I propose a temporary demonstration garden planted with a selection of the most abundant, naturally occurring plants gathered from public Girona locations and transplanted to the Claustre St. Domenec lawn, or other location that can be planted. The plants will be gathered from medians, untended park areas and vacant lots. The temporary garden will be designed in a spiral form representing a carbon dioxide sink; carbon dioxide sinks absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. The garden will be organized by the plant size and height with the smallest plants at the perimeter and the largest in the center. Walking paths of undisturbed lawn will radiate from the outside inward.
5000 Seeds explores the idea that gardens of fast-growing, abundant plants could act as sinks, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (1). Plants process CO2 into a usable food product through photosynthesis. The CO2 is then stored in plants and soil until they decay, burn, or until the soil is tilled; these processes release CO2 back into the atmosphere. The earth’s rising temperatures caused by CO2 emissions and high concentrations of nitrogen in soil from crop fertilizer and acid rain pollution can stimulate the growth of particular plant species. Other plants have deep taproots that add structure and permeability to degraded soils. Some roots also bring water to the surface and can restore soil fertility by fixing nitrogen (2). Some plants are prolific, generating as many as 5000 seeds per plant in a season (3). In their adaptability, some plants are more responsive to environmental stress than old-growth forests, food crops and/or native plants.
This proposal gives me an opportunity to investigate the ecological value of plants that are often overlooked, mowed, tilled or pulled. We may come to view these plants in untended spaces as natural carbon dioxide reservoirs carrying out invaluable ecological functions.
Prior to my visit, I will work with University of Girona students to identify plants common in Girona’s public places. I will ask the students to map nearby locations where we can collect 100 to 150 plants for the demonstration garden. Either before I arrive or upon my arrival, we will borrow or purchase 50 variously sized pots, 20 pairs of garden gloves, 10 to 15 shovels, hand trowels, rakes and three garden carts for transporting the plants.
For the installation, I will need the help of 15 to 20 students. I will demonstrate the best way to transplant, so as not to damage plant leaves, stems or roots through the process. Teams of three or four people will collect plants from previously mapped Girona locations and transport them to Claustre St. Domenec. Concurrently, another team following our design plan will carefully remove grass and soil cores from the lawn, placing them aside in an organized manner, as they will be replanted. The installation will take two or three days to complete.
After the exhibition, students will remove and compost the plants. Composting retains carbon dioxide by adding it back into the soil. Cores of grass and soil will be replaced into the lawn. I have done this before in a San Francisco public plaza, and the grass grew back naturally. The borrowed supplies will be returned and the purchased supplies will be donated to the University of Girona or a nearby community garden.
My ongoing Mission Greenbelt Project is working with San Francisco residents and collaborating artists and designers to build ecologically functional gardens in place of sidewalk. Designs for the gardens – grassland, rock gardens, gardens that provide food and habitat for wildlife: bees, birds and butterflies – beautify public urban space, sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and allow rainwater to flow into the soil replenishing underground aquifers and relieving San Francisco’s overburdened water treatment system. Since this project’s beginning in 2007, I have been learning about the ecological value of native plants and animals. This work gives me an opportunity to explore the ecological benefits of non-native plants and ecosystems and question the precept that these plants are foreign invaders, threatening native habitats, and they should be destroyed.
My musings during the proposal stage of this artwork have presented me with new thoughts and ideas about how to adapt the Mission Greenbelt Project. For example, what if it were city policy to use vacant lots as carbon dioxide sequestering reservoirs by planting these most adaptive, fast-growing plants?
(1) Plant Physiology of the “Missing” Carbon Sink Christopher B. Field, Plant Physiology, Vol. 125, Stanford, CA. January 2001.
(2) Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience. David I. Theodoropoulos, Avvar Books, Blythe, CA. 2003.
(3) Can Weeds Help Solve the Climate Crisis? Tom Christopher, New York Times Magazine, New York, NY. June 29, 2008.
50 variously sized pots: 75 Euro
10 to 15 small shovels, hand trowels and rakes: 170 Euro
20 pairs garden gloves: 50 Euro
3 garden carts: 350 Euro
Estimated total: 645 Euro