The “Nature” Factories

How Garden Centers Exemplify and Produce the Social Construction of Nature

By: Taylor McClean

Our views of nature have drastically changed throughout history. Where nature used to be considered a place of isolation, desolation, and bareness – in other words, a place you absolutely did not want to be – it has now become a source of beauty that is marketed in garden centers for our own consumption. We go to garden centers, such as the New Garden Nursery, to buy their services for landscaping our lawns, their furniture so that we might have “outdoor living” and their plants so that we can even bring the outside world into the comfort of our homes. It would seem that we can now not get enough of what we once so avoided. This change in our attitudes toward nature, along with the example of garden centers (specifically New Garden Nursery), proves that “nature” is not a thing but a socially constructed concept.

Nature as a place of worthlessness and loneliness began to change when people realized that this could be a place to encounter the sublime. After all, Jesus had been tempted by the devil in such a terrible place, and if God was to show His face, He would do it in a place as terrifying and awesome as was He. People thus began traveling into the wilderness to experience God, and slowly their reactions turned from that of wonder, bewilderment, and humility in the presence of something so powerful, to that of comfort, serenity, and peace.

In addition to the need to experience the sublime, people began to realize that this wild nature that exemplified what it meant to be American was slowly beginning to disappear. In response, national parks were made which served to preserve this essence of Americanism. Instead, these national parks, which were supposedly so pure and “wild,” became places of recreation for the elite, as it was the rich who could afford these excursions and the Indians who were removed in order to “save nature,” as nature was the absence of humans and their influence.

Today, our treatment and understanding of “nature” has not improved. Now, instead of traveling out west to experience the beauty of nature, we can just drive to the nearest garden center, pick up a few plants, and have nature in our very own homes. New Garden Nursery even says, “we seek to foster the appreciation of nature’s beauty throughout our community.” This sends the message that “nature” is something beautiful which everybody can have and enjoy. The fact that nature can be bought and sold suggests to the public that nature is a consumable, almost like any other product that is produced. For example, nurseries control the growing conditions of plants to produce the most beautiful and eye catching products. In addition, they created new forms of “nature” by creating exotic hybrids, all so that they can have the best products to yield the highest profit. Yet consumers would still believe that this human created and controlled product is “nature,” whereas in the past, “nature” was the absence of humans.

To add even more contradiction to the idea that nature is where we are not, these garden centers are located in the center of urbanization. New Garden Nursery is nowhere near what we would typically consider something natural – its two locations are both right in the center of Greensboro. This ease of access to a “nature store” suggests to people that nature is easy to come by, and if you somehow lose nature by letting your plant die, you can just go pick up more “nature” at the garden store. This also suggests that nature is not everywhere, and certainly not in your backyard. For example, garden centers, such as the New Garden Nursery, offer landscaping services to bring in their “nature” to make your yard more beautiful. You cannot go into any store and obtain this nature – you must go either into the wilderness or into the very convenient stores that specifically sell nature and offer landscaping services. In essence, you are going into the center of town to a store to hire their services to make your yard natural and beautiful, which is done by cutting down unwanted trees, removing leaf litter and grass, and digging up bushes to be replaced with the controlled and manipulated “nature” that their place of business has produced.

Obviously, nature is not the absence of humans. Either our idea of nature has changed from the time when national parks were created, or we are in denial that the “nature” produced by garden centers is a product of human interference, but the result is the same – “nature” is a socially constructed idea. Even if we ignore the fact that garden centers produce and control nature, the fact that how we view nature has changed suggests that nature is not a thing. Before, nature had to be protected from us or it could not survive, hence the creation of national parks. Now we are placing this nature right into our homes, indicating that we see nature as something we can use to bring beauty into our lives, and that even bringing this nature into our homes can save it – exotic plants that would never survive in certain climates can survive in the controlled environments of our homes.

Garden centers, like the New Garden Nursery, have acted as factories, producing the idea that nature can coexist with us in our homes and bring us beauty, and that they can help us do this by removing the mess in our backyards and replacing it with” nature”. They have developed a construction of nature that has been advertised to the public so that the garden centers can make a profit, and the public buys into it. However, we must realize that throughout history, those who have constructed nature have had a reason to do so – either to experience the sublime, to protect the essence of America, or to just make a profit – and that this “nature,” is not a thing but an idea.

I have been honest and have observed no dishonesty.
-Taylor McClean

Taylor McClean PhotoTaylor McClean is also a Senior Biology major at Guilford College, and additionally has minors in Integrated Science and Environmental Studies. Taylor’s research has involved marine mammal stranding and marine conservation, and the extensive study of bacteriophages.

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