Saturday, May 3, 2014

UX in the garden

Who experiences the garden? We do, our close neighbors do, and so do the people who come past the house walking their dogs or with kids in strollers.

Maybe a better question is to ask what "experiences" the garden because there is a huge presence life on the ground and just below the surface. 


When I first started to design this garden I had little idea of where it would go. Vaguely aware of changing light over the course of a day, I had barely an inkling that the light could change over the course of a year, or that trees growing nearby would decrease the light over time, or even that the things I planted myself would change the light, heat, and water distribution in the garden. 

Over the years squirrels and other animals have distributed things, randomly or not, in a way I couldn't have predicted. And spreading plants, airborne seeds, and new additions have changed the garden's composition. 


As things change at the surface they have also changed in the soil. So new fungi, new microbes, and new invertebrates have become established. The garden plot is the same as when I started. It's the same dimension in terms of square feet. But the dimensions above and below have changed. And so has the operating system. 

So what's the connection with "user experience?" A lot I think. Part of it is that you can't plan every detail. But you can create a matrix, like a welcoming garden, where "users" (in this case all the organisms) can come to play. The matrix will change over time and come to re-form itself, partly as a random process and at some level, as part of the design. For sure your control as a designer is minimal and maybe that's the best way. An environment where things run themselves may be the most sustainable.

  

90 comments:

  1. I liked your analogy of a “user matrix” in relation to landscape – in this case a garden. It brings to light the fact that especially in terms of nature, the landscape is not solely our human domain. We may own the property rights, but there are other forces – biotic and abiotic – that have just as much claim and impact on the space as we do. You raise a great point in stating that an environment where things are allowed to progress or play out on their own terms may be the “most sustainable”. It makes me think of how when we go to plant our gardens, many times we think about what looks pretty, what seems exotic, our wants and needs. As long as it is noted as appropriate for our growing zone, we think it’s fine to plant certain species; but that isn’t always the case. As I learned from one of your other courses, introducing certain foreign plant species can be a detriment to the natural balance – and can have great repercussions on the whole environment –from the life native to the area (which may lose food and habitat – posing a threat to species survival) to the very ecology of the landscape. Introduction of “invasive species” has already done a number on the vitality and sustainability of certain locations. By taking some time to think, observe, and learn about our landscape, we can perhaps at least work in unison with it – creating not only a productive and inviting space for ourselves, but also allowing other aspects – seen and unseen, biotic and abiotic – that share and impact our environment to thrive. It does seem that an environment where we keep our own “footprints” to a overall minimum may be the best and most beneficial style of design we can employ.

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  2. What struck me as new and different in this post is that we do experience the garden as a visual feeling, “oh that looks really nice or looks really bad”, the garden does provide a life up, down, and around it, new bugs or critters moving into the garden to seek shelter. We don't really think of what really goes on with or around the garden, but we should. We should also be conscious of what we are planting or digging up and throwing away. Are we getting rid of this plant because it does not look pleasing or it is overtaking the spaces provided. I never thought about the light factor, until I read this post. I thought light was constant and not changing, but this changed my perspective.
    My experience with this is that I am slowly moving to a house with my boyfriend and both the front yard and backyard are atrocious. The backyard has little to no grass and there is supposedly a rose bush somewhere and the front yard there is moss instead of grass that has taken over because of the trees. (I found out about that when I called my dad and asked him about it) So right now I am thinking of what to plant and where, it is a thought process because you do not want something that will completely over take the yard, but let everything grow harmoniously together, is what I am aiming for – let nature takes its course. I am not sure what I would add to this post because it touched base on everything possible I can think of what happens when you plant a garden.

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  3. Tess Velasquez-Group 1: MET IS 380 5.1/Unseen Change-Both Humanity and Nature Change Things

    After reading this essay, I began to think substantially about the “the user experience” and how that relates to human views of nature. The reality is that humans desire to have “control” over everything. We have made it our mission to manipulate/change the world around us so that we may achieve benefits. Accomplishment and satisfaction of using nature are a few of the things we seek. On the other hand, I was surprised to learn for example, with tiny gardens, we often feel that these creations are for us and by us only. It is interesting that we might believe these landscape creations are solely ours, but we do share them with other humans as well as the rest of the natural world. Oddly enough, the task of going to the garden shop, planting roses, and watching them bloom does not reveal this aspect of landscaping overtly; it shows the oblivious pattern of our ways. We do not see it! Now I understand that the natural world employs humans equally, it is oblivious to us as time passes and environments change without our knowledge. Our knowledge has the ability to destroy nature, too. We have to find a balance. I try to keep the areas around my home as naturally-landscaped as possible, and in doing so, I am fulfilling a source of enjoyment and sharing it with others. I have to keep in mind that my “landscape” is already changing with or without my help; I have no control over it. Teaching ourselves to let nature take its own course will allow everyone to have their own unique, individualistic experiences with natural world. Let the fun begin and let us try to see the “unseen!”

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    1. It's like trying to change our hair. We perm, straighten, and color, but it is what it is and it's far easier to work with what we have than against it. Sounds like you're learning to work with what your land and all of its creatures want!

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    2. Hi Barbara,

      In all cases, maybe nature really does know what is best. This is the concept that we need to share with others. Like you said, whether it is through ourselves or our landscapes, we are indeed communicating a message to everyone. Truly, it is both a natural language and a language of nature!

      Tess Velasquez-Group 1 MET IS 380 OL

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  4. I think what’s new & different here in this article is the idea that even the most orchestrated of gardens can still only be choreographed to a certain degree, as no matter what, nature will take its own course. So, in essence, one really has to wonder how much of the human hand has actually been involved in design. Upon reading this post, I think we merely set the bare bones of any garden’s “substructure”, its full development occurring mostly through its own growth. Although, we manipulate the above-grade results to a certain degree, this effort, in most cases, is not always helpful. While pesticides and pruning may help keep everything “neat and tidy”, this may hamper the growth of biodiversity which could otherwise potentially occur if the environment was un-interfered with. Along with that thought, I also feel that over structuring of the environment takes away from the natural, rugged beauty of a garden left slightly untamed. In terms of user experience, I know which kind of patch I would get more joy from, namely the one that supports the life that it was meant to! That, to me, is a gardens true design – a model that we as humans would like to take credit for, but truly can’t stake any claim in. Certainly, this article has provided me with a new appreciation of such autonomous growth and change, and how unexpected results can far exceed that which was anticipated.

