Devotional Gardening

An exploration into the design of simple tools for gardening, and how simple technologies might support devotional and meditative engagement through tool use


Devotional Gardening was a research through design project by Tom Jenkins that examined possibilities of tools that serve a purpose beyond raw functionality. While tools are most commonly used as a means of focusing and harnessing human power for more efficient labor, grafting meanings from one space onto another serves to open the frame of the roles for both design and work.

Augmenting traditional gardening tools to create space for spiritual experiences using electronics creates a tension in two dimensions: one, countering the idea of gardening and small-scale agriculture as being somehow more natural or closer to the earth by mediating the experience in an unexpected way; and two, through using electronics as a digital medium for fostering a resonant spiritual experience with material objects.

This project consists of 4 prototypes: a set of shears, a trowel, a hand cultivator, and a shovel. Each object is intended to be both functional and reflective. The physical use of the tool is mapped to enact a different kind of meaning as well as support their original purpose.

Designing for devotion at first seems like a strange way to approach generating technological artifacts, especially in the context of small-scale agriculture. On initial glance, these properties seem fundamentally very different. Looking more deeply, however, there exist evocative similarities between them: for one, gardening and religion are both fundamentally practices. They are performed, at a particular place, repetitively. Worshippers and horticulturists both enact their devotion over and over again in the hope of creating results—piety on the one hand and produce on the other.

The goal with this work is to create objects that represent a design fiction around how gardening is understood. Working a plot is something that is done out of practical desires like obtaining food, but is also a practice reflecting a deeper desire to connect directly with the earth, as well as embodying a conscious political choice and commitment of time and energy for uncertain future reward. Ultimately, the idea behind these objects is to understand the idea of devotion as a practice, and support the experience of devotion wherever it can be found.