Gardening to Remember, Gardening to Forget Gardening as Memory Work in Contemporary Fiction

deadline for submissions: 
September 1, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Dr. Deniz Gundogan Ibrisim, Sabanci University

Gardening is generally considered as an affective-material labor whereby, plants, soil, matter, and objects are transformed—through practices of care, love, and attention—into new well-planned landscapes, vegetation, and a good harvest.  Even though early writing, in Latin and Greek was more concerned with agriculture than gardening, writing about gardens has a long history in France and England, an tends to be rhetorical — in an attempt to tie the beauty and harmony found in great landscapes to higher artistic pursuits. In the nineteenth century England, for instance, for the poet John Ruskin (“Of Queen’s Gardens”, 1865) gardens were representative of the home and shelter; shelter from the anxieties of the outer life that attempt to penetrate it.  To be sure, this also symbolized the delimitation of women’s social roles to the domestic sphere.

Nevertheless, one of the most important figures in American poetry Emily Dickinson’s gardens served as her poetic laboratory where her personal, physical world was juxtaposed to her immense universe of thought and imagination. Dickinson’s devotion to flowers and gardening rendered women stories of natural- cultural harmony and social liberation. Edith Wharton’s stunning gardens were considered as her biographical arc, whereas Sackville-West spent much of her adult life tilling, sowing, planting, and nurturing two gardens (Long Barn and then the monumental Sissinghurst) in an effort to find a home and natural space that brought her comfort similar to the estate in which she was raised, and ultimately denied possession because of primogeniture. Gardening offers here a feminine space of withdrawal from the restrictions of patriarchy, male-dominated world view and the fashion of the "Angel of the House" in which women were perceived as immensely sympathetic, immensely charming, utterly unselfish to love, honour and obey h their husband in the household.

And yet, there are varied roots and routes to gardening throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Trinidad and Tobago–born British writer V. S. Naipaul points to Suriname landscape in his travelogue The Middle Passage (1962) and writes as follows: “There is slavery in the vegetation,” and he continues: “In the sugarcane … in the breadfruit … in … a clump of cashew trees … [and] star-apple trees.” Naipaul addresses here what he calls the “reminders” of enforced agricultural labor in the Caribbean, embedded in “every side of big house and slave quarters” and in the natural landscape. Gardening here makes visible the entrenched legacies of colonialism and imperialism. Likewise, through plants, flora, and seed collecting as well as commingling of native and nonnative plants Antiguan-American novelist, Jamaica Kincaid showcases a different “herstory” while foregrounding environmental and cultural colonization of the Caribbean and offering an alternate model of reading postcolonial environmental literature.

Zygmunt Bauman’s reading of modernity as a control-obsessed “garden culture” (Modernity and the Holocaust, 1989) provides a theoretical linkage that may open up some of Bauman’s wide-ranging and incisive critical thinking to the more-than human realm, to environmentally attuned audience. Bauman argues that the modern society should be thought of as a web of gardens where each garden has a certain design, and each gardener is responsible for the maintenance and order of that design. The gardener or the government here applies rational methods based on scientific knowledge to create optimal conditions of growth for the plants/people: but not for every plant. In particular, the gardener decides what is useful and non-useful while deciding on the exclusion of “wild growth” or “weeds” which are not tolerated in his garden. The organization and technical features of modernity thus enables a constellation of human morality while producing a constellation of warfare and “holocausts.” Bauman’s argument here renders the gardening state as the tool of modern state, rationality, and rational order.

For Donna Haraway, however, gardening is perceptible in the “natureculture” and “intra-actional” aspects of the “becoming-with and the ontology of the gardens. Haraway suggests that gardens play a major role in organizing and providing socio-aesthetic support systems for human life (2016; 2018). Within her prominent book Staying with the trouble Haraway refers to our all task as "to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present” (2016). Gardens here involve the myriad of continuously changing entanglements and alternative presents and relations between places, times, matters, and meanings all of which is already there and make us re-think relations and hierarchies towards inter-dependencies and entanglements (in particular through environmental humanities, new materialism, posthumanism, feminist technoscience, and so forth).

Haraway also draws on Jim Clifford, stating “we need stories (and theories) that are just big enough to gather up the complexities and keep the edges open and greedy for surprising new and old connections” (2015). With Haraway we continue to question what could be possible within a more open-ended, messy, and critically nuanced approach to “gardening” in the twentieth and twenty-first century literature, especially in the Anthropocene— which marks the current geological era in the history of the planet in which humans as a collective are said to have become a geophysical force on a planetary scale. This special issue aims to develop and foreground “gardening” first as an affective-material labour, and more importantly as memory work to unlock and negotiate binaries such as nature and culture, the Other and the Self, oppressed–oppressor, mentally ill–normal, and able-bodied–disabled and so forth in the age of the Anthropocene. Moreover, with its emphasis on “gardening” this issue seeks to foreground uncomfortable silences and legacies of violent histories, including imperialism, colonialism, slavery as well as current pressing environmental concerns such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and destruction of ecosystems.

Possible Topics For Submissions 

We invite contributions, focusing on the practices, processes, and subjects of “gardening” often in tandem with thinking from feminist, queer, postcolonial, decolonial and Indigenous studies. We are interested in literary and cultural engagements with the question of gardening. The topics for submissions include, but are not limited to:

  • Gardening as memory work
  • Gardening as resilience; gardening and resilient histories; gardening as counter archive
  • Gardening as activism
  • Gardening and storytelling
  • Gardening as trauma; gardening and working-through trauma
  • Gardening and planetary grief
  • Gardening and environmental justice; gardening and climate justice
  • Gardening as futuristic products
  • The time of gardening; non-/posthuman, animist temporalities
  • Memory gardens
  • Gardening in diaspora
  • Gardens as spaces of exclusion and inclusion
  • Community gardens
  • Gardening as techno-organic hybridity
  • Decolonizing gardening; critical race perspectives on gardening
  • Queering gardening

Timeline for Submissions

  • Indications of interest are invited by September 1, 2022. The indications of interest should include an abstract (300-500 words) and a short bio. Please send your documents and other inquiries or questions to
  • The editors will communicate to the authors whether the abstracts have been accepted by October 1, 2022. 
  • The authors are requested to submit their articles by May 1, 2023.
  • The editorial and blind peer-review process will take place after May 1, with final manuscripts to be completed by October 1, 2023.