    I think I can identify with this post in terms of thinking about almost every back yard I have ever been in, and how structure was the order of the day e.g. lawns, plants and shrubs all manicured to within an inch of their existence, flowers and bushes planted perfectly center to center. Although pleasing to the eye, such spaces never really felt “natural” to me and rarely felt as if they were teeming with life, a little, but not much.

    If I were to go further with this topic, I would continue to explore Professor Hammer’s conclusion that environments which manage themselves are possibly the most sustainable of all. For instance, I think I would add a section comparing the biodiversity levels of controlled versus uncontrolled plots.

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  5. I really like the recurring theme of guiding vs. control, which I guess in nature is more a fact/reality. This blog article is a great reminder of how like you said, we as humans can set up “the blueprint” but as life takes over and develops it will grow, change and even attract or create other life-forms of it’s own as it best sees fit for survival, which is why it made total sense to me when you say, that an environment that is allowed to grow and progress on it’s own will most likely be more sustainable. It makes me think of our backyards, and gardens and parks, but in many other levels, it makes me thing of human cultures, businesses and education systems. Maybe if we took more time to assert our natural ways and values we could come up with different systems which are guided but not so restricted and maybe remarkable things and new creative ideas could come from it just like this landscape has grown in a beautiful and sustainable ways.

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  6. I recently purchased a house without any landscaping so I learned first hand the "unseen" changes that occur. Although we had a specific landscape plan, over the course of a year, many facets of our backyard has changed. For instance, we never planted them but a few cantalopes grew in our garden. Much of the space between our plants have been covered with plants we did not initially plant but are native to this area. Just as you mentioned in your article, I also believe the best way to a sustainable garden is to let them "run themselves."

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  7. Great thought in this article. What jumps out at me if you, “had little idea of where it would go...” then I have no shot at building a proper garden. Understanding the ultimate dimension of the plantings, and basic exposure are just the starting blocks. Thinking about the user experience as you mention (strikes a chord with my professional life) we need to consider all users, invited and uninvited – a major paradigm shift for me. We influence passersby with the look, smell, attraction…we need to satisfy the goal that we set for the environment we are creating, we need it to be a healthy addition for local insects and animals, etc.

    It is tough enough to plan for the things you can see, but your comment, “As things change at the surface they have also changed in the soil. So new fungi, new microbes, and new invertebrates have become established.” really causes me to contemplate the planning process and ask “Is there an app for that?” Wow – We want to control the landscape and we yet need to plan for lack of control.

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    1. Define "proper garden." Maybe it's the idea of letting go of what the magazines show and having the flexibility to word with everything the landscape.

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    2. That's exactly what I am talking about...getting away from the Better Homes and Gardens definition and doing what is right for the local environment, in a visually pleasing way!

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    3. For example...planting flowering bushes that local butterflies find appealing instead of a "Butterfly Bush" which is not local.

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  8. The last two sentences were new concepts that made a lot of sense to me. "For sure your control as a designer is minimal and maybe that's the best way. An environment where things run themselves may be the most sustainable." This leads me to my childhood living in the concrete jungle that is NYC. Anytime a space of land was not inhabited by humans, nature would automatically take over. Flushing Meadows Park in Queens was made in an area that was once marshland and this became very obvious when it would rain and the lack of drainage would bring it back to it's swampy roots. Puddles would turn into ponds in a matter of a few months if left unattended. Riding my bike with friends through this enormous park when I was a kid reminds me your last sentence the most because this park really needs to stay as a it was intended and that is marshland. This is the only way it knows how to sustain itself.

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  9. I loved the way you compared the garden to an operating system and "user experience." I think we often take for granted how complex and intricate such environments are and this analogy invites readers to think about the garden and interdependence with nature rather than just "a plot of land that provides food for us." I do think that nature often has a higher intelligence and organization when it comes to addressing issues, whether they be pests, disease, or anything else that is not conducive to our user experience.

    Since we often look at nature (or a garden) through our own myopic lens and filter, we address such issues with a myopic solution. For example, spraying pesticides to get rid of the pests! Such a solution is like putting a finger in the dike to stop the water flow...only it's worse because it also depletes the soil of nutrients and drenches the atmosphere and soil with carcinogens. What I gathered from this post is that while its important to come up with solutions for a better "user experience," it's wiser to live in harmony with nature. There are plenty of sustainable solutions for "re-routing" garden irritants and if we can step back and take a broader view of the garden as a matrix, we don't have to worry about solving one problem and creating six more.

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    1. Hi Carrie-

      Excellent expansion of Sam's ideas! Now I know why an iOS update annoys me so much. Fixes one thing. Creates other problems! Love the idea of nature having intelligence. After all, the biology and chemistry are already happening. We're the ones trying to figure it out!

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  10. I had a quite fun reading this blog. As working in IT for about 20 years, OS and UX tickle me with my own way of connecting with nature and its live intention. I have a similar experience with this phenomenon. I also have created my own garden for a purpose of introducing seasonal flowers for my 3-year-old daughter. As an inexperienced gardener or borderline OCD person, I naively started with mulches and seeds with a hope that these will grow into picture perfect flowers. My biggest mistake was that I misjudged and witnessed the agility and also the vulnerability of the plants at the same time.

    Having too much control with too many additives like insect killers, weed killers all in the soil and pesticides sprayed all over the plants eventually killed the plants that I thought I was protecting. I then changed my approach with more natural and organic way that turned out to be a huge success. I didn’t need any weed killers or pesticides. Instead of pesticides, I introduced ladybugs for any insects, and I pulled those weeds by myself. After a few weeks, nature took a course and took care of all these by itself.

