A Word of Welcome

I cut an old leaf from my house plant. Is that actually caring? Should I not just let it grow yellow? Starting from the phenomenon of houseplants, I got fascinated by how they seduce me into a kind of care where I try to control their growth. Does the plant even want to be bigger?

I recognise this tendency to give shape, when making something or helping someone, but it seems unhelpful. I'm looking for ways of acting that respect the agency outside myself, without 'careful' turning into inertia (which is rather careless). How to care in a trustful way?

Care Design

Specifically, I'm looking for what material conditions invite such a trustful care-relation. I'm starting from the idea that care is often designed. Human plant-care is a relation that is mediated by tools, images, or concepts. These 'technologies' not only reflect ideas of how humans relate to plants, but also shape and reproduce them.

Here, I want to get a better sense of how design choices affect relations of care. Both how they may invite a control-based relation, but in the end to explore:

How to design a plant-care relation based on trust?

Gathering method

On this site I collect cases where design structures the care relation between humans and plants. I look for relations where humans do engage with plants – care rather than neglect – but where plants have agency over how they grow – trust rather than control.

This creates four quadrants. Bottom-left is the Easy Dystopia of full control that isolates us from engagement with plants. Bottom-right is the Hard Dystopia of much care but in a controlling shape that will reproduce the inequalities and vulnerabilities of today. Top-left is an Unexpected Ally; although care is far off, it does teach me ways of letting go. Top-right is my Utopia of trustful ways of caring.

I group these instances into different disciplines of 'design'. So far there are the following layers:

  1. Giving, Holding, Taking. (graphic design)
  2. Garden Arrangements. (landscape design)
  3. The House-Plant-House. (architecture)
  4. Views of Nature. (cultural concepts)

Based on gathering many of such instances and my subjective reflections on them, I hope to find patterns. Patterns between these design disciplines that may teach me some literacy in what design choices and aesthetics to avoid, and mostly, what are design tactics to invite trustful care.


I see this site as a Gathering stage of a larger, self-initiated, artistic research project that will be complemented by a positioning Report and Proposals for alternative designs. The shape of these will depend on what I'll find here.

If you're interested in discussing it or contributing a layer, send me an email or dm.





When an instance of design invites a relation with plants where plants get space to move or make mess.


When design structures a relation where human and plant are involved with each other.


When the technology feels like it increases the distance between human and plant.


When technology gives humans more agency over how plants grow or don't grow.


family: Icons

Hand pot

Holding a plant in transit in between two places where it can live or on its way to the bin.

The engagement is strong, skin to soil, wood to flesh even, but so is the hierarchy. The livelihood of the plant resting on the palm of your hand.

I just feel a slice of doubt when looking at the wrist, which makes the hand look less like something that controls than something cut off.


family: Icons

Planet catching

Not sure if these hands actually hold or cherish or are just not sure why?

There is the involvement of a parent letting their kid balance. No touch but full attention.

Quite trustful, if it wasn't for the implication in the scaling that a pair of human hands could carry the earth if it would tip out of balance. Assuming a parental role admits some hubris.


family: Icons

Soil slipping

Fingers squeezed together, don't let this one slip!

There's care in the carefulness required for this manouvre, also manifest in the commitment of assigning both hands to the task of carrying the plant.

While this compromises human agency somewhat, the plant is still fully dependent on the human performing their care role well.

Plus, involvement with the soil may not translate in engagement with the plant, it may even distract.


family: Icons

The Wonder of the wind

Look how it moves!

Is wonder a mode of engagement? Perhaps but it may be a bit consumptive. Like letting a site of Wilderness blow fresh life in your face. Still, it is appreciative.

The hands seem soft. No intention of crushing, plucking or otherwise hurting the plant. They respond.


family: Icons

Globe Squeeze

The hands form a bowl wrapping the globe just over half from below. As they find it cute.

A planet represented by its meridians is like a body represented by its weight. Perhaps the meridians are more a representation of the system of measurement itself. The care less for the planet, and more for the systems to manage it.

In any case, plants are far away, both from the relation and from power.


family: Icons

Why, or, whatever

There is the moment of departure, and the moment of reckoning. You let it fly away, and now what?

The planet seems far away to me, it could be a tourist doing a Tower of Pisa pose on the Moon.

But I prefer a parental reading. The hands, still warm, left held up in wonder, to see the planet fly on its own. Why did it have to leave now? Or, whatever, it's too late now. The World is free and so be it.

Maybe this is when stepping back is the most caring.


family: Icons

Just whatever

There is the glaring absense of plants, but also of hubris.

I always feel that the nihilist retreat is cowardice at best, and self-evasive at worst. But I'm a nerd.

What is cool about the cool is the generousity in the space it makes. Space to be unbothered, free in the American dream and the land of any origin story. The generousity of the challenge to figure it out, to play.

