Artist Statement: Every Place is the Story of its Own Becoming.

Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Survival Piece VII: The Crab Farm, Scylla Serrata (Forsskål) 1972-1973.
Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Survival Piece VII: The Crab Farm, Scylla Serrata (Forsskål) 1972-1973

A Future Garden for the Central Coast of California

We at the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure call the project in these three domes and surrounding landscape a Future Garden. This is one of a series of Future Gardens currently in process, each of which is guided by the same metaphor: Every Place is the Story of its Own Becoming.

The core insight of all Future Gardens is that every place has experienced temperature increases, drought, and plant species die-off in its past. And, every place has regenerated its ecosystem over time with new species ensembles better adapted to changing weather conditions. Future Garden propagates adaptable local species as the foundation for the future ecosystems.

The experiment inside the three domes is simple. Sixteen plant species were selected from the major eco-regions of California’s central coast for their resilience to drought, variable rainfall, and temperature extremes. Each of the three domes holds the same 16 plants, repeated in two different groupings, clustered by species on one side and randomly on the other. As a constant, each dome is kept warmer than the outside ambient temperature. As a variable, we are applying distinct watering regimes to the three domes: one wetter, one wildly variable and one drier than the regional precipitation average. The species on the outside ground plane are the same as those inside and thus have some properties of a control, to see what will thrive outside in response to the natural water regime.

This 50-year experiment focuses on building a diverse group of plants that can be propagated and move into our future heat-shocked and weather-changed region. The original 16-species ensemble will act as the scaffolding that will self-complicate over time. As some species die off they will be replaced with new ones in order to generate the most resilient ensemble possible.

From Big Sur to San Francisco

An unusual grouping, the original sixteen plants. Medicinal uses by the Amah Mutsun, Muwekma Ohlone, Miwok and others include callus removal, treatment of poison oak, syphilis, tuberculosis, kidney and bladder problems, urinary tract infections and stomach aches.

Many spread by rhizome; an excellent survival tactic.  Most exist in many places in the coastal range; evidence of their resilience. Some are more drought-tolerant, some like dampness. All have many uses as food for bird and insect life.  Some of the grasses offer forage for herbivores. All exemplify the deep value of biodiversity. 

In the long term, we are searching for plant ensembles that can self-complicate to become the scaffolding for an ecosystem that can, to an extent, replace that which degenerates from rapid temperature rise. In the shorter term, we are assisting the migration of species and acting as part of the scaffolding. 

A Few Notes on the Ensemble

California Mugwort – ceremonial, a dream inducer; Coast Buckwheat – soothe colds and coughs; Seaside Daisy – likes clay, and somebody said the deer love it; Coyote Mint – fragrant, filled with pollen, nectar; Yarrow – attracts predatory insects that feast on botanical pests; California Aster – is tough and colonizes disturbed sites; Tufted Hairgrass – a favorite of cattle and sheep; Foothill Sedge – grows in the meadows and uses little water; California Fescue – has deep roots, the seeds are eaten by birds; Torrey’s Melic Grass – a charmer, often found flowering beneath the oaks; Lizard Tail – used by the Maidu and Miwok to relieve aches and pains; Black Sage – the seeds are loved by quails; Sea Lettuce – a succulent that can be eaten raw; California Fuchsia – the hummingbird favorite with its red color and sweet nectar; Dwarf Checkermallow – a perfect home for the larvae of West Coast Lady butterfly; Gum Root – has golden flowers still in bloom when others have faded.

From the High Ground to the Sea

Future Garden intends to contribute to the wellbeing of the future local biotic communities of this region. The Future Garden concept has an additional goal. It seeks to empower people to act in the face of climate change. It is a botanical adventure and can be done simply, with minimal infrastructure, with regional botanists and everyday folk. 

While the domes and the land immediately surrounding them are attempting this within controlled environments, the external landscape is also activated in an entirely different way but with similar intentions. A pocket forest is planted in the space adjacent to the growing areas north of the domes. This forest is being planted with tree species that we predict will survive the temperature rise and changing weather of future years. This planting of heat-adapted biodiverse species will, according to specialists, act as a necessary ‘climatic nucleus’ in the face of climate change, radiating outwards as conditions warm.

The hillsides adjacent to the domes are being re-planted with coastal chaparral, particularly Toyon, Lemonade Berry (a little stretch), Baccharis and various sages. The overarching idea in the surrounding landscape is to create a variation of the mini-universe attempted in Japanese gardens. In our mini-universe, the emergent ecologies within the domes are surrounded by the hillside plantings of chaparral and the future forest pocket of conifers and oaks, which in turn is nested in the landscape of the Central Coast. This mini-universe is a biodiverse field, which can complicate as most natural systems do when the energy (sun and water) is available; the intention is to expand and improve the regional biome as the ensemble develops and as existing biotopes retreat in response to heat shock and changing weather.