"You are what you eat": Plant-Human Relations in Home Gardens


  • Lauren Culverwell University of Cape Town




Gardening has long been conceptualized as a practice that blurs nature-human binaries and connects humans to nature in rapidly urbanising worlds. Based on six weeks of fieldwork on the Cape Flats, this article explores human interpretations of beyond-human connections and experiences that are engendered in their home vegetable gardens. It weaves together ethnographic data and theoretical frameworks like posthumanism, multispecies ethnography and actor-network theory to analyse the inner workings of these relationships. I collaborated with six interlocutors and their gardens to reveal how companionships with plants and their produce complicate, contest or conform to nature-human binaries. In doing so, this paper investigates how through gardening, interlocutors come to recognize otherwise ‘invisible’ elements in the natural world as valued companions that not only co-produce healthy vegetables, but also co-create identities, emotions, practices, and justices. However, this paper also traces the exchanges that take place within the garden, contending that only the gardening agents that are perceived capable of maintaining beneficial reciprocities come to be coded as companions, whilst others that do not become pests or nuisances. Through these insights, it aims to add nuances to the claims that gardening dissolves human-nature dichotomies.