What's a cool caring? #dadquestions


family: Icons

Planet pot

It seems to capture some sort of dream. Of earth as a nutritious pure and rich ball of wet soil that can ground and nurture a seed into a tree. Air must be jealous, that ever-present thing we can't see.

So, while nature is presented, it feels distant, represented as a self-sustaining system best left on its own.

There's a trust in that, sure, but it feels like we're off the hook a little too easily, under the guise of being very concerned with the matter.

family: graphic design, logos

I. Giving, holding, taking

A collection of icons and logos that show a certain connection between humans and plants.

I think that many of them are meant to communicate a caring relationship, although there are also icons that rather seem to communicate distance or powerlessness, at least to me.

Still, a caring or engaged relation can sometimes also be a controlling one. The hand that supports may also limit how the plant can move.

In the end I'm looking for aesthetics that suggest (and through it, make) a caring but trusting relationship between humans and plans.

Care lessons

Learning from the logos that gives me a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Even when then hands are on a distance, they can still feel caring, a safety net against gravity.
  2. I was surprised to find I can learn something from the nihilistic, namely distance. Does trust imply distance? When is a distance still a relation?
  3. Most icons, even the trustier ones, still stick to a convention to enlarge the human hands to about the size of the earth. Hidden anthropocentricism?


family: garden plans

Zen Grip

I admire the care necessary to create a bonsai, but the aesthetic bothers me in its unbothering, uptight cleanliness.

It's not because I wouldn't want to sit in that patch of grass over there. I do want to lay down, spread my arms and oh watch out I don't disturb the raked gravel waves. But I don't want to let myself indulge. The seduction feels escapist, and ultimately, lonely.

Precision is intense engagement plus strong grip. There is listening – paths responding to rocks – but any green is kept neat within the lines.


family: garden plans


In a Victorian garden design has won and everything blooms.

There is an honesty to the artificiality, and a vulnerability to the idealised expression of hills and flowerfields. At least I feel some resonance with the romantic painting.

The blooming is a feat, a brushstroke that keeps on asking. A tableau vivant that is codependent on the flowers growing. But where they grow and from where they are watched is set with a subtle fence.


family: garden plans

Looking for Nature

In this Dutch labyrinth it's harder to find wilderness than the exit.

Plants have a functional role here, and care is reduced to maintaining a homogenous hedge that you can't see through.

Control is key. The disorientation only works when there are no contingencies to discover.


family: garden plans

Garden as Set

In the Eden of the Teletubbies, nature is a set, a virtual background for soft drama to play out.

The hilled fields need to be as spotless as a greenscreen, or they would foreground themselves, breaking the illusion that the set is not real.

The grass is controlled to the extent that it could have been fake, so far away the smells and dirt. Televised, literally 'seen from afar'.


family: garden plans

Garden as Field

No lawn greener than a golf course in the desert.

There are allusions to landscape: hills, sand dunes, patches of trees. But there's no illusion made.

The grass is a sports pitch, a rolled out augmented reality mat for games and anonymous meetings.


family: garden plans

Growing Carpet

Persian carpets mirror their garden plans, but mostly as a map or a screenshot. Within the actual garden, the lines drawn are just the stage on which blooming can happen.

There's a combination between functionality with irrigation channels, and symmetry, a kind of technical aesthetics. Landscape seems far away.

The edges are more rough than the Victorian garden, fat brick marked fields of slight (if often homogenous) chaos.

(painting: David Hockney)

family: garden plans

Personal Jungle

There is the fantasy of creating the jungle. Of building an arrangement of plants wild enough to create a sense of surprise.

I think it's close to my ideal garden. Of course its planted at first, but it only fully gets there when it grows beyond the plan.

It may look effortless but my first concern would be keeping the plants alive. I realise that I presume that it would exist in the Netherlands. If so, it could only ever exist as a well-tended vignette.

But let me choose to imagine it in Sicily. Less control, less care?


family: garden plans

Garden as Carpet

Some Wise Man might have said, if you want to assert your will over the world, first clean your lawn.

A blank slate, but also a place to host. BBQ, badminton, somersaults, a private camping, an outdoor green-carpetted room.

It sucks water and spits sprouts,turns yellow and melts into mud. A flat-laid weather report. It's just that when work is done, laying down, bare feet through the leaves, that distance dissolves.


family: house-plant-house


In Shire-like houses, the garden is on top of the house, the house slid under the carpet.

It's quite a humble position, being a pedastal and nurturing ground, an overgrown plant pot. It will probably also feel safe, mole-like. Letting the plants do their thing.

At the same time, you can't really see the garden from the window anymore. Still engagement has to be up to a level because the humans living there are codependent on the plants to have a roof over their head.


family: house-plant-house


In the "winter garden" of Villa Tugendhat, a modernist architectural icon, the plants live inside a sort of widened double-glass window.

