Gardens have been part of European universities for more than 500 years. Scholars from various disciplines have documented the importance of botanical gardens for example, in scientific and medical research and learning, and as manifestations of the colonial enterprise. Yet a more practical interest in these gardens as educational spaces has dwindled and today university botanic gardens are more likely to be tourist sites than classrooms. COVID-19 has accelerated the need to rethink learning spaces, yet to date the work done on outdoor education focuses on children.
From January to June this year Anna hosted an Honours seminar for five students in the Faculty which revisited the garden as a learning space. Questions framing initial discussions included:
- How do European ideas of the scientific garden compare to other parts of the world?
- How might scientific gardens move away from being sites of exploitation and bioprospecting of indigenous knowledges to sites of learning with/from indigenous peoples?
- How might working in/with gardens as students help reimagine future worlds in the Anthropocene? Might it lead to new kinds of multispecies collaboration?
- Can gardens cultivate new ways of noticing? How might we integrate these insights into our digital lives?
- Can gardens become sites for dealing creatively in PBL learning at Maastricht University with the wicked and wild problems of the world?
We met online and in gardens, reading and talking together, sharing sensory impressions of our favourite gardens, and prompts for each other to rethink them. The students soon took ownership and leadership of the project, organising a Faculty Garden Day where they conducted ethnographic research and interviews among students and staff, while gardening. They used their reading and insights to write a report, urging the Faculty to listen more to students, and to have student-led design in realising the potential of the new Faculty garden. The seminar has led to new ideas and collaborations which bring together the findings from the Making Clinical Sense project, the sociomateriality of learning especially, and how this may relate to learning in gardens. Stay tuned and please get in touch if this also connects with your own interests, projects and concerns.