Migrant Sanctuary Garden: Concept

Migrant Sanctuary Garden: Concept

This project is currently in the works at the International Forest Art Center, Darmstadt, Germany. This site is incomplete and will be updated as the project progresses.

A project developed for The International Forest Art Centre, Darmstadt, Germany and presented at The International Forest Art Path Symposium, 2018, by SporaStudios.

German cities, including Darmstadt, have hosted many immigrants in recent years. Meanwhile, it is well known that the United States has responded to the migrant crisis by criminalizing immigrants and blaming them for seeking refuge from catastrophes that, all too often, the United States had no small part in creating. At the heart of the rhetoric, which seeks to excuse the inhumane treatment of immigrants, is the language of the Other, the “alien” outsider, the scapegoat for society’s problems, who, given the chance, would “invade” and “takeover” one’s “way of life”, and one’s “native country”. We recognize this rhetoric, its political dimension, and its manifestation into violence the world over. And yet many well-intentioned people, who otherwise would condemn such terms in reference to the social world, wholeheartedly embrace such terms regarding the natural world.

The the cold war era institutionalization of invasion biology helped to codify a conservative and militaristic language to describe the rapidly changing ecosystems of the 20th century. In recent decades, ecologists have begun challenging some of conservation biology’s fundamental concepts and terms. The long-held belief in the “balance of nature”, has been overturned and replaced with ecological flux. The idea that co-evolution of indigenous species is the only successful driver of ecosystems is now challenged with research on “novel ecosystems” populated with migrant species and chance encounters made successful through “ecological fitting” rather than inherent qualities tied to species origin. It seems that ecosystems are much more symbiotic, fluid, random, and adaptable than previously thought and that many of nature’s “weeds” provide essential ecosystem services. Some ecologists are even asking if many of those perceived alien invaders, with their tenacity, rapid biomass production, and ability to grow in the most inhospitable conditions, might be part of the answer to some of our most pressing problems, soil depletion, climate change, biosphere toxification and other effects of industrial society. Could it be that like migrating humans, migrating plants and animals are scapegoated for being the cause rather than a symptom of much larger forces at work? Climate change alone will certainly necessitate the relocation of species if they are to be saved. Will we look to the value of the “aliens” in our midst and see what they might have to offer for our new “wild” spaces, or will we continue to wage war aimed at conserving or recreating a natural history that may be ill-equipped to deal with a rapidly changing planet?

The art of permaculture gives us concepts and practical methods for dealing with the failure of industrial society to integrate the needs of humans with the needs of the environment. The “man vs. nature” paradigm has ended in a slaughter of nature, and yet the war is carried on employing the newest technologies and asserting now, with species invasions, that nature needs to be protected from nature itself. Industrial society’s inability to form sustainable relationships and interactions of humans with their environment is epitomized by its contradictory pursuit of industrial agriculture on one side and the nature preserve on the other – both heavily managed by humans to reflect a view of what “culture” and “nature” should be, but rarely introduced to one another. Permaculture offers that introduction with its concept of the “forest garden” or the “food forest”, which demonstrates that human sustenance and functional ecosystems needn’t be segregated or mutually exclusive. The forest garden eschews the polarities of farm vs. forest, wild vs. domestic, and native vs. alien, and ultimately “culture vs. nature” in an effort to focus on the functionality of ecosystems and how we might build a culture of positive and mutually productive interactions between people and the environments on which we depend.

The Migrant Sanctuary Garden is populated by many plants that have, often with the help of humans, migrated to Darmstadt from locations around the world. The selected plants are hosted by indigenous trees of the forest and assembled together in plant “guilds”, a permaculture term for designed cooperative plant communities that mimic ecosystem structures and functions, while integrating human use – in this case, as food and medicine. A synthesis of the concepts of wilderness and agriculture, whether it be called permaculture, ecological farming, agroforestry, or something else, shows promise for the future in terms of finding new ways of aligning the interests of humans the natural systems that sustain us. Urban settings such as Darmstadt, that have significant green space and communities interested in sustainability, are ideal settings for exploring how our landscapes can provide both for people and nature, bringing people closer to that which sustains them while building a more sustainable world.