“When Modern was Green: Cultivation of Gardens as Culture.” David H. Haney

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Russian prince turned anarchist Peter Kropotkin, proposed the concept of the “Industrial Village” where communities of individuals could live in relative independence from mainstream capitalist society by practicing small-scale industry and small-scale, intensive agriculture. Kropotkin also believed that individuals should have both intellectual and manual training in order to be fully cultivated. In this sense, cultivating vegetables and fruit, although necessary to the survival of the community, was also a cultural act in itself for both the individual and the community.

In Germany following WWI, the self-titled “architect for horticulture” Leberecht Migge proposed similar settlements based on the idea of self-sufficiency through intensive gardening, largely based on the translated writings of Kropotkin. As a trained gardener he described a small ideal settlement planned following gardening principles. The primary activity of community members would be gardening; for Migge this was not just a practical problem, but a cultural mission.

His vision of a gardening community was further transformed during the 1920s, during the height of the modernist period, through his efforts to “technologize” the garden. In response to his modern architect colleagues, he envisioned the most efficient small gardens for individual residential units, utilizing the latest techniques. He was particularly concerned with recycling of household waste in the garden, including human waste. Again, he connected this with cultivation and culture. Here we see his humorous “tree of waste,” which is obviously based upon the Nordic Tree of Life, as underlying symbol of his cultural purpose.

In the 1930s, Migge proposed a system of regional landscapes in his book The Growing Settlement, thus expanding the scale of his ideal community concept beyond the individual settlement. Here he considered the cultural landscape as agricultural landscape; cultivation meant the symbiosis of land and culture. Whole productive landscapes were considered as types, starting with Chinese examples as the most ancient and intensive, and ending with those of the USA as the newest and most extensive. Holland’s productive landscapes stood in the middle and represented an ideal mix of intensive and extensive. Migge’s work thus takes us beyond the problem of land utilization as a management problem, to an understanding of it as a cultural domain, surely a move that holds significance today.