The garden is where we can impart to others our knowledge of family tradition, and where we can briefly withdraw from the perplexities of the outside world; it is where we plant a seed which we hope will someday flower into a more beautiful landscape, and a more harmonious community. -J.B. Jackson
 
Whether you’re an avid gardener or just enjoy taking in the sights and sounds of a local public garden, we all have memories and experiences shaped by the gardens and green spaces around us. Since the time of the “founding gardeners,” gardeners and gardens have played an important role in shaping American culture. Today, amidst a renewed interest in greening our communities and our own backyards, gardens continue to help us understand the American experience. Community of Gardens, a digital archive hosted by Smithsonian Gardens in partnership with our Archives of American Gardens, is a project designed to preserve our diverse garden heritage.

Gardens and green spaces are important parts of our everyday lives that we invest with meaning and memories through their creation and use over time.  Yet whether we intend them to be or not, gardens are also ephemeral, constantly changing with the seasons, weather events, neighborhood development, and of course our own desire to transform and update the places we inhabit. Often times, the important stories, designs, and memories embodied in our gardens go undocumented when these changes fade from memory. Your participation in this project will contribute to the preservation of American garden history and enable historians, landscape architects, artists, designers, and garden enthusiasts to learn from the ways that gardens and gardeners of all backgrounds have shaped America’s landscape.

Your Gardens. Your Stories.
In the broadest sense, a garden is a patch of earth designed and cultivated by people. A garden can be anything from a cluster of containers bursting with herbs on a balcony, to a rose garden tended for a century, or a backyard lawn with a play set and patio. Whether it’s the story of your own garden, the memory of your grandmother’s garden, a plant that plays an important role in your life, or a community garden in your neighborhood, we want to hear (and see) your garden stories!

We are asking for your help in preserving the fleeting history of gardens in our country by contributing images, stories, videos, and oral histories related to gardens and gardening. User-generated material forms the body of this participatory archive. Accepted garden stories will be accessible to researchers, students, and the interested public through the archive and could become part of an exhibit or featured on Smithsonian Gardens’ blog and social media feeds.

Here are some ideas of the types of stories we are interested in:

  • What’s growing in your yard? How did you design and shape your home place to fit your needs and preferences? How do you use your garden?
  • Have you created or been involved with a community garden? What is its story? How did you build support for it and get others involved? How has it changed your neighborhood?
  • Did you come to the United States from a different country? What traditions have shaped your garden? Have any of your gardening methods changed over time?
  • How has living or traveling in a different region of the country or abroad shaped your ideas about gardening?
  • Is there a story behind an heirloom plant that has been passed down from generation to generation in your family?
  • What was your garden or back yard like growing up? Your grandparent’s garden?  Was there a specific person or event that inspired your love of gardening?
  • Is there a person who has shaped the way you garden? Have they made a difference in their community by their gardening efforts? 
  • Do you pass a garden or green space on your way to work or school that brightens your day? Is there a space in your community where you go to relax or exercise? How are green spaces important to your life?

We hope that the project will encourage you to get your hands dirty and go out to unearth the everyday, untold stories in your own community. Submit your story or learn more about the submission process here. Send us an email at communityofgardens@si.edu if you have questions.

How Does Community of Gardens Differ from the Archives of American Gardens?
The Archives of American Gardens (AAG) is primarily a photographic archive, managed by Smithsonian Gardens. AAG includes documentation on over 7,500 diverse gardens and cultural landscapes in America as well as other international gardens that have influenced the roots of American garden design. Gardens documented in the AAG include the work of everyday people, collaborations between owners and designers, and garden photographers, as well as notable designers. Community of Gardens is an ambitious new initiative that builds on the tradition of garden documentation found in AAG by preserving stories and images related to vernacular gardens – the places and spaces that are a part of our everyday lives.

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