Decolonise the Garden
An update/recap of sorts
It’s been over two years since the @decolonisethegarden account on Instagram was set up in direct response to a disappointing lack of engagement from leadership positions in the horticultural industry with the conversations springing up around racism and related issues at the time. I am a gardener by training, and my interest in decolonising stemmed, at least initially, from an antiracism perspective. My interest was further fuelled by my concern for the climate crisis we are in (yes, these issues all intersect). The aim with @decolonisethegarden was, and is, to invite gardeners, or anyone with an interest in plants and gardens, to question what they think they know about plants and gardens, how we garden and why, and our relationship to them.
If you’re interested in plants and gardens, as I am, I think it’s natural to be interested in learning more about them and then to question how we better nurture them, the earth they are growing in and the ecosystems we are all a part of. And I think the deeper we engage with this and the more we delve, the more it can lead us to thinking about much broader and interconnected issues at a deeper level.
Understanding the dominant colonial lens through which we view plants and the natural world according to hierarchies and an imagined superiority - and how this affects the way we see plants, “nature” and the way we garden - can be a powerful portal to understanding this about how we’ve been taught to operate more broadly and live our lives.
“[Decoloniality] implies the recognition and undoing of the hierarchical structures of race, gender, heteropatriarchy, and class that continue to control life, knowledge, spirituality, and thought, structures that are clearly intertwined with and constitutive of global capitalism and Western modernity.”
~ Mignolo & Walsh
The more I followed these lines of inquiry, the more it became apparent that the same systems (built on hierarchies, domination and superiority, separation and division, extractivism etc.) are at the root of many justice issues facing us today - issues such as racism, the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, inequalities in access to land and green space, lack of food sovereignty, class inequalities, worker exploitation/modern slavery, sexism, homophobia, transphobia - the list goes on.
Decolonising/decoloniality recognises and dismantles (or transcends!) inequitable systems and hierarchies that are fundamental to coloniality.
How do we move towards liberation if we don’t? Might we more meaningfully tackle the interconnected justice issues if we understand coloniality and find ways to practice decoloniality? If we remain bound to the systems, the ways of seeing the world and the ways of being that created the problems facing us in the first place, we will surely continue to replicate and reinforce the same problems.
“Decoloniality necessarily follows, derives from, and responds to coloniality and the ongoing colonial process and condition. It is a form of struggle and survival, an epistemic and existence-based response and practice…against the colonial matrix of power in all of its dimensions, and for the possibilities of an otherwise.”
~Mignolo & Walsh
Decolonising/decoloniality is to query and interrogate the dominant colonial structures and systems that work to keep oppressive practices, power and injustice in place. It is to seek ways to move towards something more just, equitable, and loving.
Rather than being about power *over*, separation, scarcity, domination, control and extractivism (and so on) - which, if we care to look, has led us down a road towards ecological breakdown and caused immense human suffering not always acknowledged. Instead, it’s about moving towards power *with*, a state of abundance, reciprocity, care, health and well-being, and understanding ourselves as being an intrinsic part of the ecosystems we live in. Not viewing ourselves as separate from “nature” - as if we are somehow outside of “nature” and as though it is merely a resource to be controlled, extracted from and profited off of.
How do we begin to query (or queer) the stories and narratives that we have been fed and which inform our colonial view of the world?
Are we seeking out stories and narratives that give us different frameworks and possibilities for ways of being, thinking, sensing, believing, doing, and living?
I believe that gardening, nurturing a relationship with plants and the earth, is not only a powerful entry point into these ideas and conversations, but also that gardening as a conscious practice is rich in potential for us to consider and explore possibilities of an otherwise.
@decolonisethegarden aims to facilitate, introduce and act as a portal to further conversations on decolonising/decoloniality and related justice issues (see above), to signpost and share information, events, resources, make connections for community building etc…
I sometimes share some of what I have learnt or am processing/thinking about in the hope that it might engage and encourage others into thinking about some of these issues too. I do not pretend to have any definitive answers on how anyone should decolonise or carry out their decolonial practice. I myself am continuously learning, listening, processing all the time. Any insight I share has come from knowledge and learning I have garnered from people far more knowledgeable and informed than me. I try to think critically for myself and learn from a wide range of sources, and I hope you do too.
As Mignolo and Walsh point out - decoloniality is an option. We are, each of us, responsible for our decolonial liberation. It is not about an imperative to control and dominate - these are the tools of coloniality, oppressive tools that decoloniality seeks to move away from.
“If… decoloniality is the option to be enacted to delink from the colonial matrix of power in all its domains, but above all from the level of the enunciation that controls and manages knowledge and knowing, sensing and believing, then decoloniality is an imperative for whoever engages with the decolonial option, but cannot be a missionary imperative to control and dominate. And above all, it is neither a claim that decoloniality is the option where the final truth without parentheses is housed.”
~ Mignolo and Walsh
There have been so, so many shared over the past couple of years. You can find some of those in previous articles here on Radicle, there is also a whole back catalogue of posts on @decolonisethegarden to look through that contain a plethora of signposts.
Highlighting a few essays and books here, but there are so many more:
On Decoloniality by Mignolo & Walsh (which is where the quotes in this article are from)
Superior by Angela Saini
The coloniality of planting: legacies of racism and slavery in the practice of botany by Ros Gray & Sheila Sheikh in The Architectural Review
Horticultural Appropriation by Claire Ratinon & Sam Ayre
This recent Green Dreamer podcast episode with Catriona Sandilands “Botanical colonialism and biocultural histories” which covers some of the themes I’ve touched on here (I love and appreciate Kamea’s Green Dreamer podcast so much. I may have mentioned it several times before - it is phenomenal. You will learn so much from listening to/reading her interviews with her many guests and there are hundreds of episodes on there.
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