    Many times, understanding, trusting and leaving the beautiful nature as they should be is the best way to preserve and sustain our environment.

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  11. The blog post shows the power the surroundings of a garden has on its composition; another thought that is easily overlooked. We could unintentionally change the composition of a garden or green area by simply introducing a new seed. Kids like to pick up acorns and take them home. The acorn then gets thrown out by the parent into the garden. If this acorn grows into a tree, imagine how much the landscape has been changed by the new acorn tree. A simple careless act has a big influence. From now on, I may think twice when moving or dropping something that has a seed.

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    1. Hi Shu-

      Excellent! Thinking about the seed and the intelligence of nature ad brought up by Carrie. If you drop the acorn somewhere that is not a good place for a tree, will the tree grow into adulthood on its own or will it sprout but eventually be choked off?

      You've also just made the world a lot smaller, in a good way, in discussing that acorn. It's somehow comforting to know that even though Japan and Boston are so different, we share simple experiences like those acorns, from so far away!

      B

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  12. It’s often difficult for individuals to accept a lack of control over certain aspects of life. Perhaps your analysis of your garden could be applied to they way humans view their world as well. Is there any way we could apply this thought, that “an environment where things run themselves may be the most sustainable”, to the world on a larger scale? What happens when the organisms that come to play decide just want to take their ball and go home? This is why I love National and State Parks. For the most part, they’re just a bunch of environmental matrices allowed to run themselves. I just hope we don’t end up like the Earth in Interstellar and need Matthew McConaughey to find us a new planet to live on.

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    1. I, for one, am not following Matthew McConaughey anywhere. LOL

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    2. How to find the balance between making room for ourselves yet allowing nature to do its thing?

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    3. I think what you're asking relates to the article from this week's second assignment. We need to find the right tradeoffs between making room for ourselves and allowing nature to do its thing. Like the article says, there is pretty much nowhere left on earth that can be considered true "wilderness". The balance needs to come from carefully monitoring the effects of our tradeoffs with nature. If we don't measure our impact on nature, then there are bound to be more tragedies like the Aral Sea.

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  13. Kayali Lenssen – IS380
    I loved the phrase “squirrels and other animals have distributed things, randomly or not, in a way I couldn't have predicted”. I read it as so inclusive and open to nature – perhaps there is a pattern that makes sense to squirrels; we just haven’t caught on yet!
    I was also immediately reminded of a doorway in my neighborhood which is wreathed in climbing roses. The home is on the sidewalk, which in turn is next to the road, so there is nothing but a missing paving stone, about 3 inches square, to cultivate. The roses have thrived in this tiny plot and they give such a sweet and wonderful scent in the summer that I’ve stopped and thanked the owner for keeping them up. Indeed, a planting or a garden is shared by many more people that might have been originally planned.
    I also really appreciated the “An environment where things run themselves may be the most sustainable” comment. For me, that’s a really key to a good design, and transferrable to many areas of life. If something works with the nature of the users, in a way that means that they run with the tool, project or idea as if it were their own, then I am very happy as a facilitator.

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    1. Hi Kayali-
      When you wrote, " If something works with the nature of the users, in a way that means that they run with the tool, project or idea as if it were their own, then I am very happy as a facilitator," you exactly described how I feel about my work as a facilitator! Trying to create a space where students can develop a landscape! so many parallels to humans and the environment.

      As far as the squirrel goes, we have one that my husband feeds. It waits for him on my deck now. The pattern of the squirrel is "feed me"!

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    2. Hi Barb -
      I really can relate to the facilitator role; so much of the fun part of Human Resources is finding ways to help people adapt to changing organisation structures, job content, tools, etc. Lots of tools for us to leverage to do this, but the best ones are those that "run themselves", as Dr. Hammer said about environments.

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  15. No matter how well planned your think your garden is, something else will always come up! I've never considered that the soil could change both above and below ground. It's true, you really don't have control over your plants no matter where you put them! They really do have a mind of their own. It's amazing to think there's so much happening above and below ground. There's so much moving and changing! I'm curious to find out just how quickly things are changing. Though we can't see it happening, I'd like to place a time lapse camera for a couple days to see the action! I'd also like to find out how the weather changes affect my garden as well. It's been getting warmer and warmer every year, it has to be doing something to my soil!

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  16. That's interesting. I guess the more experienced one gets, the more predictable some of these growth patterns are. However I completely agree that no matter how experienced you are, or well planned the landscape is, nature always presents unforeseen variables (changing weather patterns, pests, plant diseases, etc.) I think it would be interesting to research the history of how landscape designers have developed their craft over the centuries and continents. There is almost certainly and evolution to this field that has developed over time.

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    1. Yes. and perhaps a degree of overconfidence that nature can be tamed?

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  17. Unseen change. This is something that happens all the time but that we barely notice or even think about that much. What goes on under the surfaces, in this case the landscape, it’s just as important as what goes on above the surface. Like what happened when you created your garden, most of the changes that happened couldn’t have been predicted even if you planned for them to happen, random or not it acted as a canvas where the plants were the artits in constructing and making it the final masterpiece. Its just beautiful how nature always finds its way to surprise us, even when we like to think we are the ones controlling it.

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    1. Nice insight! Nature creates its own canvas, just like us. Still, we can’t control what is on nature’s canvas, only our own. Even that is hard to do because we really don’t have absolute control over anything. –from Tess Velasquez MET IS 380 Group 1

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  18. We moved to the suburbs of Boston years ago and no matter how much planning is involved, there is always something that throws a wrinkle into the plans. It’s a fact of life and everyone would do well to have contingency plans in place…just in case. Never even thought about changing soil but that makes sense as some years plants come up nice while others are less than appealing even when no changes in terms of products, preparation or care. Those that have control of the landscape are those that need it the most. From the plants to the bugs, to the animals running through that decide your tulips look tasty! Changing landscape applies to micro/macro changes as well as dealing with the here and now. We can see what is happening above ground, but the subtle changes below the surface is really interesting ...at least to me. Environmental changes such as the weather would also play a role, we’ve all seen the extreme heat cause problem as well as extreme cold. Sad that it largely goes unnoticed, but it must be beautiful to watch…if we took the time.

