What If Gardens Were Designed for Pollinators?

After resurrecting extinct flower aromas and birdsong choruses, the experiential artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg devises an algorithm that designs gardens with pollinators in mind.

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. Photography by Steve Tanner

Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are essential for plant species and ecosystems to flourish. Unfortunately, these crucial insects are facing alarming population decline due to pesticides, human-made habitat loss, and climate change. This prompted Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg to ponder what gardens would look like if they were designed from a pollinator’s perspective, rather than our own. 

It’s not an unusual question for Ginsberg to ask. The Londoner was already investigating our fraught relationship with nature through experiential artworks that explore designers’ impulse to “better” the world. “What is better?” she asks. “Whose ‘better’ is being delivered, and who gets to decide?” In one artwork, called Resurrecting the Sublime, in collaboration with Christina Agapakis of Ginkgo Bioworks and Sissel Tolaas, she recreates scents from extinct flowers lost to 20th-century colonialism; Machine Auguries, meanwhile, sees an AI deepfake recreate a synthetic dawn chorus from thousands of birdsong snippets impacted by human-made light and sound pollution. 

For Pollinator Pathmaker, Ginsberg teamed up with horticulturists at Eden Project, pollinator experts, and an AI scientist to devise an algorithmic tool that will make the most empathetic landscape design for a garden. What exactly does that mean? Ginsberg defines it as planting that supports the greatest diversity of pollinator species. The custom algorithm chooses and arranges flora from a curated palette of locally appropriate plants, yielding slightly different gardens each time that are guaranteed to support the maximum number of pollinator species possible. 

Pollinator Pathmaker

“I wanted to make art for pollinators, not about them,” says Ginsberg. “Pollinator Pathmaker is an ambitious art-led campaign to make living artworks for other species to enjoy. Can the audience for an artwork be more-than-human? And how can art be useful in the ecological crisis?”

Though the first real-life edition of Pollinator Pathmaker is a 180-foot-long permanent green space at Eden Project in Cornwall, the algorithm’s utility isn’t only restricted to large-scale public projects. Inquiring minds can use the tool for free online to create a personalized garden artwork based on various environmental conditions. Within seconds, the algorithm designs a custom garden that changes with the seasons, shows what the flowers look like from the pollinators’ perspective, and gives more information about each plant species. Each garden also serves as a one-off edition of an artwork that resembles the 480 garden paintings that Ginsberg created during quarantine. 

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