Do you remember the garden?
A downloadable game
A collaborative storytelling/cultivation game for three or more players.
History teems with tales of lost and destroyed gardens. Mesolithic hazel coppices, obliterated by the rise of plantation-style industrial agriculture. Urban community gardens in modern-day California, bulldozed by property developers. Imperial Chinese gardens decked with the cultural trappings of the European nations that would later raze them. Green spaces in abandoned MMOs that now exist purely between the lines of forum debates about allotment etiquette. This loosely collaborative writing/drawing game is an opportunity to remember and re-cultivate those gardens as spaces for sociable art-making and communal reflection about gardening as a practice. It is designed to be melancholy yet hopeful.
Three or more players are required, plus writing/drawing materials and perhaps, access to some kind of literature or information media on gardens (e.g. a phone with an internet connection).
Two players are gardeners, who cultivate a garden in the minds of their listeners by remembering it to each other in an evolving dialogue. Gardeners take turns to select a single phrase from the list of materials below. If you like, you can initiate the round by saying “Do you remember the garden?”
Each phrase can either be vocalised as given, vocalised in part, or used purely as inspiration for your own flight of fancy and/or morsel of botanical insight. If preferred, turns can have time limits: 30 seconds to decide what to say and say it, for example.
Gardeners don't confer before the round – the point is to collaborate within the dialogue. You should aim to assert your own goals for the garden while responding to the other gardener. One gardener might decide to describe a water source for a plant mentioned by the other storyteller, for example. Or you might respond to a description of the garden's aristocratic grandeur by talking about how convenient it is for working parents. You can also randomise the selection process by cutting up a print-out and having gardeners draw phrases from a bag.
Each gardener has four turns, if you're picking from my list, but you are allowed any number of extra turns if you're basing descriptions on your own, independent research into lost or destroyed gardens. Providing, that is, the other gardener can say something in response for each additional turn you take, and providing you don't wear out the patience of the players listening.
The listening players, meanwhile, attempt to draw, write about or otherwise respond to the garden that is being described to them, either after or during the “gardening” phase. There are no rules about these responses: they could take the form of a top-down blueprint or a perspective from within the garden, a naturalistic close-up of a flower or an exercise in symbolism, a scientific commentary or a song. They don't have to involve language or drawing at all. Once every listening player has finished composing a response (again, you might want to set a time limit – say five minutes), you can share and discuss them. Others can then have a go at being gardeners.
This is a work-in-progress thrown together as part of research toward a deck of garden poetry cards. The phrase list below is taken or derived from accounts of lost or destroyed gardens, and explores benign and less benign manifestations of gardening over many thousands of years. If you have feedback on the concept or rules, or accounts of lost or destroyed gardens to share, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to hear from you.
Do you remember the garden?
...its heart of marble housing birds who sang like lost machines
...with pause places allowing no definition of territory or any sense of belonging to individuals
...including calabash, sopadilla and pudding grass, with cactus patches for natural fencing and as food
...the approach sloped like a hillside, and several parts arising one from another, tier on tier
...featuring a produce vendor, a shrine dedicated to Friendly, seven mortar barnacles, two peat bogs, and one gas plant
...and here and there were mouths of water, hour by hour
...loaded with bike locks, chains and huge cement blocks to lock ourselves into the structure should the need arise
...consisting of four quadrants formally divided by waterways or pathways, its architecture characterised by refined details and slender verticality
...with burnt wind and violent sun
...where plants were let to bolt, preserving heirloom seeds to combat the increase of genetically engineered foods
...with water raised in great abundance from the river, although no-one outside could see it
...interrupted by summerhouses built for overlooking the fish that filled the streams and ponds
...featuring a gardening tools vendor, and 62 crop garden plots
...with a cobalt-60 source rising totem-like from the centre of a field planted in concentric circles
...the grass permanently green and the leaves of trees firmly attached to supple branches
...with diverse nut and fruit assemblages such as chestnut, carob, almond, fig, olive, hazel and cork oak, which allowed for livestock grazing beneath them
...its quiet green heart which all dwellings share and look into
...where ancient grains like emmer, einkorn, and barley were grown together with peas and lentils
...all securely raised on arched vaults rising from checkered cube foundations
...in an area filled with vacant warehouses
...with miniaturizations of magical realms associated with the universe, immortals and good fortune
...with model villages of eunuchs
...with an air raid bunker eight metres underground
...home to many frog-sitters, who gathered around the campfire with resident artists, working people and students during the nights
...its small plots cultivated for vast lengths with hand tools, crop rotations and fertilization from livestock manure, compost and night soil
...with a huge range of test materials, from crops to ornamentals: peaches, grapes, blueberries, sugar maples, barley, corn, wheat, violets, gladiolus
...not just a patch of green on a brown landscape or a clever bit of utopian protest art, but a schoolhouse for this particular community
...the labour of cultivation suspended above the heads of the spectators
...which in aerial view uncannily resembled the radiation danger symbol
...with a giant coqui over the front entrance, looking out and protecting it from bulldozers
...with hedgerows providing a crucial corridor for wildlife, connecting the few patches of natural space that remain
New World Encyclopedia, “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon”, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon
Khan Academy, “The European Palaces of the Qianlong Emperor, Beijing”,
Atomic Gardens: An Online History, “Government Gamma Gardens”, https://www.atomicgardening.com/1958/10/01/rebuilding-plants/
Uncube Magazine, “Surviving South Central: the rise, fall, and rise of a Los Angeles urban garden”, https://www.uncubemagazine.com/blog/12844525
More Gardens, “Espranza”, https://www.moregardens.org/espranza/
Terrain, “Elegy for a Garden”, https://www.terrain.org/essays/13/light.htm
Shelterwood Forest Farm, “The lost forest gardens of Europe”, https://www.shelterwoodforestfarm.com/blog/the-lost-forest-gardens-of-europe#The-Continent-Wide-Orchard
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, “Pasargadae”, https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1106/
Municipal Dreams, “Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar: ‘an exemplar – a demonstration of a more enjoyable way of living'”, https://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/robin-hood-gardens-poplar-an-exemplar-a-demonstration-of-a-more-enjoyable-way-of-living/
Traces of Evil, “The Führerbunker”, https://www.tracesofevil.com/2009/10/site-of-hitlers-bunker-fuhrerbunker.html
Image credit: Martin Heemskerck, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (detail)
|Tags||garden, poetry, storytelling|
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