virtual gardening

Wikipedia defines virtual reality as a term that applies to computer-simulated environments that can simulate places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds.

Greg Egan’s mind-blowing science fiction novel Permutation City is about virtual worlds and artificial life. Unlike gardens we are familiar with, which obey the laws of nature, gardens in cyberspace obey whatever laws the programmers have written for it.

‘Thomas sat in the garden, watching the robots tend the flowerbeds. Their silver limbs glinted in the sunshine as they reached between the dazzling white blossoms. Every movement they made was precise, economical; there was no faltering, no resting. They did what they had to, and moved on…

'...The stillness of the garden began to unnerve him. There was a blankness to the scene he couldn’t penetrate, as if he was staring at an incomprehensible diagram, or an abstract painting he couldn’t quite parse. As he gazed across the lawn, the colours and textures flooding in on him suddenly dissociated completely into meaningless patches of light. Nothing had moved, nothing had changed – but his power to interpret the arrangement of shades and hues had vanished; the garden had ceased to exist.’

Although this does seem weird and futuristic virtual gardens already exist.

Way back in 1994 a project called Nerve Garden started – describing itself as a public terrarium in cyberspace and a work in progress designed to provide experience of a virtual terrarium which grows, decays and evolves just like a “real” ecosystem.

A more recent example is an app called iZen Garden developed for the iPad. It is advertised as offering “All the peace and tranquillity of a Zen Garden, without the sandy mess!”

I haven’t visited Second Life for quite a while and have never surveyed the gardening scene there. But the opportunity is certainly there to garden and get whatever results you want, with absolutely no messy bits!


  1. Dear Catmint, This posting does, indeed, raise some very interesting ideas and thoughts, not least that various societies throughout the world appear to spend more time in a virtual world than rooted in reality. This seems, in my experience, to be particularly so of a younger generation who 'experience' so much without experiencing at all.

  2. Very neat but for me, I have to get the sand in my hands and even feel the insects biting me. Ha! Not so much the biting but know they are there. Cyberspace is MOST cool!

  3. Hi Catmint, Great post! Intriguing to ponder this reality. The image of a robot in a garden with white flowers is bizarre. Real time gardening is for me. The sensual reality can not be duplicated ... well maybe on Star Trek ... I will stay in the garden with all the real birds and bees. Still the book looks interesting. Who knows what the future holds. ;>)

  4. Scaarrry! Though I too, have often marveled at Star Trek's holodeck. Maybe this is the beginning. But I know I will stick to real dirt in real time.

  5. I think Edith Hope put it well - experiencing so much without experiencing at all. Virtual gardens intrigue me, but what we learn from nature is so complex, so multilayered, and so unfathomable by the human mind, that I doubt your could get very far with it - unless you let the plants and mycelium and humus and insects and birds and bacteria and the stars and the seasons and weather patterns program the computers. Now I'd love to see that type of communication between humans, technology, and nature.

  6. What I love most about gardening is the process (getting-the-hands-dirty) plus the imperfections and surprises. I don't think they'll ever simulate that. Well, I hope not anyway.

  7. Looks like a good book - I'll watch for it. I'm so disabled now, I virtually garden, though I miss the feel of the earth.

  8. dear friends, thank you so much for your interesting comments. We all vastly prefer the 'real' thing, with its richness and complexity and unpredictability. But for people who have disabilities, like you, Hermes, maybe it is better to have the option to garden virtually rather than not at all???????

    Another thought I have is given the terrible loss of biodiversity, virtual life will be the only way to experience the many extinct flora and fauna.

    I guess it's a tool we already have, so let's try to influence it for good as much as possible.

    Cheers, CM

  9. This is an interesting scenario which I have not thought of before. Makes me appreciate the real living garden even more.

  10. Virtual things capture attention of youths. They love all virtual things. I hope these virtual things will be a 'bridge' or an introduction for the younger ones to the 'real' nature.

  11. How interesting and thanks for those links - I will check them out! My daughter has a Nintendo DS and there is a gardening game for that, and of course the popularity of "Farmville" on facebook speaks for itself. I prefer the real dirt!

  12. Was it Philip K Dick who coined the term 'cyberspace' .. (or William Gibson)?
    If anyone had told me a decade ago that I would be connecting with friends like you, Catmint, in a virtual world, I would not have believed it.
    Virtual gardening seems equally strange to me at this point in time.
    Are you feeling any repercussions from the N.Z. earthquake? I know the land is distant, but wondered all the same. Alice aka Alice's Garden Travel Buzz

  13. But not being able to toil in the dirt? I don't know...


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