Social gardening is more than friends and neighbours growing food together. It is time out from the concerns of production and efficiency, and an invitation to attend to the mystery of life. It is about nurturing resilience, life’s ability to bounce back from shock or stress.
Resilience is an inherent property of natural organisms and systems – it is not something we can produce. We can avoid weakening these systems, however. And, especially in the case of social systems, we can enhance their resilience by means of careful acts of nurturing that resemble gardening: preparing the soil, sowing seeds, regulating exposure to sunlight and shadow, watering and nourishing the shoots, putting compatible plants together, pruning, hoeing, and finally, beautifying the garden, because we thrive not just from the fruits of a garden but also through the care we give it. Each of these gardening acts can be a metaphor for a related social act. Consider, for example, how hoeing a garden and harmonizing plants by size and colour resembles how we organize a party. And ensuring that the plants are surrounded by suitable companions is surely the equivalent of creating diverse places of belonging in our communities!
Urban planners like Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs were practitioners of social gardening. As Beth Porter reminds us: “Jacobs consistently opted for the micro over the macro, convinced that if we look after the former the latter will take care of itself. If we create healthy neighbourhoods, a city will be healthy; if cities are healthy, the benefits will flow into the larger entities. She believed that there is a natural order to human community. She argued, ‘big cities are natural generators of diversity and prolific incubators of new enterprises and ideas of all kinds… [for] in cities so many people are so close together, and among them contain so many different tastes, skills, needs, supplies, and bees in their bonnets.” (The Life and Death of Great American Cities)