If the maintenance of a landscape condition is understood as the sum collaboration of its components (birds, bees, flowers, trees, 2, 4-D), then a maintenance design practice understands these landscaping agents as the palette of instruments. We’re all quite familiar with conventional maintenance techniques (mowing, hedging, spraying, cleaning…) and technology–to the point that we overlook their transformative potential– but if we are to break away from purely formal explorations of these tools (i.e. drawing with lawn mowers) we have to employ a broader range of instruments, and that means knowing what we are specifically working with on site.
One studies the rock, carefully assessing its weak and solid points, the cost of selecting one path over another, the safety concerns of workers, the availability of drill bits needed for specific tunneling methods, and other such factors. The engineer is not a free-floating mastermind of stockpile and calculation, as Heidegger imagines. Instead, the engineer must negotiate with the mountain at each stage of the project, testing to see where the rock resists and where it yields, and is quite often surprised by the behavior of the rock.„,
Nothing is pure calculation, nothing follows directly from anything else, nothing is a transparent intermediary. Everything is a mediator, demanding its share of reality as we pass through it toward our goal. Every medium must be negotiated, just as air and water strike back at the vehicles that traverse them.
— Graham Harman, “Prince of Networks: the Metaphysics of Latour,” 18
While the transects at middle field are cute and all, even striking at times, their origin was entirely as an orientation device for population sampling, and their maintenance is entirely dependent on that activity. Their orientation reflects the mower’s response to slope and they will continue to evolve as these plots are sampled. The purpose of the sample is of course to understand and document the baseline conditions of the site — principally the palette of plants over several environmental gradients — but also to document the landscape response to various maintenance techniques. The maintenance series is experimental not in the typical designer jargon of “let’s see what crazy shit I can do” but in the scientific, Latourian sense, requiring direct observation (sampling, experiment) to determine what is really happening. And in the course of this sampling, I was rewarded with a confirmation of my intuition and the collapse of several assumptions that were gleaned from my original general survey of the site.
As described previously, the point of mowing the shaded zones of middle field is not simply a formal exercise (although its figure did appeal to my aesthetic sensibilities), but based on the knowledge that a core organizing factor for grasses is the presence of sunlight. Shaded areas not only limit particular species in favor of others, but their overall vigor is reduced, reducing their height (especially following a cut), and allowing for forbs and woody species to more easily invade. The condition I discovered during my first visit was not a gradual fade from forest to shrub to grassland as is often idealized in environmental gradient sections, but an inversion of this representation where the sunniest interior of the meadow was the highest, gradually reducing in height to a stark, bush-hogged edge.
My hypothesis is that by maintaining the shaded areas at a low grass/high mow height (3-6″), you could maintain the integrity and diversity of this zone, while allowing the sunny meadow to further diversify with the warm-season grasses and forbs that are currently marginalized through summer mowing. This could have practical implications for shrinking municipalities facing an increased vacant mowing obligation, or the aging suburbanite tired of mowing the entire lawn but still longing for some refuge to prospect from. It explores emergent form by continually responding to an increase in canopy, and experiments with a hybrid, flowering/bushy/grassy/viney/hedge/lawn which reflects the biodiversity of this edge condition.
The samples revealed the richness and complexity of this meadow under invasion from the forest reservoir and the striking correlation between sun, meadow height and population composition. Also discussed previously, this is a landscape of weeds of primarily Euro/Asian origins, the most helpful resource being the Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide. There is a cultural and ecological history to each species, many attracting us through their aesthetic qualities.
Weed ecology is perhaps the clearest example that pre-modern aversions to wilderness never left, just changed rooms. It’s a strange and sloppy theory that weeds are somehow anti-environmental, that somehow evolutionary and ecological theory is suspended for these species that refuse to play fairly, taking on a life of their own after hitching a ride on the human vector.
Working with the genetic diversity of weed landscapes allows for far more ecological potential than the traditional restoration model in that it is the opposite of horticulture — the systematic narrowing of genetic traits for ornament, economical production, and installation tolerance. These pioneers are born out of the site, promiscuously reproducing and expanding their adaptability to the local, why shouldn’t these novel ecologies be eligible for inclusion in our plant palette as global climate change undermines all plant communities of the past?