Four years ago, Steve Wheen began looking at potholes in his East London neighborhood a little differently. Naturally, they were a nuisance, but suddenly they also presented themselves as a vacant canvas in the urban monochrome. A pothole wants to be filled, but with what medium? He placed a few petunias in one pothole around the corner from his home. Blurring the distinction between protest and art, Wheen's little garden transformed the aesthetic of the neglected street, and drew attention to a community issue—in a charming way.
I spent last weekend weeding at a community garden where my parents have a couple plots of greens and root vegetables. We were tasked with taming the common spaces: the tool shed, the wild garden, the rose trellis-covered paths that wind throughout. No one was really sure the last time a firm hand had tugged at these areas and it showed. Bindweed and Star of Bethlehem strangled the pole beans and choked the peonies. We worked for hours and filled a dozen bags with weeds.
Plants have long been loved by architects. From the leafy corinthian columns of Greek antiquity to the botanic abstractions of organic modernists, our built environments are often inspired by the natural world in which their footprints are placed. And there's no pretense of illusion for most buildings—Frank Lloyd Wright's concrete floral motifs are not easily confused with the bright pink hollyhocks that grow nearby.