Nazi Garden Designers Halts Alien Invasion
As TV and Newspapers feed our fears over the latest introduced ‘Superbug’, this one from India, we’re forced again to question as a nation how to keep these invaders out.
These are legitimate concerns. However, if you also choose to listen to the angry response from New Delhi over our media’s hyped up reports, you could also view the whole affair as part of a pattern developed by the press every time that we’re at risk from something alien, whether that’s jobs, diseases or terrorism. For a long time now there have been obvious concerns voiced that the stories accumulate to create long-term cultural prejudices in society.
The examples of the destructive impact that non-native invasive species of plants or pests can have on our flora are very real and many. And counter to this we know through recent research that non-native plants don’t actually have much of a diverse affect on our gardens’ eco-systems.
But what about the cultural impact on landscape design- if we’re living in an age of media saturation, can we really expect our designs not to be swayed by these stories?
I say this in response to something that James Hitchmough shed light on at a symposium at the London College of Garden Design recently, and it made me question ‘creative’ decisions I’ve made at my own practice. He asked that we should ensure that drives for native only planting don’t have any ‘nationalistic’ motives. I’d never considered it before, believing that there was no other subtext in promoting this ‘purity’ other than ecology and a sense of place.
But I was uncomfortably enlightened further when I read an account in Susan Herrington’s essential book On Landscapes of the native planting drive in the 1930s by the Third Reich. She recounts how they recreated pre-industrial landscapes in order to galvanise National Socialism and legitimize notions of racial superiority in connection with understanding nature. It promoted the idea that National Socialist Germans were just good forest people from a fertile north which should be protected from the rootless Jews of the desert. The Third Reich landscape designers were honoured for being especially gifted in interpreting nature and recreating it in their designs, and their work was even considered of military importance.
Guidelines were created, ‘Rules of Design for the Landscape’, to ensure that only native plants were used in a ‘close to nature style’. Alien plants along highways, parks and rural areas were exterminated and replaced, becoming symbols of the Third Reich’s good handling of nature that was morally superior to others.
This is obviously an extreme scenario, and it’s worth taking a look at the Wikipedia page on Jens Jensen to read arguments to suggest that this is just “an imaginary conspiracy in Ecological Design”. But it illustrates the point that even the most natural looking gardens, whether from Eighteenth century Britain or the Third Reich, express the culture of the time, and the aspirations of the designer and client.
My question is, when observers look back at the naturalistic gardens of the beginning of the 21st century, what they will read our underlying intentions to be?