Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Dispatch from Lesotho

I write to you from Lesotho, where I am doing fieldwork with my colleague Dr. Colin Hoag of Smith College (USA).

Lesotho is a country completely surrounded by South Africa. We arrived in Mokhotlong in the mountain highlands around two weeks ago, and at the recommendation of a local friend of Colin we stayed a few days at the Shoeshoe B&B, a nice hotel frequented by government employees when they visit the area. My room was decorated with the two posters above.

They seem to be photoshopped collages, well executed except for some discordance in scales and perspectives. One seems to be the ideal American or Anglo-Saxon garden, with not one but two upmarket suburban homes, a waterwheel, a giant farmyard goose and miniature swans in a pond. The other image draws on an entirely different imaginary of a formal Baroque European garden, with what looks like an ornate unruined ruin, symmetrical flower beds, what looks like a sheep pen but for nobles to step in and out of, and palm trees. The poster in Colin’s room, which I didn’t get a photo of, was the courtyard of a yellow Moorish palace, with incongruous lush flowerbeds, and more palm trees. I don’t know who made these images (there is a line in Arabic on one side of one of them), or for that matter why, or how exactly they ended up in a fancy establishment in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. Perhaps they come from one of the Chinese shops in town. I presume they were sourced from the same place as the 90s-style 3-D placemat of a puppy and a kitten on tree trunks in a temperate-climate park that decorated the room’s tea set.

The ephemera of random cultural allusions, the global circulation of cheap unbranded lifestyle items, the strange propinquities of life, is one of the things that has really struck me here in Lesotho. (I am actually here researching livestock, shrubs and degradation.) Lesotho is not really a country of gardens. It is a mountainous landscape of pastoralism and subsistence agriculture. Yet these collages of garden ideals, in their strange global amalgamation and circulation have arrived here to address themselves to Basotho government employees.

What exactly these images say to your average Basotho person, I don't know. As Colin's friend Sefiri told me, "In Maseru [the capital] maybe it is more Westernised, but up here if a guy picked a flower and gave it to a young woman, she will say, huh? what is this? what am I supposed to do with this?" The meanings and uses of flowers and plants are different here. Maybe to the government employee from Maseru these garden images are simply an allusion to, and part of, the incessant traffic of globalisation's bric-a-brac. But I, for sure, immediately recognise these slightly wacky images as normative garden imaginaries. And at least in the context of my hotel room, they are not making a subversive comment about pervasive ways of seeing nature, beauty, or luxury. They are, it seems to me, honest in their fantasy, and earnest in their fudging of perspective.

The finer things in life, one gathers, are well-travelled hodgepodges. And isn’t that what a garden is, fundamentally? In Lesotho, some people decorate the space around their home with flowers and succulents transplanted from the mountainsides. That’s all a garden really is, decorative waterfowl and infrastructure notwithstanding: plants that have been carried around by people. Gardens make powerful images. Moving things around is moving. Transplantation is evocative. Putting things in dialogue, in collage, draws odd lines of sense across the world.

--Meredith Root-Bernstein, 20 January 2019