Sense of Place 

     In days past, when our cities and towns had distinct character, many authors wrote about ‘sense of place’. To my mind, this concept included the combination of the physical characteristics (landform, habitat, etc.) and cultural characteristics of a specific place. While we are certainly losing many of the distinct characteristics that we once had thanks to big box and franchise stores, it remains an important concept to pursue.

     Given that humans and their cultural influences have had, through time and space, profound influence on natural communities (soils, plants, insects, mammals, etc.), it seems reasonable and desirable to me that one would want to understand those influences about the place you call home today. This may be particularly important in contemporary times because of our ease of movement as a species and because of our short term nature. In fact, I think this case can’t be overstated!

     Thus, if you move to a new region, I believe it’s incredibly important to get to know the history-environmental, social, natural of an area. Without understanding this, there is no way to connect with an existing sense of place-only to rewrite over the top of one-this is not healthy for ecosystems in the long or short run. The cultural diversity that is present worldwide is an enormously rich source from which to draw inspiration. Many authors call the intersection of diversities (inherent in gardens and natural areas), biocultural diversity, or the "inextricable link between biological diversity and cultural diversity.

     So, do your research. Find out what cultural groups once lived and now live in the area. Research what plants they brought with them along the way, how they thought about the landscape, what kinds of resources they drew upon to live,what things they did to manage the landscape and more. Research the type of habitat on which you live. Yes, you live in a habitat that is home to organisms other than you. Once you know this, you can begin to assemble plants that are native or typical to the habitat. Plant those and the organisms who relate to them, are adapted to them, will arrive (except in some extreme situations).

     I’m not suggesting that you plant all native plants. In fact, I am suggesting that you plant a mix of natives and those utilized by the cultures that created the original sense of place to a region. In South Carolina, that means that my garden has indigo, rice, sesame, (all non-native crop plants whose origins are African), longleaf pine (native, fire-adapted tree), yellowroot (Native American) and so much more. For a good portion of the things in my garden, I can tie their use directly to a culture. If not that, then I can tie their existence to a specific habitat located in the region. Of course, I’ve been very careful not to plant those things that can get out of control (exotic invasive species, as some say).

     Do this and your actions will have directly benefitted native pollinators, wildlife, soils, etc. And-the culturally interesting plants that you’ve come to know, will give you a greater understanding of those influences on the landscape over time and of the knowledge that cultures other than yours (contemporary) had to have in order to survive and thrive! Once accomplished, you have done your part to maintain the sense of place that is unique to where you live.


© Karen C. Hall, 2010