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The Future of Gardening: A Plan From Terremoto

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The Future of Gardening: A Plan From Terremoto

April 22, 2022

Terremoto is a youthful, Californian design practice that has quickly gained grown-up success and international admiration. As a collective, they are too smart to sit tight between old parameters which are absurdly outmoded and morally problematic. A few of their revolutionary ideas:

  • they’d like to see their clients doing the gardening (instead of outsourcing it), and therefore thinking about the wider landscape.
  • they’d like to get rid of lawns, and reject new swimming pools.
  • they think irrigation systems (and other props) have no place in a robust design, that in fact the luxury-garden ideal is ridiculously fragile in water-starved California.
  • they believe that keeping your soil, local materials and your non-invasive plants while adding more natives (and honoring the spirit of the land which includes previous custodians) leaves plenty of scope for garden-making that is even more beautiful and original than the old sort.

It’s a transition, and they’re calling it Radical Gardens of Love and Interconnectedness. Intrigued, I broached a discussion with Terremoto co-founder David Godshall and took the position of the “skeptical potential client”:

Photography by Caitlin Atkinson.

Q: Will you have any clients left?

A Terremoto-designed garden in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, California.
Above: A Terremoto-designed garden in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, California.

Haha, it’s totally a fair question!  I wholly acknowledge that at present we’re striking a balance of following principles while also making payroll, but I think if you go back to the idea that this is a trajectory, not a schism, that helps to explain it. For example, within our new principles we state that we’d like to plant gardens that are mostly native. If someone were to come to us right now and ask for a garden, who wasn’t really interested in native ecology, we would still consider it, as long as it had the opportunity to be principled in other ways, and that the client was open to conversation. But to be honest, Kendra—and I acknowledge I can only talk about our particular experience in California—our door is getting kicked down by astute potential clients who want something unabashedly different. In a hopefully-not-cheesy way, I believe there’s a rhizomatic, emerging cultural consciousness that the future needs to look radically different from the present, and this applies to garden-making.

Q: ‘Closed loop gardening’ is just a new phrase for something old, no?

Terremoto&#8\2\17;s principles on garden-making and landscape-tending are only new in a system that is broken.
Above: Terremoto’s principles on garden-making and landscape-tending are only new in a system that is broken.

I fully acknowledge that a garden that follows our principles is really just a return to a closed-loop way of making gardens and tending to the land, which is how many indigenous communities successfully existed and thrived for millennia. Additionally, there are many farms that follow permaculture systems logic, which in a way, Radical Gardens of Love and Interconnectedness strongly orients towards, but through the lens of garden-making.

Q: Natives are boring: I prefer drought-tolerant plants which are not native. What now?

There are many Californian grasses and sages to choose from, which are not boring if you like texture. White sage and black sage are bee attractants as their names (Salvia apiana and Salvia mellifera) imply. 
Above: There are many Californian grasses and sages to choose from, which are not boring if you like texture. White sage and black sage are bee attractants as their names (Salvia apiana and Salvia mellifera) imply. 

It’s a good start! Using low-water, non-native plants that aren’t invasive is totally a step in the right direction, so I applaud that. But if plants with those types of characteristics appeal to you, I feel like you’ve half-drunk the Kool-Aid already, so finish the glass, my friend, and plant some native plants as well; your garden will explode with beautiful wildlife that will find the plants in your garden useful, as food and habitat.

Q: But I don’t want my garden in Malibu to look like a community garden.

Ah, you live in Malibu and from your question, it appears you’re not interested in community and ecology!  I wish you all the best on your boxwood journey.  Sorry, that’s snarky, but I have no patience for obsolete, selfish world views at this juncture in time. To be sappy: Ask not what your garden can do for you—ask what you can do for your garden.

Q: So according to you, just living is a negative externality?

A small, un-manicured lawn does not run counter to Terremoto&#8\2\17;s pro-human ideas.
Above: A small, un-manicured lawn does not run counter to Terremoto’s pro-human ideas.

Ah, kind of? But I’m still very pro-human, I’m just advocating for a type of living that is less consumptive and extractive than the way most of us in the Western World exist, and because Terremoto finds itself in the space of garden-making, we’re trying to figure out how to do better. Because here’s the thing: the environment can totally handle a certain amount of damage! We’ve just gone too far and seem to lack the ability to course correct, so we’re just trying to start!

But also, if you’re going to do something that negatively impacts the world, those harms should be made in the commons. Let’s use a giant lawn at a public park, for example. I’m not against this! It’s just that if we’re going to take water from a previously intact watershed and pump it hundreds of miles through a desert and then over a mountain, to water a grass lawn…that grass lawn better be accessible, used, and loved by many in the public commons. If it serves the public wellbeing, then the harm is justified. The problem is that in the United States there are over 50,000 square miles of irrigated lawns on private property that are barely used. This is insane. If we’re going to do harm, let’s just get super smart and rigorously thoughtful about where, why and how we do harm.

Q: Indigenous plants and indigenous people: are you trying to turn back the clock?

Found materials stay on site, lots of natives are added to existing planting, garden lighting is kept to a minimum (with down-lighters only).
Above: Found materials stay on site, lots of natives are added to existing planting, garden lighting is kept to a minimum (with down-lighters only).

In a way, perhaps. I sincerely believe the future will need to reconcile indigenous wisdom with the good parts of modern technology.

Q: I live in the wilderness, and you say that garden designers need to be fairly local; well, there aren’t any good ones near me.

I believe that to design a garden in the wilderness is a fool’s errand, so enjoy the tranquility.

Q: I don’t have time to garden; I don’t understand it anyway.

I’m sorry for you and I wish there was some way I could help you!

Q: I want a garden, not a revolution.

&#8\2\20;We can absolutely build gardens that can be appreciated by people while also quietly being revolutionary/subversive in their relationships towards ecology, labor, and materials.&#8\2\2\1;
Above: “We can absolutely build gardens that can be appreciated by people while also quietly being revolutionary/subversive in their relationships towards ecology, labor, and materials.”

Sure, I get it! We struggle with this at Terremoto right now. How to avoid information overload; because some people aren’t interested in the politics, which is their prerogative, and we can be respectful of that. I’ve always been a big believer that it’s better to appeal to people’s sense of desire, rather than pity, or politics.  But here’s the trick, Kendra! Radical Gardens of Love and Interconnectedness are just, like, really beautiful, in an objectively dumb way! Oftentimes these days, if someone’s seen our portfolio and wants a garden, but we can sense that they’re not interested in the narrative or subtext… well, we’ll still build them an awesome, principled garden! And they’ll still very much be able to enjoy it at face value. We can absolutely build gardens that can be appreciated by people while also quietly being revolutionary/subversive in their relationships towards ecology, labor, and materials. And honestly, the fact that these two things can co-exist really beautifully is both fascinating, and makes me super positive about the future in some regard.

To see Terremoto founder’s own garden, see:

To see some Terremoto projects, go to:

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