Friday, August 8, 2008

Is Our Skin Like a Garden?

I received a very unusual email recently. An edited transcript is below:


I am a consultant working on a project on behalf of Colgate Corporation. We are looking for an expert who can give a brief and informal talk to a small group of senior-level executives from Colgate Corporation on the topic of plant and vegetative life as it relates to the health of the world.

The following is a brief explanation of our project:
I am coordinating a one-day brainstorming session for a group of Colgate Corporation executives. The theme of the session is "outside in" perspectives on innovation and we are exploring six macro trends that are currently influencing our world, one of which is the leveraging of the science of nature. We are particularly interested in the human skin, and in how plants' relationship to the earth may mimic/serve as a metaphor for understanding the importance of skin to the overall health of the body. To that end, we would like someone speak to our group of 4-6 executives on this topic for about 45 minutes, with time for Q&A afterward.

We are located in midtown, but would ideally like to travel to another nearby location ( Plant nursery/garden/park) that would add value to the topic , and conduct the talk there.
I am very appreciative of any help you can offer me, or any other resources or avenues you might suggest I try.

Thanks very much.


Creative Specialist | Arbor Strategy Group

My Reply:

Dear Joanna,

Well this is an unusual request. I believe you are located in Chicago, while I am in New York. But a few thoughts:

The most important thing to the garden is its soil. Without soil health, you lack garden health. In this sense, I suppose you could locate metaphor for skin health equaling body health. But we are more than the sum of our well-functioning organs. Skin acts up when our minds act up. Many skin problems are sourced in psychological dis-ease.

My sense of it is that our relationship to nature has become pathological. I would hope that to explore this is not to seek marketing and product strategies. These products and strategies emphasize and exploit our pathology. We have not come up with a cosmological order that compels us to feel at ease with our natural being, our natural beginning. The Epic of Gilgamesh or even the Expulsion from the Garden tells this story, however distorted by literal assessment of these narratives.

When we garden, I believe we yearn for that primary activity that connects us to the earth, that genetic foundation that compels us to scour for food in the soil and shrubs. But remember, the garden is artifice, a re-creation of that former life when our pathologies were scarce.

The earth is more than the sum of soil and plants. However, if I must, I would suppose that the soil is the skin, the plants the biological activity on our skin. Fungi, parasites, bacteria, etc. exist in the soil and on the skin. The air and moisture, the sun light all affecting the garden and the soil, affecting the life on our skin and our body. Some people use products to control the weeds and pests. Some people have wild gardens and some people have lifeless lawns. So what if our skin grows a garden?

Tell me what Colgate has to say about the garden of our skin. Should it be wild? Should it be a lawn? Should it be paved over with concrete? How do we know the benefits or negatives of something we cannot fully understand?

I hope you do not mind, but I will post this to my blog. Good luck. Any questions, send me an email at

1 comment:

If I do not respond to your comment right away, it is only because I am busy pulling out buckthorn, creeping charlie, and garlic mustard...