Everyone seems to be talking about movements today, including me. In the 21st century, movements sell. Political parties bank on movements, tidal waves of change in hearts and minds. Movie producers plug actors into multiple franchises, taking advantage of actors’ innate popularity that can make or break a brand. Movements are everywhere. Local activists lobbying for a recycling center or college students petitioning for greater administrative representation hope that their efforts result in wholesale movements of public opinion and perception. All movements rely on three major components, roughly speaking. First, an opportunity. Second, an organizing force unhindered by norms. Third, an interpretive theme.
So what moves gardeners? Sustainable food sources. Sustainable landscapes. Etc. Sense a theme? That’s because someone (or some people) about 15 years ago started floating the word “sustainable” in effort to spur hearts and minds to action. Now soccer moms, business executives, and gardeners hear sustainability almost every day. But what does it mean? We’ve got the first two components covered; 1) an opportunity to change public perception and understanding about humanity’s role in the environment and 2) a tireless throng of millions who readily, and for the good, monopolize our daily lives with talk of meaningful sustainability. But have we done a great job of interpreting what sustainability means to someone who gardens less than six hours a week, or anyone for that matter? I say no, and the field is ripe with potential. We don’t do a great job posing the question either. “What can you do in your garden to be sustainable?” “Um, gee I dunno, start composting?” Great! But where does that leave us? Someone now has the idea that composting, instead of buying fertilizer or other soil additives, is a sustainable practice. Great! But all they have is an idea. Are they spurred to action? Did the question we posed motivate them, or simply put them on the spot? I stand behind nobody in my commitment to sustainable horticulture, which may surprise you given the critical stance I’ve just posed. But too many have already grown complacent about the strategies we use to energize, enlighten, and inspire. Here marks the spot where creativity sulks.
Movements die just as fast as they’re born, often because they lose spirit. The message gets foggy, too many people vie for attention for attention’s sake instead of for the sake of the message, and chaos typifies the brand. Maybe it’s time for a movement about sustainable thinking when it comes to gardening, rather than just a movement about sustainable gardening. Otherwise, what does it all mean?