Humans use their knowledge about plants and their ecology for enhancing their life quality. Their accomplishments related to plant cultivation is associated to the botany discipline horticulture. That includes activities from the fields of science, technology, and business. Horticulture incorporates the tasks and services of food production, plant conservation, horticulture therapy, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design. All the human endeavours towards horticulture serve the goal of developing and maintaining human health and well-being.
Horticulture is strongly connected with gardening and should not be distinguished with agriculture. Agriculture is usually organized in large fields that grow only one plant species (mono culture). Furthermore, gardens are in most cases isolated from its environment. A common field is not protected by a fence or other construction. Moreover, agriculture makes heavy use of big machines for cultivating their plant growth and food production. The last and another important difference between horticulture and agriculture is the lack of an appealing design practice in agriculture [Nemitz2000, page 173].
Gardening as an human-centred design approach
The appealing design approach in horticulture is very often expressed in garden design. A garden is an artistic intervention on an environment, which places and maintains plants in a certain process [Nemitz2000, page 173]. For many years, gardens take over the role of providing humans the feeling of being connected with nature [WiMaMe2010, page 38]. Furthermore, it is an expression how humans imagine the paradise [Nemitz2000, page 172-173]. This wish of creating a paradise is still valid and a common inner motivation not only for landscape architects. These artificial paradise-like places created by landscape architects reflect also very well the social systems beyond all time periods.
Before the 18th century, artists and landscape architects designed the gardens depending on their knowledge in ornamentation, architecture and plants. The gardens were a meeting point for the upper society [Nemitz2000, page 171]. Only the chosen ones were allowed to enter and experience these artificial paradises. During the 18th and 19th century the industrialization movement in Europe influenced strongly the gardening within an urban environment. Many people moved to the cities in order to find a job and with the hope of having a better life. The living conditions were poor for the workers and malnutrition spread. Commercial and private kitchen gardens began to emerge in various sizes [WiMaMe2010, page 41]. These emerging gardens in a populated environment were not only phenomena in Europe. Also in the United States during the World War II, Victory gardens appeared for satisfying around 40 percentage of the food demand. After the war the need of these gardens decreased and in the end the gardens disappeared [WiMaMe2010, page 40].
Nowadays, the new arising gardens in an urban environment are very often community gardens. The aesthetic qualities of urban wilderness on abandoned areas and the urban nature inspire people to create their own gardens. Besides the visual appealing experience of a garden, community gardens are often driven by political engagements. Some garden communities criticise the industrial agriculture practices and some others create a garden as an answer to the environmental crisis [WiMaMe2010, page 38]. It is not always a political motivation behind a community garden. Community Gardeners are also driven by the pleasure of good food and having nice company in a socially oriented urban lifestyle. Designers and artists work together on strategies for redesigning this everyday urban life. The “Prinzessinnengarten” in Berlin and the Munich “Kräutergarten” are great examples of these enriching social activities [WiMaMe2010, page 42]. They organize workshops and exchange their knowledge about gardening. That is very similar to the project “Green Thumb” sponsored by the City of New York. This New York initiative is more advanced in aspects of connecting the various community gardens with each other. They exchange in addition to knowledge resources like tools and seeds [WiMaMe2010, page 40]. The result is a better diversity of food and plants in an urban landscape. Additionally, the people are able to learn more and faster about nature and gardening in a current unnatural environment.
Furthermore, the gardens activities have a positive impact on reducing the risk of social inequality and dependence in an urban driven society. The food production through urban gardening minimizes the path to the consumers as short as possible [WiMaMe2010, page 39-48]. Moreover, these kinds of gardens can reduce the poverty in urban societies and prevent the rise of slums. The project “Ashar macha” in Bangladesh is an exemplary initiative in this direction.
In summary it is obvious that the garden is a social place with a high rate of communication and interaction between humans. Every kind of garden holds its own characteristics of social interaction. For this reason, it is important to know the differences of social interaction related to its garden design. The research of this thesis will focus on gardens located in or close to an urban environment. The following overview will provide background knowledge about these garden approaches, which will be continued in chapter “3.4 Digital Network and Community Design with plants”.
An overview of different gardening methods in an urban environment
Parks exist already for several hundred years in human history. The design and infrastructure is mostly developed by architects and artists. As mentioned before the park design demonstrates the human imagination of the perfect nature or paradise. In that relation parks were always a place for mental rehabilitation and experiencing human well-being. Frederick Law Olmsted was one of the most influential landscape architects in our culture and one of his biggest achievements was the design of the Central Park in New York [Flagler1994, pages 231-238]. A vast amount of different strategies in park design and infrastructure exist which we neglect in this work. There are already several well researched works about these approaches.
Small gardens within an urban landscape are known under the term allotment gardens. In Germany they are called “Schrebergärten” and in Paris they have the name “Jardins familiaux”. The big difference between an allotment garden and a community garden is the boundary of private and public space [WiMaMe2010, page 132]. The allotment garden is mostly maintained by one person or a private group of persons (usually by a family). In contrast to that, community gardens are organized by a group of random people in most cases and they are mostly accessible for the public. Generally, allotment gardens are a mix of a kitchen garden and like a small park, where a private group can rest and relax. Furthermore, all the above mentioned arguments on social life in a contemporary garden are valid for this kind of gardens as well. Allotment gardens are a place to meet with people and they provide a place for getting reconnected with nature. In addition to this, some allotment gardens demonstrate the gardener’s individual imagination of a paradise.
