I live on the edge of the South Downs National Park. Right on the edge. On one side is open landscape, mainly cultivated agricultural farmland, but very quickly you come across evidence of human dwellings and a sense of domestic space.
There’s a road I like to walk down with my dog, as you come off the Downs to the edge of a town that sprung up out of nowhere in the 1950s. On one side is unmaintained scrubland: overgrown wild plants jostling for space and sunlight, encroaching onto the path. The plantscape shifts weekly with the changing seasons, in both shape, texture and colour, as different plants shoot up, then die back and their space is replaced by a nearby competitor. Periodically they are slashed back in a particularly unsentimental fashion, a reclaiming of space and boundary by someone with a strimmer or hedge cutter - wild ‘nature’ in battle with the cyborg-human. It’s always a shame when they’ve been overzealous with the cutting. The noises die right back then, too - fewer insects, less habitat, fewer critters creeping, rustling, buzzing…
The other side of the road is punctuated by houses, with neat gardens of cultivated and carefully maintained plants and neatly trimmed, striped lawns. The crossover of these two spaces is interesting: the boundary between and the encroachment of one space onto another. These gardens in particular are curated in such a way that is distinguished from and rarely acknowledges the plants, surface, texture and materials of the landscape around it. The plants are noticeably more colourful and luscious looking than the wild plantscape, with the odd palm tree: our taste of the tropics in East Sussex. Collected from all over the world by the 19th century plant hunters, cultivated here for popular consumption and today distributed from a local garden centre for everyone to enjoy, no doubt the plants have been carefully selected by these gardeners to provide their characteristically spectacular display of colour and scent. Each garden is like a bright pixel in an altogether spiker, overgrown and more hostile surround, like Foucault’s ‘heterotopia’: a world within a world, seemingly incompatible, but occupying the same environmental space and subjected to the same biophysical conditions. ‘Undesirable’ wild plants that encroach into these spaces - transported as airborne seeds, or by passing animals - are called ‘weeds’ and are typically exterminated. Sometimes you get a pioneer from the cultivated lot who envies the freedom of the world outside their own pixelated pocket and make a break for it. These brave cultivars crop up in the wild plantscape like beacons, migrating into a new world and indicating how close to domestic life you really are.
As I continue my journey along the path the landscape becomes seemingly more rural once again. I can still see the evidence of this plant spillover, like Where’s Wally in the scrub, and the odd dog poo, in a plastic bag, tied to a bush.
For collaborative writing as part of The AntiMA, July 2020.