Gardening "Natives": Issues of Hybridity, History, and Invasiveness in New England



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Typically defined as how native people use their plants, ethnobotany has traditionally offered alternative and new perspectives from far-off lands, often with a focus on medicinal and pragmatic uses. Over the years,though, the discipline has become more concerned with any relationship between plants and people.This project emerges from this more general concern, and one of its goals is to invert the definition of ethnobotany, moving from how native people use their plants to how people use native plants. Exploring the various motivations that lead a person in New England towards native plant gardening, I ask, why do they choose native plants? How do people constitute plants as native, invasive, and/or exotic ? Since my analysis draws on the theory of critical discourse analysis (CDA), I conceptualize the topic of native plant gardening as comprised of multiple discourses. These discourses are intertwined or entangled with one another like vines or strands in constant motion forming a discursive milling mass [and] it is this mass that discourse analysis endeavors to untangle1. Drawing on the research gained from standard anthropological methods, primarily participant-observation as well as structured and unstructured interviews, I examine the discourses native plant gardeners use to justify their choices or explain their rationale for gardening. I then trace how the choice whether to cultivate native plants or not can be extrapolated to reflect wider concerns. For instance, the recurring emphasis on non-cultivars, as opposed to cultivars (which are seen as non-hardy, prone to diseases), is frequently framed in terms of genetics, a discourse which originated in academia and has since been appropriated for broader public use. I am not interested in whether or not genetics can actually be used to support the claim that non-cultivars are superior to cultivars, but rather how the connection to genetic information is seen as defensible, a claim to validation. How does this reflect how New Englanders regard the sciences? Why mention genetics? What is the history of that connection? By investigating various discourses nature: culture, hybridity, science and aesthetics specifically how they feed into the history and motivations behind wild flower gardening, I hope to add to the knowledge surrounding ethnobotany. My findings can facilitate the understanding of what prompts individuals to garden and how cultural discourses play into those motivations. ________________________ 1 Jäger, Siegfried. Discourse and knowledge: theoretical and methodological aspects of a critical discourse and dispositive analysis. In Methods and critical discourse analysis, edited by Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer, 32-61. London: Sage Publications, 2001.