Community gardens provide a neighbourhood a place to meet. They are less a product of professional design and architecture than a result of an accumulated experience of the gardeners [WiMaMe2010, page 40]. The gardeners adapt and shape their community gardens towards their practical need. The people are free to design as they want, because there exists no rules for community gardens. For this reason, a community garden is able to provide a shapeable environment for a local society that meets their desires. The result of the garden will emphasize the feeling of identity within a group. Communication is a very important part of a community garden. Most of them organize meetings and workshops. Very well organized community gardens document their activities and infrastructure on the internet. The benefit of this digital communication is explored in chapter 3 in more detail.
The term urban gardening is strongly related to community gardens, but can also be assigned to the approach of small-scale farms. Beyond the food production of a community garden, designers and urban planners work heavily on alternative methods of food production within an urban environment. Their identifying marks are automatic nutrient management systems. The “City Farming Modules” (2003) by N55 is a modular plant set, which makes use of the city based water system. Their modules can be placed everywhere in the city and can be relocated without any special efforts [WiMaMe2010, pages 136-139]. Another example of urban gardening is the automated hydroponics system “Urban Agriculture Curtains” (2009) by Bohn & Viljoen Architects. They applied the vertical garden idea to windows and other walls in an interior design of urban housings [WiMaMe2010, pages 44-45].
An extreme form of urban gardening is called Guerrilla Gardening. Guerrilla gardeners use usually abandoned areas or other small places in an urban environment for growing plants. For their activities they do not have the legal right and therefore the actions belong more to activism than gardening. Beyond their motivation, Guerrilla Gardening provides a huge set of inspiration and approaches how plants can be involved in an urban landscape [KlEhBo2011]. Additionally, they developed their own set of horticulture techniques for their actions. For instance the usage of seed bombs is very popular in the Guerrilla Gardening community [WiMaMe2010, pages 58].
Basic horticulture techniques
Until now we explored the cultural aspects of gardening, but horticulture also includes the techniques and approaches of growing plants. A summary of all horticulture techniques is beyond this thesis. For that reason we will introduce the most important techniques related to Human Plant Interfaces in chapter 3. The list of techniques is based on the book “Principles of Horticulture” by C. R. Adams, Katherine Bamford and M. P. Early [AdBaEa2011].
Everyone knows that water supply is crucial for a plant. Unfortunately, the correct watering is not as simple as it seems. Every plant species has its own preferences for the appropriate nutrient and pH values of the water. The same is valid for the suitable usage of fertilizer. It is the professional task of botany scientists and gardeners to document these plant preferences for successful plant cultivation.
Beside the consistent of water, soil is as much important as the nutrient itself. The soil takes over the role of a nutrient storage for the plant. Not every plant can grow in the same ground. Other plants need turf as a nutrient storage system. Furthermore, soil serves as a stable environment to the roots. If the soil is too hard or too dense, the roots of the plant cannot grow properly and has a negtive influence on plant growth and health.
Another important impact on plant growth is light and temperature. Both factors correlate with each other. Generally, places with much light are warmer places. A gardener has to consider the temperatures during the seasons and the light irritation on plants. Usually, regional plants are fully adapted to the climate changes during the seasons. Only the light condition has to be considered for each plant species. Some plants grow better or others worse under direct sun light.
Moreover, the mutual interaction between plants and other species can be positive or negative. Plant arrangement is a crucial method for gardeners. Some plants steal the nutrient in the soil from each other and different types of plants support each other. The human kind gathered a comprehensive knowledge about the correct plant arrangement. Computer software like Garden Planner can help the gardener in organizing the correct plant alignment.
Furthermore, an appropriate plant preparation protects the garden against herbivore in a natural way. A protection against other bigger animals is also in the domain of horticulture. The gathered knowledge provides construction solutions for protecting plants against snails, birds, hares, and bigger animals like a deer.
Another approach of plant protection is the usage of pesticides. Pesticides have got a bad reputation over the last years. The damage and danger for the ecosystem and for humans has to be considered before pesticides can be used. Nevertheless, pesticides are a common and still valid tool against plant diseases and herbivores.
After all, the method of plant reproduction is the most important method for keeping a garden alive in medium to long terms. Plant reproduction happen through seeds, seedlings, rhizome or sexual reproductions. The suitable methods depend on the plant species and are well documented by gardener’s literature.
Horticulture and gardening as a design tool for interaction design
The exploration of horticulture revealed its strong relation to social interactions. Gardens provide a comfortable space for humans to meet and communicate. For this reason, gardens present an interesting place for embedding digital technology to this kind of communication. Furthermore gardens provide a suitable environment for connecting digital technology with nature, as artists and landscape architects accomplished already with nature and art.
[Flagler1994] Flagler, J. & Poincelot, R., (1994). People-plant relationships: setting research priorities. Food Products Press, 1994.
[Nemitz2000] Nemitz, Barbara (2000). trans plant. Living Vegetation in Contemporary Art. Hatje Cantz, 2000.
[WiMaMe2010] Witzgall, Susanne; Matzner, Florian; Meder, Iris (2010). (Re)Designing Nature - Aktuelle Positionen der Naturgestaltung in Kunst und Landschaftsarchitektur. Hatje Cantz, 2010.
[KlEhBo2011] Klanten, R.;Ehmann, S.;Bolhöfer, K. (2011). My Green City: Back to Nature with Attitude and Style. Gestalten, 2011.
[AdBaEa2011] Adams, C. R.;Bamford, Katherine; Early, M. K. (2011). Principles of Horticulture. Crc Press, 2011.