Cherokee Worldview Garden

     In 2002, I was awarded a Clemson University "Provost's Innovation Grant" to develop the Cherokee Garden. An outgrowth (ahem) of my dissertation, the project was several years in the making and continues its growth today. Why a garden about Cherokee people?

     The idea began after searching locally for current, accurate, and respectful interpretation of the tribe. When I found none, I also simultaneously discovered that very few of my students knew anything substantial about the tribe or their knowledge, despite living in former Cherokee lands. As work on my dissertation progressed, I began to see how differently Cherokee people view the world. This was a revelation to me, having grown up next to the town of Cherokee in North Carolina and having many Cherokee friends. I gained an enormous respect for how they view life and their resulting actions with and in nature. The desire to rectify the lack of knowledge and to translate this amazing view of the world was the first impetus for building the garden.

     So, for years I worked with many different faculty, botanical garden staff, students and community members to make the gardens a reality. We took field trips to Cherokee to listen to storytellers and elders, visited the Museum, the Village and spoke to Cherokee people for inspiration and advice. The resulting work to build the garden was accomplished by many. The connections to Cherokee people were created to inspire new ways of knowing the world. Cherokee people came here to view the spot chosen for the garden, to offer advice, to let us know if we were on the right track and then finally to sing and dance the garden into existence, she imagines, knowing this is not her call. 

     However, getting people to recognize the subtle lens of culture is a difficult task. I knew a garden that focused strictly on plants used by Cherokee people wouldn't accomplish that, though many gardens are built with this purpose in mind. To stretch understanding, the garden needed cultural depth in a manner similar to what one finds in Japanese Gardens. Thus, the idea of building worldview into the context of garden design became the aim. Plants faded into the background and became one more means by which we could translate the primary components of worldview and attendant mythologies. See a few pictures of the garden here, located within the South Carolina Botanical Gardens.

     As the garden has grown, so have my thoughts about its value to the world. Given the significant environmental challenges we face, models of other ways of knowing are desperately needed. See a recent presentation I gave about the garden here. Look here for an interview with Freeman Owle, Cherokee elder and storyteller. Stay tuned for more information.  



© Karen C. Hall, 2010