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  19. Hi Dr. Hammer,

    This post had me thinking about the illusion of control one has when you decide to design and plant a garden. You add plants, nutrients, and water, but have only limited control. You can prune, remove a plant, or forget to water and nature will still respond in her careful and patient way. The landscape may have changed visually to you, but there is still movement and activity under the soil. In terms of “user experience,” it’s about our relationship to the garden and also the experience of insects, plants, animals, fungi, etc. and all the wonderful symbiotic relationships being formed underneath the soil.

    Thanks,
    Allison

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  20. Successful gardening hinges on both controllable and unforeseeable factors. For instance, I have noticed that the back end of my lawn tend to be greener than the front half. Despite having relatively equal amount of water and fertilized applied, the effect remains the same. Then I realized the position of the sun greatly affects its growth. It turns out; the front of the house faces west and the lawn gets the most directly sunlight exposure starting in the early afternoon. As the sun rises behind my house, which is east, the front half of the lawn fails to get the maximum effect of direct exposure. When the sun starts to set in the west in the afternoon, the back end of the lawn gets the most exposure while the front does not. Moreover, a row of low-lying bushes surrounds the front half of the lawn, blocking some of the necessary sunlight for growth. This is an instance of unforeseeable factor due to the lack of anticipation in the user experience.

    Granted, while we cannot plan every minute detail in landscaping, some factors are easily controlled than others. Positive user experience in gardening boils down to aesthetics, which is mostly determined by what we like seeing day after day and whether we can do a competent job in keeping the landscape alive. Nevertheless, gardening is the classic case of Murphy's Law - while anything can go wrong will go wrong, nature's organisms have its way of surprising us and keep us guessing.

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  21. I enjoyed the concept of my garden being a playground for all the organisms. They make the soil rich and wonderful for most of my plants. We try to control what is in our garden, from the roses to the daisies to the snapdragons. However, nature tries to change it. I often have to pull out palm seedlings from between the plants? This must be the wind or squirrels at play. If I allowed it to stay, I’d have a palm tree beside my porch in 20 years. There are certain aspects we want to control within our immediate landscape. Whether it be pulling palm seedlings from a planter or removing mushrooms from our grass, we are trying to create a specific look and give those who see our garden a pleasant “experience”. It makes sense that we can’t control every detail. Nature creates the outcomes.

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    1. So the next time you go out into your garden, will you feel quiet and solitude, or a sense of being part of a community (even if you can't see all the members) ?

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    2. I experienced my garden this morning with a new sense of appreciation. The plants do so well because of the symbiosis that goes on between these all of the organisms in the soil. I now think about all of the unseen movement and consider it a party in my garden!! :)

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  22. Nature will find a way around a man’s plan. We may plan out our landscapes but nature inevitably takes over with the help of animals like squirrels or birds or insects, helping fashion a new landscape. If I ever have a garden, I would very much like to invite more birds to it, which will require specific plants and flowers. However, even if do ‘design’ a bird-friendly garden it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come and visit. We may try and manipulate our landscapes, such as manicured gardens and the golf lawns, and yet those designs require a decent amount of upkeep because they’re usually incompatible with how plants should and will grown in those specific areas. Hedges will need to be trimmed, ‘weeds’ to be gotten rid of, grass mowed. A natural environment knows how to sustain itself and generally does not need a man’s help to be more sustainable.

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    1. Hi Yuliya-

      You must have jumped into my head! I grew up with a yard that had hedges bordering the sidewalk. I loved them because some kind of bug used to build cocoons in the leaves and as little kids, we'd find them and open them up. Not great for the bugs, but interesting to us kids. Today I was thinking how pretty hedges would look in front of my house. Until I thought about the constant trimming. I decided to let nature have its way. The grass stays! Thank you for confirming my hunch!

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    2. Glad I could help :)
      I personally prefer the traditional English gardens, the ones that are 'allowed' to grow lush with roses and all sorts of plants, not the manicured lawns and hedges of royal parks.

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  23. The concept of creating a garden with the intention of building plant life within it is a respectable endeavor. When a space is converted from emptiness or simply dirt there is a certain amount of life that is added to it by the plants. Insects and other natural elements are attracted to the new life that exists in the space and they will naturally move towards it in an effort to make contributions and subtractions of their own. As a young man I would often find myself sprawled out the on ground of Carolina red dirt or grass while in the midst of afterschool playtime. This experience was almost always marked by a timely visit from insects who would let it be known that your presence in their space would be acknowledged as they began to climb around on my body and force me back to my feet. It always felt like the bugs were attracted to my energy, gravity or humanity as they seemed to sense life and want to participate in whatever was going on. Much like the garden described in this essay, a person who lays in the dirt long enough will likely find themselves made use of by ants, spiders and other elements of nature.

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    1. Hi Marcus-

      Great post and from a different direction! Instead of thinking about taming an existing landscape and planting or building things (although a plot of dirt is certainly a type of landscape as you've pointed out. Especially from the bug's point of view!) you point out that even what we think is nothing is actually something!

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  24. I like the idea of setting up a garden with a general plan, but allowing it to guide and develop along its own natural path. From your provided example, and from personal experience as a child helping my dad create his backyard palm garden, it is clear that no matter the level of control and inspired effort that goes into a garden, there will be a development of flora and fauna that was not inherent in the original plan. What better way to handle this than to embrace it and nurture the process along? It is a new way for me to think of a garden as being as much for the experience of its inhabitants as for the experience of those of us that view and work in it. Looking at it like this, it feels as though a garden isn’t so much a labor of love for display and enjoyment as much as a planned community of plants, animals and invertebrates created to be cared for and experienced as a whole.

