The Suburban Front Garden: A Socio-Spatial Analysis

in Nature and Culture

This article argues that the physical structure of the front garden and its ecosystem is determined by an ensemble of diverse social and natural processes. The essential social form is that of visuality, an abstract compositional force that provides conventions for assessing objects as well as for reshaping their surface countenance and establishing their location within the garden. Accordingly, the social processes of visuality are materially realized in the labor processes of gardening, while their consumption is mediated through the concrete process of gazing. The identified social processes include the prospect, aesthetic, and panoptic dimensions of visuality. Labor conceives and creates them, while the physical structures and the natural processes reproduce and maintain them beyond the production time attributed to gardening. But they are increasingly undermined by the natural tendency of the plant ecosystem to grow. Consequently, the essential contradiction of the front garden is how the laws and tendencies of the plant ecosystem act as a countertendency to the social forms of visuality. This article demonstrates that beneath the surface appearance, there exists complex relationships between nature and society in this space we call the front garden.