Sensing Scale in Experimental Gardens: Un-Lawning with Silphium Civic Science




civic science, garden, plants, scale framing, story


Gardening experiments are timely in the context of what many now call the Anthropocene, an era that highlights questions of how humans collectively relate to the larger Earth systems in which we are embedded. In Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept, Timothy Clark reflects on the “unreadability” of the Anthropocene. He invites ecocritics to address this challenge by practicing “scale framing,” reading texts in variable and increasingly broad scales, and engaging the contradictions that emerge. We applied a scale framing approach to a story of relationships with Silphium integrifolium in an experimental gardening project. Silphium is a native North American perennial prairie plant being domesticated as a future oilseed crop. We are researchers and participants in a civic science project, in which individual garden sites are designed to collect data on and conserve silphium ecotypes while being linked into a wider network. In particular, we analyzed a civic science video story created by Ellie Irons called “Un-Lawning with Silphium.” Through our ecocritical analysis, we generated a framework to visualize nested and cross-scalar relationships in gardening projects. This framework could help inform the design and assessment of experimental gardening projects that feature the arts and humanities (e.g., digital narratives, ecocriticism, and pedagogy) and connect them with the natural and social sciences (e.g., plant breeding, botany, geography, and ecology) through transdisciplinary and participatory research methodologies for public engagement (e.g., civic science). We found that civic science gardening with silphium, and other gardening experiments in the Anthropocene, can guide public sensory engagements with scale, help spark recognition and investigation of contradictory scale effects, and motivate us to imagine and build relationships of caring responsibility.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Aubrey Streit Krug, The Land Institute

Aubrey Streit Krug is a writer, teacher, and agricultural researcher who studies relationships between humans and plants. She holds a PhD in English and Great Plains Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her recent collaborative work has been published in ASAP/JThe New Farmer’s Almanac, Frontiers in Plant Science, and Plants, People, Planet. She works at The Land Institute, based in Kansas in the United States, and loves rocky prairie hillsides.

Ellie Irons

Ellie Irons is an artist, scholar and educator living and working on Mohican land in current-day Troy, New York, USA. In December 2021, she completed a practice-based PhD at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), focused on forms of ecosocial art that cultivate plant-human solidarity. Currently she works as a community science educator and lab manager for NATURE Lab at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. Her most recent publication is the book Feral Hues: A Guide to Painting with Weeds (Publication Studio Hudson, 2023).

Anna Andersson, The Land Institute

Anna Andersson is an interdisciplinary researcher and artist working as a civic science research technician at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, USA. Along with colleagues at The Land Institute, she is engaged in designing and facilitating civic science projects to test participatory research methods in advancing perennial grain domestication.

Additional Files





Articles: Gardening (against) the Anthropocene