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  25. Your post reminds me of the process of evolution, where plants enhance and the upcoming generations evolve with new characteristics such as immunity strengthening, color variation etc. The plants that came out without our planning can also be related to the plants we first planted and because they evolved significantly, they may be unrecognizable. This is not a confirmed fact but maybe even a couple of plants out of the whole garden may have this factor.

    When I was 19, in California, I opened up a door that linked to a backyard not too big. My boss had not opened the back door for over three months and to our surprise we found raspberries! They were also very delicious and fresh. It was amazing to see how they just grew out of nowhere.

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    1. Hi Rosh-
      Excellent example of how the landscape will change with or without our help! Any idea where those raspberries came from?

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  26. The idea of creating a matrix for all to come and play is a way of thinking that I never thought of. This makes sense as we are changing the matrix of our own landscape daily. We are changing life as we know it with everything we do. Our consumption, expansion, and advancement are all key instruments in this changing landscape. Every choice I make effects something or someone around me. If I planted a small plant or flower, this would change the landscape for the future. If we demolish trees and land to build new structures, this changes the landscape layout. This will then effect things from insects to animals. There will be consequences to these changes. The future will stem from these changes. This can be seen in my current landscape where Kent State University is ever expanding and this is bringing all sorts of change in the Kent community. For example, downtown Kent is building new shops and restaurants. More businesses are popping up and I have already noticed an increase in traffic throughout the city. Every action has a reaction.

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    1. Hi Aaron-

      Fabulous observations! I love the way you're applying the course material to your surroundings! With regard to the expansion of the Kent community, is open land being used to build or is land that has already been used being recycled?
      B

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    2. Both are happening. More so open land is being turned into new businesses and new campus buildings.

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  28. IS380 Week 5-#1:
    What stood out to me as new is the reference to “user experience” and creating a matrix, which in the context of the post makes a lot of sense. Just like external forces changing an Architect ‘s design for a building and requiring some adjustments. The same can be said for planting a garden. You can have a vision but in time it will change with the influence of animals, new plants, and exposure. My mother plants a garden every year and she just finished prepping the area and planting some new plants. However, it never fails that no matter how she properly spaces the flowers in the garden they still grow close to one another. Even though it is crowded it still looks great after leaving the final design to nature.

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    1. Hi Leticia-

      Imagine going from planning and planting a garden, like your mother, to planning and planting something like the Arnold Arboretum in Boston! Do you think the planning is similar, only on a different scale?

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    2. Hi Barbara, that's a great question. I think it is similar just at a very different scale. There is a lot of thought that my mothers puts into the flowers she picks and plants. I assume that was the same thinking for the Arnold Arboretum but at just a much larger scale.

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  29. What strikes me most is the parallelism between gardening and computer systems. This reminds of the saying, “We don’t do the growing; plants do.”

    Looking at my own experiences as CEO, leading entities called enterprises, I know I can not control everything; my team and I can make sales projections upon which budgets are computed, but the people who execute the projects can not be controlled like robots. Since we want them to hit their performance targets each month and year, all we can do is to learn with them, incentivize them for achievements, recognize their efforts, and aid them with training and career counseling when they fall short of targets. More importantly, they are the ones who should deliver the results. I can not do it for them. I have realized many years ago that as much as I should learn the doing part of tasks, I must also learn the coaching of those who do the tasks themselves. For I can not do everything.

    It would be worth adding the concept of complex systems that at first were viewed as chaotic systems, as if there is no order whatever. When Dr. Hammer leaves his garden alone, the common expectation, like with anything that is left alone, is disaster. Yet there emerges complex systems, that though sensitive to even small variations in critical parameters, would display a new kind of order. New mathematical equations have emerged to described this new kind of order.

    I see the world with much hope that self-growing systems like a garden or social networks, given enough freedom and self-healing mechanisms, would grow and evolve. This defies the principle that says, “Every isolated system becomes more disordered with time.” What Dr. Hammer is doing in effect is: combine the right ingredients in his garden, mix and match them, then stand back. He sensed structures would emerge by themselves.

    A hurricane is a phenomenon that emerged out of atmospheric and oceanic dynamics but it grows and modifies its structure as it interacts with other systems. We could also think of the human embryo as a supreme expression of self-organization; it spontaneously emerges out of non-linear interactions.

    As for computer parallelism, we should remember the achievements of early programmers who developed a program that became the world checkers-playing champion. The concept was that computer programs are designed and developed to learn from their own experiences and improve skills through those experiences. This was called genetic algorithms.

    You see, Dr. Hammer’s use of a juxtaposition of gardens and computers is not far-fetched indeed; in fact, they -- gardens and computers -- both closely relate with theories of science that redefine order by accommodating system structures that were non-linear, non-periodic, and non-predictable.





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    1. Hi Mel-

      Finding interdisciplinary parallels is a wonderful way to express understanding. Do you think every landscape needs attention and care to grow?

      B

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  30. Wow, your views on nature and gardening are very sophisticated and require a wide-ranging knowledge of plant and animal species. I would have no idea how to create a garden that requires meticulous care vs. one that “just runs itself.” I love your idea of creating a garden space where animal species can come and play, though! So in your garden the “user experience” seems to be very holistic in that it recognizes the interconnectedness of all life forms and the ways they act upon their environments.

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  31. User experience of any situation implies that there is value attributed to the situation. It is easy to get caught up in the everyday landscape of our life and fail to see the intricate details of the matrix. And just as each user will have their own unique interpretation for the scene, and their own emotional values affecting their interpretation, the practical matter of the unseen connection still holds true. We are all part of this world, whether we chose to admit our role or not. The system of the user-matrix is a dynamic one and we can control the environment as much as we can control the user experience. We can plant the seeds and hope the conditions are ripe for growth, but in the end there are many factors, both natural and human that can alter this course. As I child, growing up on a cherry tree orchard, I know all too well the level of dependence that the fruits of our labor have on both conditions. We cannot change the climate, and yet our actions have altered it. We cannot change the pattern of the sun, and yet our un-checked industry has changed the strength of its rays. The unchecked, or uncontrolled environment is not sustainable over the long term because the matrix includes everyone, and not just a small part of this world.

