The garden complex in strategic perspective: the case of flanders

Valerie Dewaelheyns

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    Gardens are part of the landscape worldwide and doubtless always will be. Despite their diversity and heterogeneity, domestic gardens have specific structural and functional characteristics and provide particular ecosystem services and benefits. Collectively they form a specific category of green spaces, but they have received far less attention than other green components of the territory like forests, nature reserves and urban parks.
    This dissertation offers an assessment of the strategic value of the integral stock of domestic gardens in a regional context. The concept of the ‘garden complex’ is launched to represent this integral stock. By unlocking original information on the structures, services and strategies of the garden complex, the research breaks through the unavailability of information, the lack of attention in policy, and the scarcity of scientific research on gardens. The main objective, to assess the strategic value of the garden complex, is operationalized through the mapping and envisioning of the garden complex. The adopted research methodology comprises an original integration of both quantitative and qualitative research methods and techniques.
    The research focuses on domestic gardens in Flanders, with an open mind to the universality of the theme. The history of the rise and disappearance of a former ‘garden agenda’ in Belgian territorial policies offers interesting references about the mobilization of households in the development of the territory and the persuasion of a common goal.
    Both structures and services of the Flemish garden complex are mapped. The refinement of an existing land use map revealed that domestic gardens cover more than 8 % of the Flemish territory, which is comparable to the regional coverage of forest (11 %) and sealed surface (13 %, including housing, industrial sites, roads and railways). From a spatial perspective the garden theme is thus far from marginal. An investigation of the occupation of agricultural land by gardens within six municipalities indicated that domestic gardens cover about 6 % of the statutory farmland.
    The study of services focused on the ecosystem function of nutrient cycling and the provisioning service of food production. The results on nutrient cycling indicated an excessive use of fertilizers. Also garden soil fertility states appeared to be well over the agronomical growth optimum for pH, carbon and phosphorus. The results equally well indicate that the garden complex has potential as a carbon sink, especially when lawn soils are taking into consideration.
    Concerning the provisioning of food, the gardening decisions of households are further unraveled through the development of an economic model. Vegetable or kitchen gardens can be found in many Flemish gardens. Moreover, the home garden produce of vegetables covers about one third of the amount bought at the market for 25 gardens. These results illustrate the current productivity of domestic gardens and their potential contribution to the adaptive capacity of food systems.
    To support the ecosystem services provided by the garden complex, governance strategies are needed. The garden is a key example of a complex social-ecological system: a place where the natural system is intimately linked with the social system. For example, gardeners (influenced by personal ideas, norms, salesmen in garden stores and friends) can adopt different management styles that include plant choices and usage of fertilizers, chemicals and water. Through their management, they influence ecosystem services like pollination.
    Domestic gardens are private landscapes that are autonomously managed by a multitude of households. The cumulative outcomes of these individual garden management decisions occur post hoc and are often not optimal. This phenomenon has been referred to as the ‘tyranny of small-decisions’. The hypothesis was that the ‘tyranny of small gardening decisions’ has potential to become a ‘resource by small gardening actions’. The results showed that such a transformation is indeed feasible and that the cumulative actions of a manifold of gardeners can be considered an opportunity rather than a pitfall. However no ‘silver bullet’ came up: a multiplicity of actions will be needed to establish garden governance with enhanced strategic value at regional level.
    Bringing these findings together allows to conclude that the garden complex indeed has strategic potential. This strategic potential is not only present in its spatial and functional characteristics, but also in terms of governance strategies. Matching this renewed assessment of domestic gardens with the historical strategic roles assigned to gardens gives inspiration for future pathways towards a garden complex that is a true resource by the cumulative effect of small gardening actions.
    This dissertation contributes to the integrated knowledge of a land use system which hitherto has been ill-documented and largely neglected in a range of territorial policies. I hope that it helps to open up a novel way of looking at the role of modest gardens as a collective good that can actually contribute in building a resilient society.
    TaalEngels
    Uitgever
    Gedrukte ISBN's978-90-8826-385-9
    StatusGepubliceerd - dec-2014

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