It looks pretty, but behind the glass it feels a bit like a television alive. The plants are neatly kept off the spotless floors, and from human skin. I wonder if you can smell them.

It looks relatively wild, compared to a usual house plant setup. Still, I don't fully trust it. Its perceived wilderness is probably enhanced by being framed in a meticulously ordered environment. It's contained.

Painting by Caspar David Friedrich

family: house-plant-house


In the romantic end of it all, plants grow over houses until it's hard to say where rock ends and brick begins.

There's still a llittle house in the painting, which reminds me of a Tarkovsky shot of the wooden house in cathedral ruins in Nostalghia. Like a phoenix, or a new sprout, it both emphasises the age and the size of the elder.

The house was not really cared for, nor were the plants. But they do grow freely.


family: house-plant-house


The Babylonian vertical gardens were quite horizontal for todays standards, but definitely entice a paradise lost feeling in me. Some aesthetic of harmonious living together, even if I'm not too sure if the marble could withhold the roots over time.

Unlike the Hobbit houses, here you regard and wade through the greenery when going about your daily life (I imagine). And unlike today's balconies, these provided the space to grow to romantic dimensions.

Is it the temporal distance that allows my nostalgia to not associate it with contemporary green architecture?


family: house-plant-house


The patio of a Roman villa, with it's minimal open roof, is the last stage between garden and house-plants.


family: house-plant-house


The Roman Villa hugs the plants with its walls. How care balances between a cover and a squeeze.

I see a middle stage in the progression towards full enclosure. There is still open air and plants are still the tallest here.

There is care, even without distraction of the views of others, just your own. Still there are clear constraints to the level of wilderniss.


family: house-plant-house


In a serre, somewhere between an orangerie and room, plants could make a bit of a mess.

Rather than the Tugendhil double glass slice of plants, humans have a place (and a seat) in the serre. The glass ceiling grants both kinds of organisms the pleasure of sunlight, while the tiled floor welcomes them both to relax.

I feel we're close here. There's codependency, a micro ecos. I feel warned about how my inner nostalgia may try to distance this from Biosphere 2. There is though. The Serre does not have autonomous pretensions, it's next to a house!


family: house-plant-house


An empty loft feels extra empty after we moved on from pre-Victorian houses without plants. Some plants would compensate the negative emptiness.

That may be a general rule, because this space – especially in this place – feels very lonely. I think this loneliness is also luring, but not as much as with a few plants.

Empty as this is as clean as a Tugendhill house in a Tati film. Perhaps it also feels ready to put a desk in because of the absence of greenery. It must have been kept well to ward of molds and lichens attracted by the moist of a building left to its own. Care as a silent killer.


family: house-plant-house


Victorian trends made plants decorative. Who needs curtains when plants can fill the space left by the walls?

Unlike curtains, these plants are not to look through only, even though they also frame the view.They sit and hang waterable, on arm-length distance.

Within bounds, within arrangements, within there frame, there's space to hang and tangle. It's a staged play but a play indeed.


family: house-plant-house


What do you see in the image? Not much? Jungle-native Monstera Deliciosas held captive?

To me, the items in the room have become so generic that they start to meld with the category of room, to the extent that it still feels quite empty. Ready to be rented out empty.

There's something with the lush shapes of the plants contrasting, emphasising the clean lines of the new floor and old windows. Still, this relative wilderness does not know yellow. The care was silent and strict.


family: house-plant-house


Very close but separate. A green buffer just planted just before. Sometimes like a display, sometimes like a mini paradise, sometimes like a wall.

Any care practiced at the front garden is infused with biopower's self-surveillance. What will the neighbours think? And, importantly, what will I allow the neighbours to see, both in front of the window and behind?

I want one. I'll have to deal with these incentives to control it. But I'll gladly take up the care.


family: views of nature

Beautiful Nature

The tulip is the product of an idea of nature as a source of beauty. The Tulip bulb crash in the seventeenth century was a reminder that beauty does not always last.


family: views of nature

Entangled Nature

We're always already nature. Everything is connected, like the mycelium 'internet of the forest' and all the critical text that use the metaphor of this 'rhizome' to explain that everything is connected.


family: views of nature

Functional Nature

In a functional idea of nature, all non-human organisms are there primarily as a potential resource. (Still running through a cornfield feels romantic.)


family: views of nature

Wild Nature

Nature as wild and untamed, in opposition to human artifice, and most importantly, way bigger and sublime. This view feels like it deifies nature but negates humans, as if we're not a part of it, only through being blown away by it.


family: views of nature

Cultured Nature

Growing up in the Netherlands may have made me default to a view of nature as something made, or at least 'kept'. The human in the role of the steward, taking care of nature as of a garden the size of the planet. I'm not sure again, it feels hierarchical, too comfortable to assume the position of the one giving rather than needing care.