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  32. I am intrigued by the idea of user experience through the lens of not only humans, but also the plants, animals, and other life forms that make up the garden and experience it. We can all take away a greater appreciation for the subtle changes and evolution that a garden experiences over time. I do not believe the average person thinks about life happening and evolving under the soil, or how the changing of the garden can create a sustainable and ever changing micro-ecosystem. This post is encouraging to me as I think about the future of my own garden, and how to help shape and form it early on so that it can support itself in the future. It is an interesting concept to think about reducing our footprint in our own built landscape, and not one that I have found to be easily accessible while shopping for plants. As the California drought continues, I hope to see more stores supply us gardeners in the Central Valley with plants and vegetation that is drought tolerant and hopefully indigenous.

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    1. Hi Miranda-

      How difficult is it for you to have something like a vegetable garden with the water shortage?

      B

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    2. Not difficult, we just have to monitor watering closely. We have a garden every year. We use micro drip to make sure we are not wasting water and staying within our allotment times during monitoring. We have lots of great veggies and fruits - peas, corn, peppers, cucumbers, guta (Armenian cucumber), butternut squash in quantities that made me take a year off from eating them. Aside from protein, we can be pretty self sufficient with food over the summer and well into the fall. This year I want to can tomatoes...we will see how that goes.

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    3. You give me hope...just bought seeds to grow herbs in my flower boxes instead of flowers and am going to try a small garden for the first time ever...with butternut squash!

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  33. How do gardens organize themselves once they've been planted, what balance is tried to be restored? Is the reorganization really random? If I would define the chaos, change and movement that was just described in the article, it would go somewhere along the lines of a tragic comedy like the ones that Shakespeare used to write. Sometimes one wants to cry as the garden's plot deviates drastically from the societal norm; I planted this plant specifically here and it should have stayed there; and who invited that new ant to the plot? Or laugh in awe to the unexpected privileges of experiencing life and nature in its wise and mystical terms.

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  34. I love the thought of the "user experience" and the matrix. So many gardeners try to control every little bit of the plantings and leave themselves unable to enjoy serendipitous occurrences. I'm not in a living situation right now where I can garden, but when I am again I will have this user experience idea in mind - from choosing the appropriate plants for the climate to just allowing native things to flourish instead of weeding them all out and replacing them with what I think would be best.

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  35. Over the course of centuries, I agree that the key to sustainability is best suited when the left to run itself. There are many untouched and unspoiled, if you will, areas of nature near my home. When saplings survive they grow and change the landscape but in many cases they do not survive. When they grow over top of one another sometime they create the most interested trees in the forest. A bed of pine needles play host to the forest dwellers both above and below the surface. There is no need to remove the needles, they are part of the grander plan.

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    1. Hi Carolyn-

      Is there a way, do you think, for us to grow the food we need and still keep all of these other worlds within our own world alive and thriving?

      B

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  36. A lot of great points in this article. Experiencing a garden can be very rewarding for both the owner and observers of a garden. Gardens can be great for both providing vegetables, fruits, and of course flowers that provide great beauty. The “Operating System” was very interesting to me, this is a clear indication that things are evolving both beneath and above the surface in a cyclical way. Interesting is how a garden repeats itself without the help of human interaction year after year. Depending on what has been planted, there are usually a revival and even a stronger form of the plant will come back without having to re-seed, etc. Another interesting piece in the article was the creation of a “matrix.” All gardens are different and usually is up to the owner what direction they want to go when creating their own personal masterpiece. Some gardens big and small are simply stunning with aspects that were created to provide for a brilliant landscape. The fact that an environment can sustain itself is a wonderful aspect of nature. The way that a garden can seed itself without much human interaction is great, therefore leaving the garden to be manicured is all that is necessary if you choose to do so. The way plants seek out light is also very interesting as they try to find nourishment, almost as if they are competing against one another to stay sustainable. Great Article.

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  37. There is something special about the the idea of an environment running and sustaining itself. Living in an area where there is hardly in any greenery I constantly see people who make a career out of maintaining the area we live and work in. I used to believe there were some natural gardens in the city, and thought it was finding a pot of gold, however I realized the majority of those are man made and man maintained when I saw a truck load of plants being installed in the middle of times square where there are hardly any gardens to begin with.

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  38. This post explains how so many natural variables interfere, and to a great degree define, the ever so changing design of a garden (analogy for the landscape changes as well). And the squirrels planting the garden in the earlier post makes perfect sense to me now :). The most interesting part in the article for me was the lighting changes to that piece of land. I would’ve never made the connection that growing plants or buildings nearby would inevitably affect the design of the garden. Then you went on describing how even your own plants would affect each others’ growth and look. Then you went into different layers of variables affecting the design. How can I not look at the landscape differently now?

    p.s. I noticed I wanted to add the words “final design of the garden” quite a few times while I was typing this up, and keep realizing there Is no final design. It takes some time to look at things differently now :)

    Thank you for the wonderful post

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  39. I am thinking about beginner gardens, intermediate gardens, and advanced gardens. What does that even mean? I constantly hear the words low and high maintenance when choosing plants at a local nursery. In my case, I definitely need low maintenance plants. In a way, I feel they should all be low maintenance if they are native to a certain area. I do not like to force an issue, so why would I want to force a plant to do something it naturally does not want to do? Some folks in my neighborhood prefer native plants. Others, like exotic plants (which may become invasive). I had that problem with bamboo. It spread like wild fire, and consumed everything in its path. I have learned to sometimes choose the path of least resistance, just like water – it flows. I think landscape designers have responsibility to also take into account whom will be maintaining and assisting the landscape. Let the autopilot take over for a while…

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  40. I like the idea of your garden as a matrix. It creates an image a whole new world happening within your plot of land and that new things grow in your garden that you did not necessarily plan on having there. It makes me want to look at my small back yard and see what is happening that I did not plan on and what I can do to encourage the things I want there. If I were to add anything I would go further into the activities taking place in the soil and how you can manage or control the soil. Not only is the garden a matrix, but it is also an experiment in chemistry.

