Cherokee Worldview Garden (in development)

Cherokee Garden Site Plan by Jon Fritz

The Cherokee Worldview Garden is currently under development.  For fall 2009 through spring 2010, planting and construction has been made possible by generous contributions from members of the Greenville Garden Club. Research on native plants and the Cherokee Worldview has been conducted by members of the S.C. Botanical Garden staff and by Karen Hall of Clemson University.

Development of the Cherokee Worldview Garden

For all the history, lore, and horticulture depicted within the 295-acres comprising the South Carolina Botanical Garden, only one area acknowledges the first human beings to inhabit the land that we now steward. That is the Cherokee Worldview Garden.

When complete, this small (less than one acre) but important garden will be the only site in the state - and one of a few in the world - that helps convey the relationship the Cherokee have with nature and, in particular, the role that plants play in this relationship.

The focus on "worldview" fits well within the mission of the SCBG, which is to be “a place where nature and culture meet." Although there are interpretations of other cultures within the Garden, the focus of this particular garden is unique. Under the leadership of Dr. Karen Hall, who has studied and lived with the Cherokee, we have shied away from a strict linear interpretation that simply shows a collection of plants used by a particular people. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, our decision to shy from it was brought on by a deeper understanding of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The Cherokee people are still living, breathing and growing as a community, and they want to hold on to their culture. They live amidst the pressures of a dominant surrounding culture that encourages Cherokee people to become like they are and discourages the continuance of traditional knowledge as exemplified through their relationship with nature. The way in which the Cherokee see the world is not the primitive stereotype that many hold. It is a multifaceted, experiential, holistic and relational view of life. With this in mind, we wanted to build a garden that reflected the intricacies of this way of knowing the world. 

We are not trying to convince people to become or to act like Cherokee people, nor are we trying to take elements of Cherokee culture and have people replicate them as if they were their own. Instead, we hope that by being in the space we've created and through our interpretive signage, people will be able to experience another culture’s view of our world. If we are successful in achieving this lofty goal, it will result in people having a greater understanding of the Cherokees’ relationship with the natural world. This understanding could potentially lead to a paradigm shift in they way in which they themselves view the natural world. Given the extreme impact modern American culture has had on the natural world, a new way of seeing may be worth considering.

Further, we want the garden to be an opportunity for students and community members to interface and learn from Cherokee people. To that end, numerous students have been involved in the project. In fact, students who learned firsthand about Cherokee culture from Cherokee people proposed many of the design elements found within the garden. This exchange continues today as we intend to use students to help with the interpretive products/signage in the garden. Community members have also been involved in the project.

Most importantly, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees have been and continue to be involved in this garden. In fact, everything we have done has been with the full awareness, support, and blessing of the Eastern Band of Cherokees and they have visited the site on several occasions. In addition to this being the appropriate and respectful way to go about things, we are working with them to ensure the accuracy of what we do. We will continue to work with them as this garden matures and will also help them as they develop the gardens surrounding the new K-12 school complex in Cherokee, North Carolina.

As to the garden itself, it was not and is not intended to depict Cherokee life at one point in time. Instead, the focus of the garden is Cherokee worldview, demonstrated through design elements and selected interpretation of the culture through plants.

We have a very broad selection of plants in the garden. We are including plants used by the Cherokee for medicine, food, shelter, weaponry, basketry and other purposes. This means that our pallet includes many native plants. Additionally, the garden includes plants used in trade by the Cherokee (Black drink or Ilex vomitoria) and plants brought by Europeans (Mullein). We will be incorporating typical weeds (Portulaca, beggar’s lice, lamb’s quarters and others) that grew in fields and were and are utilized by Cherokee people. Additionally, we will grow tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), maygrass (Pharlaris caroliniana), amaranth and many others. 

A few structures will be included in the garden but not many, due to space, budget and mission. We will have a viewing platform typical to the Cherokee, a fire pit, benches, and some cane screens. There will also be signage to enhance the visitor's experience.

We are currently working with Cherokee people to develop digital stories of their use of plants. Visitors will be able to walk through the garden with digital devices (cell phones, PDA’s, laptops) and "see" Cherokee people telling their own stories of how they use a particular plant. 

The Cherokee Worldview Garden is currently under development. The reasons for this are many: a growing knowledge of working with native plants, lack of natives in the trade and climatic challenges. But the primary hold up at this point is lack of funds.

The Cherokee Worldview Garden will be completed, and upon its completion will stand as a significant portal to a culture that first inhabited this land that we, too, love.