and those interested in more authentic growing practices rather than lifestyle gardening (Horticultural Trades Association). What is certain is that, while its patterns may change, gardening remains popular in Britain: 49 per cent of adults engage regularly in some form of gardening, including 64 per cent of those over 45-64 years of age and 62 per cent of those 65 or over (Office for National Statistics). This chapter is concerned with gardeners such as these. Their gardens are landscapes not of grand pretension, but of everyday pleasures, taskscapes replete with watering cans, weeds and jobs undone.2

The chapter focuses on aspects of the garden much dwelt on by literary and poetic writers but less usually studied by academics: death, memory and mortality. I want to ask how contemporary British gardening culture accommodates what might be called death culture, that is, the norms, rituals, procedures and practices surrounding death (Hockey and Hallam 2001). Death culture is distinct to bereavement and grief, which are seen much more as emotional, individualized processes. Much as the garden has changed over the last decades, the way the British deal with the material and immaterial traces of deceased others has changed. Firstly, there is now greater secrecy and embarrassment, and less physical exposure to dead bodies, with fewer wakes for example (Young and Light 2012). Second, there has been increased bureaucratization and medicalization of the dead, through, for example, registration and cataloguing, which turn the person into a mere body faster than before (Hockey and Hallam 2001). Third, there has been increased marketization of funerals, coupled with a greater diversity in burial choices (natural burials, the freedom to spread ashes, and so on), accompanied by an individualization of grief, where experts tell people to grieve their own way (Maddrell 2013). Finally, sacred spaces have become more informal and less uniform, with new rituals such as roadside shrines, memorial trees, or white ghost bicycles (Maddrell and Sidaway 2010).

It is in this context that I want to examine death culture in the garden landscape. This chapter draws on research encounters with experienced gardeners - described below - and discusses three symptomatic practices of dealing with traces of death, memory and mortality in the garden. I emphasize that these require work - the garden is not about sitting in the glow of memory, nor melancholy, but about making memory and losing it again. The gardening practices described in this chapter create something malleable and familiar out of absence, and represent an attempt to make a landscape that brings together different fragments of past and present. Of course, attaining any lasting coherence between these fragments of past and present is impossible. As cultural geographer John Wylie argues, "displacement and dislocation are, insidiously, right at the very heart of any sense of dwelling" (2012: 367). …

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