The Planthunter finds an audience searching for connections between people and plants.
By Jennifer Reut / Photography from The Planthunter by Daniel Shipp
The Planthunter, despite its adventuresome name, is not about seeking bromeliads in the wilds, except that it kind of is. A web publication and now a book just out from Timber Press, The Planthunter is a platform for a community of designers and artists who have congregated around the landscape designer and writer Georgina Reid, and her aspiration to create a space where the many shades of our relationship with gardening could be unpacked. The Planthunter is for those who seek not specimen plants but a place to question the culture of people and plants.
Reid is based in New South Wales, Australia. She began looking for ways to upend her thinking after she had been designing gardens for about a decade and found herself frustrated with the publications she was reading. “I just got to a point where I was asking a lot of questions about gardens and design,” Reid says. “If you had a gardening magazine, you were being very practical and very horticultural, and there didn’t seem to be room to explore the wider context of plants and gardens in relation to culture and in relation to art design.”
“But there were no real conversations happening around why we garden.”
Reid started The Planthunter in 2013, and it’s organized into issues that collect ideas, images, and essays around a single theme, such as Mystery, Thrift, Ugly, and Obsession. Essays on the site can range from straightforward appreciations of designed spaces to profiles of nontraditional designers, which can include animals as well as people. The Planthunter has a distinct point of view, the shape of which has been elucidated and elaborated in thoughtfully selected images and essays by Reid and many contributors over the past five years. “I just wanted to make the best thing I could make, so I did,” she says. “And then I launched it, and then people actually started reading it and wanting to submit stories and wanting to do things. And all of a sudden there was a community and an audience there that I had no idea would actually exist.”
Though less well known in the United States, The Planthunter has a wide international readership. On Instagram, The Planthunter’s 73,000 followers are treated to a concentrated version of the publication—images paired with text that speaks to a variety of connections between humans and plants. A new book, The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos, and Plants (Timber Press, 2019), with photos by Daniel Shipp, will enlarge the reach of the website while focusing and extending some of the ideas that have been percolating on the site. The book includes essays on punk landscape architecture in Los Angeles and the 17-year project by Thomas Woltz, FASLA, at the 3,000-acre Orongo Station in New Zealand, but it is hard to describe in conventional landscape architecture terms. It is neither a gardening book nor a project-based design tome, but a new thing that combines a do-it-yourself design ethos with deep horticultural knowledge and an experimental approach to what is often unquestioned.
Reid says the rift between gardening and landscape design was part of the reason she stopped designing and began writing and gardening, eventually starting Planthunter. “It’s like there’s a disconnect between the profession and the actual act of gardening, and the benefits and the connection that that offers I think are often downplayed or not seen,” she says.
Underlying it all is the specter of climate change, a phenomenon that Reid says has transformed her approach to her work. “I’ve grown into that. I was kind of terrified of saying anything, or saying the wrong thing, or not doing enough around climate change and care for a really long time,” she says. “I think I’m becoming more explicit, but also I’m quite committed to this idea of change via seduction rather than telling people how to do things. I just don’t think that works.” She says the book is a distillation of ideas around what it means to garden, “an attempt to value that in a way that I don’t think we currently do and to value the role of the gardener in caring for the natural world that we are doing a good job of not caring for.”
Reid says her own garden, which she works on a remote peninsula north of Sydney, is a source of research and curiosity, though not always formal beauty. “I’m surprised every single day. I spent quite a lot of time in the garden, and most people would see my garden and be like, What the hell is that? This kind of really weird place, but there’s a whole lot going on in there in my head and, actually, in the soil.”