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Roots en route: Circulation of plants with history in private gardens

Conference contribution
Authors Katarina Saltzman
Published in Paper presenterat vid Critical Heritage Studies Conference, Canberra, Australien 2-4 december 2014.
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Conservation
Language en
Subject categories Ethnology


Despite their rootedness, plants do move and are moved. This paper will discuss people’s relations to plants in motion, within and between gardens. Garden plants as well as other garden items are today circulated on a highly commercialised market with limited local connections. On this market, the demand for heritage related aspects, such as plant varieties with a historical record, is increasingly high. Gardens inevitably challenge boundaries and categorizations separating nature from culture. Plants are not always planted, they also move by themselves within and between gardens, through spreading seeds, winding roots or rhizomes. As such, they can be regarded as welcome contributions, or as fierce intruders that need to be controlled. In an on-going research project, examining interactions between people, plants and other actors in contemporary private gardens in Sweden, we have investigated how people relate to change and heritage in their home gardens, and how plants with a connection to the past are managed in relation to current trends as well as to the variability and dynamics of a living environment. The project is inspired by an Australian research project (Head & Muir 2007) on nature/culture relations in backyard gardens. Many garden owners have stories to tell about specific plants – eg grandma’s peony or the rhubarb from back home – often telling where it came from, how it has been cared for, and possibly also how it has been reproduced and spread to others. Such plants are often regarded as relics or souvenirs and might best be understood in terms of a private heritage making process. Parallel to the commercial activities connected to gardening, garden plants are also circulated in more informal ways. Many garden owners share seeds, bulbs, cuttings and plants from their own garden with others, either as gifts or selling them for example through the internet, and these specimens often come with a story. In this paper I will discuss the uses of heritage in different kinds of circulation of plants with history, in connection to contemporary private gardens.

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