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  41. The dimensions the same. The layout the same. What is going on above and below has changed. Like the plant above the ground, below the ground the roots are longer, bigger and stronger. No longer a juvenile plot but a mature, deep rooted living world that is supported by what lives inside it and around it as mush as it supports what lives inside it and around it.

    I think about my parents neighborhood. A neighborhood that was built into amongst the trees; limiting the amount that was torn down. A neighborhood built amongst mature elms and pines. Owners landscaping their lots with new plants, trees, or flowers. Adding to a mature landscape. Watching, over time how their footprint added, changed, deducted the mature landscape their home was built on.

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  42. Wow I love how you can make us think in ways we haven't before. It reminds me of a quote " That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life but in a new way" - Doris Lessing
    A garden evolves. Unless you are growing a garden for food. We really experience gardens for their beauty or serenity, maybe plant flowers that attract butterflies or hummingbirds if we enjoy seeing them! I wonder if the best gardeners or landscapers in the world can exactly see the future of their vision. Which way a rose will face? etc A home garden you never get what you think you are going to get. Critters come through, seeds are blown, bees spread pollen. Weeds. What makes a weed a weed? I actually think dandelions are pretty. I guess a weed is anything one does not want growing in their garden. The little things we do not think about make our world such a beautiful place.

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  43. Anything relating to gardening and nature or landscaping, sometimes seems predictable and controllable but it is a complete opposite. The matrix is something quite new to me and quite a good idea. Planning to put different species of plants together can make something very beautiful. It seems to me that what you can grow in the soil now has its benefits and actually may get you more opportunities to grow different plants as seeds remain in the soil and new fungus supports the growth of the plants. Everything supports each other in the system.

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  44. Loved this article! So much food for thought. Your words, “The matrix will change over time and come to re-form itself, partly as a random process and at some level, as part of the design,” summarized your point so perfectly. There is no way to know how things will change over time and what outside factors will come into play in the landscape. We never know how a tree will grow and how it will effect the sunlight required for other vegetation and insects growing in the landscape. We don’t know which insects will prosper in a certain landscape and therefore play a role there. I have noticed in my yard that once the trees were trimmed in the corner, more flowers bloomed causing more bees in our yard. Each part of the landscape plays a vital role in the continuation and success of it!

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  45. The idea that we can literally, “plot” out a garden, and think it will stay static is foolish at best. Last Spring I built a planter box and did my best to plot where the plants, tomatoes, and basil would go. To my surprise, the garden had a mind of its own. Like your blog post, Dr. Hammer, on the surface the garden was doing one thing, but below the surface and in the air above the garden, a wholly different agenda has happening.

    After reading your blog, I also realized, or became of aware of external forces that impacted the success or failure of the garden: the amount of water, the coverage and position of the sun, the impacts of the birds and bees; all of these things were simply an afterthought. Had I known to look differently at those things, as I do now, I would have embraced their contribution.

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    1. I know it's weird to reply to your own post, but the more I think about what you said Dr. Hammer, I keep thinking of the film Epic. A film about creatures who lived in the forest but humans couldn't see. Everything happening in the forest was of their doing, but to humans it simply looked like Mother Nature. Maybe that's what is happening in our gardens... ;O)

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  46. I find this post one of the most interesting that I have read because it really made me look at gardens in a different way. What I mean by that is that I never took into account how the outside world would have an impact on someones garden. I also never really thought of new things such as microbes and fungi growing in the garden because of the outside interference. I guess I just never thought how the squirrels, birds, and other things that could affect the garden. I always looked at it as something that only humans can control how it looks.
    When thinking about how many things can affect the garden I think we could make a comparison to what we have been doing in class the first few weeks. In class we were observing our landscape and seeing how external forces helped change the landscape around us and w reading about the garden and how external forces cause it to change, I was reminded of our earlier lessons. Your posts have not only made me look at the land around me and wonder what happened to make it the way it is; but it is now making me look at things that I would never think would be affected by external forces in a new light.
    These posts have made me want to perhaps try to have a little garden in my house. Living in the city I feel like I should do my part to put a little more green around.

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  47. This post is quite different than The Asynchronous Landscape, by talking about UX design philosophies relating to gardens. I’ve been to quite a few gardens that are quite unique in many ways. English gardens are different from Japanese. Many of these gardens have unique plants for their region. The designer is influenced by the culture which expects certain elements. An English garden might have many trees that are tall. Including Maple or Oak. But, a Japanese garden might have many Bonsai that are small. However I agree that the designer can control the garden to certain point. It will be the plants themselves that will adapt to each other to flourish. The garden might start growing something that the designer didn’t plan on like clovers that increase nitrogen in the soil that help other plants. To go further into this topic I would like to learn about the users who pick one park over another.

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  48. I liked your concept of "user matrix". You could even think of this as an art form. Like you said you can't really control the outcome but whatever happens is beautiful and contributes to our world (who uses garden). I also think that in your last comment about the designer role is minimal (I agree) but I also think the keeper can manipulate it by moving things around, adding new plants or taking away etc! When you bring these things up it makes you stop and think. I look at a garden and think of just a lot with plants but forget that someone planted that and cultivated it... possibly through generations! Crazy!

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  50. The first thing that comes to mind is that there is no amount of planning one can make when compared with the forces of nature. Nature will prevail. From Prof's essay even he couldn't predict what would happen in his garden over the years. Imagine the amount of energy required to maintain manicured gardens around the world? I also wonder about the effects on our own gardens and what we are trying to create when I see a pest control truck pulling out of the neighbors driveway.

