Floating / Travelling Gardens of (Post)colonial Time

by Carmen Concilio

This essay on travelling gardens of (post)colonial time opens with two iconic images of floating gardens in contemporary postcolonial literature: Will Phantom’s bio-garbage rafter, which saves him in the midst of a cyclone in Carpentaria (2008), by the Aboriginal author Alexis Wright, and Pi’s carnivore island-organism in Life of Pi (2001), which cannot save him from his shipwreck, by Canadian writer Yan Martel. These floating, hybrid gardens of the Anthropocene precede the real travelling gardens of both Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table (2011) and Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy (2008-2015), two authors who both indirectly and directly tell the story of botanical gardens in Asia, and of plant and seed smuggling and transplantation (“displacement”) also hinting at their historical and economic colonial implications. For, after all, botanical gardens imply a very specific version of care, Cura (Robert Pogue Harrison 2009), while embodying a precise, imperial scientific and economic project (Brockway 2002; Johnson 2011).