Recreating historical craftsmanship

Doctoral student Joakim Seiler wants to develop the professional role of the gardener. One way of doing this is by looking back hundreds of years.

The weather is important to a gardener.
“Good weather with dry spells makes for faster work and better results,” says Joakim Seiler. “Right now we’re trying to create the best possible conditions for next season and to prepare for the spring.”

It’s the morning, and lunch is being prepared at Gunnebo House and Gardens’ café. Voices can be heard calling in the kitchen. Dressed in his historically inspired gardening clothes, Joakim fits in well amid the traditional surroundings of the café building.

He has been head gardener at Gunnebo House and Gardens for eleven years. Since this autumn, he has also been an external doctoral student at the Department of Conservation, and the question of how to convey an overall historic experience is what his research involves.

Horticultural research can be divided up into three areas: garden architecture, plants and craftsmanship. It is the third area, the immaterial area, that Joakim is researching. There has been plenty of research into the other areas, but horticultural craftsmanship – green cultural environment conservation – is a relatively new field. Joakim believes that it will be a fascinating subject to research. He draws a comparison with approaches within the more established field of building conservation.

“There, issues such as the choice of colours or whether brushes use natural materials can be important. But no one thinks about materials and methods in this way when it comes to green cultural heritage preservation. One of my questions is how the choice of method relates to the product in green cultural heritage.”

He gives lawns as an example. Gunnebo House was built in the 18th century, but the first lawnmower wasn’t invented until the 1830s. By reconstructing historical method choices, we can find out what a lawn might have looked like in the past.
“We can bring it to life and maintain it, and thereby strengthen the historic experience. It’s not easy and it takes longer to do, but it adds so much.”

The opportunity to study for a doctoral degree came about via a project launched by the University of Gothenburg’s Craft Laboratory together with Sweden’s county administrative boards and Gunnebo House. Before Joakim became an external doctoral student, a thorough evaluation and validation of his background and craftsmanship knowledge was carried out.
“We’re curious about each other. How can academia embrace craftsmen, and how can craftsmen become part of academia? In this type of profession, it’s important that we develop the role and do not simply follow the same tracks.”

The role of gardener has evolved over the centuries. Before the beginning of the 20th century, this was a high-status profession and gardeners had a broad field of expertise. Today, the role is divided up into different categories. Joakim hopes that greater historical knowledge will also help to redefine the identity of the profession.
“Green cultural environment conservation is a brand new area, particularly in connection with gardens, and historical methods and knowledge are needed in order to take care of our cultural heritage.”

External doctoral students

An external doctoral student is a doctoral student with an employer at another educational institution, another organisation or company, or another municipal or state authority. These doctoral students usually study on a part-time basis within the framework of their employment.