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  51. What strikes me as different in this post is the ever changing world beneath the surface. I’m not sure I’ve actually taken that into consideration. I love gardens I think they are beautiful I frequent the Norfolk Botanical Gardens here in Hampton Roads in the summer mostly because of the fun activities and although they have signature gardens like our rose garden other aspects are ever changing. I could never personally experience this as I have a black thumb I could look at a cactus and it would die before I turned away. We always want things to look so pretty to the eye and we tend to forget what is happening that we can’t see it brings a whole new look to the world below our feet.

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  52. While planting a garden I know that I would not think to consider the ways that the garden would be affected by outside forces that are unpredictable. I think that the point about the trees growing and affecting the light for other plants, or animals distributing things where you wouldn’t plan or expect is a really good example. I often find gardens that allow this type of “natural” or “wild” design are more beautiful than the perfectly organized ones.

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  53. I never really considered what really goes on with or around gardens. This post made me think of just how unpredictable the nature world around us can really be. We often see these tiny garden as our own little creations. We ignore the fact that it is not and it will change with or without our help. Prior to this post, I often saw gardens for their beauty and nothing more. I believe now I will learn to really appreciate its uncontrollable nature. The whole idea of the matrix is also a unique and a different way to look at it for me. This really summarized the whole idea of the nature world as a random process, “For sure your control as a designer is minimal and maybe that’s the best way”. I believe this was the best way to end this argument. If nature was too predictable it wouldn’t be worth experiencing.

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  54. Living in an area that has so many new developments, I am saddened when areas are cleared out of plantlife in order to make room for newly built condominiums and family homes. Instead of natural vegetation, plants and trees are organized in an orderly fashion to provide greenery for the soon to be new inhabitants taking the place of the old. I can see the picture of what it is suppose to look like in 10 or 20 years... The trees - tiny little saplings when planted - will be fully grown towering over the (then old) houses. Parks will be shaded and lush instead of bare. If only I would be able to enjoy it now instead of having to wait 20 years.

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  55. I never thought about user experience in terms of anything other than technology. I work in information technology and computer science, and the majority of my college and work experience thus far has revolved around such. I've tried to step back after reading this post to think about what user experience truly is, rather than with what I associate it. User experience, from my thinking, is what kind of layout or design will enable a user (or gardener, or student, or researcher, etc...) to create to the fullest potential without being weighed down by process or confused by hidden features.

    Doing this thinking really helped me understand this post. I'm glad it challenged me to think differently about what user experience is. I would argue that a lot of college is about the user experience - that is, the ease of obtaining critical thinking skills and applying deeper learning, without being bogged down by irrelevant or overly confusing and out of scope ideas. Thank you, Professor Sam, for creating a great user experience!

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  56. This article reminds me of my neighbor's English garden. I have admired it for years. It suits her cottage style home and it requires very little watering. She grew up in England so she wants some of the English countryside in her front yard to remind her of home. I feel lucky to be able to enjoy it every day. Like you said in your article, it must be her ability to allow her garden to evolve naturally. She doesn't force change (only pruning or replacing plants when needed). It doesn't require a lot of work either, pruning or weeding every three or four months. Thank you for another great article!

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    1. Hi Susan,
      The effective use of water or having gardens that utilize very little water are major goals in drought prone areas. I use a laundry to landscape approach to water my gardens. My gardens are not anything stellar, but they are edible ;).

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  57. I love this. It brings up the almost overwhelming realization that at any point in time, we are experiencing something along with millions of other lifeforms. We are never truly "alone"- we share the resources of our planet with innumerable others, and every choice we make affects them as well. To chop down a tree means we are abolishing the homes of everyone- from birds in their nests, to the fungi that grow in the cool, dark shade below the trunk. That's not to say that such actions are evil or unnecessary- we obviously need these resources to thrive, but as you point out in your article, we mustn't forget that we aren't the only ones experiencing the garden.
    As an aside, the first picture you posted is beautiful- what kind of wood is that?

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  58. This blog post reminded me of my family’s garden in our backyard and the terrible “user experience” that we created. This comment above is truly significant: “But the dimensions above and below have changed. And so has the operating system.” My family and I can relate to this experience. Two years ago when we first moved in we created a small series of box gardens built directly into the ground. As this blog has taught me, I didn’t think of any of the ramifications it would cause, quite the contrary! I thought I was adding to the natural landscape and reducing our carbon footprint. Instead, we introduced aggressive flora and interrupted the natural order of the surrounding animal life. Our first mistake: we planted mint. This sweet and easy to grow plant is also terrifyingly invasive to life around it. The box that housed mint also contained basil, parsley and other herbs. By the end of the first summer, the mint plants had conquered the entire herb garden. We decided that it was time for a reset, so we took down the box gardens and unearthed all of the mint. Or so we thought! The very next spring we planted flowers where the herb garden was previously located and up popped row after row of the same mint plants from the year before. It took substantial work to eradicate the mint. Additionally, when we first created the box gardens, we did not put up any fencing around the area. That brought unwelcomed critters during the night. Fast forward to the present, the garden is gone but the varmints have changed their behavior and stayed around our yard. Rabbits and voles have garnered the attention of some local house cats and an epic struggle for life happens in our backyard once a week. Where the garden once stood a large hole is dug repeatedly by some unknown critter and filling in the hole has become futile.
    I didn’t really understand why the upheaval in the landscape until reading this blog. My carefree decision to create a garden based on my own views changed the overall landscape of my yard. Holistically, I introduced a new type of invasive plant to the environment and I changed the hunting/gathering behavior of local wildlife. So what is the lesson here? Before connecting the dots via this blog, my family and I decided to try things differently this year with our “garden.” We used giant gallon buckets (reused from my wife’s work), planted our “garden” above ground and added a fence. Although the hole is still there (fairly sure it’s made by our neighbor’s sly cat) the wildlife has not invaded our garden and there is very little chance that we will spread mint or any other plants now that we’re using buckets. I didn’t know how to articulate that decision when constructing our new pseudo-garden then, but after this blog I can relate to the thought that you can’t plan for everything, but you can react and allow the landscape to form naturally.

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