What is The Garden? Exploring TikTok’s first-ever ‘commune’
A rural Tennessee commune inhabited by a group of TikTokers has recently gone viral on the app, with many users suggesting that the collective — which shares videos via the TikTok handle ‘treeisalive’ as well as other accounts — is actually a cult.
The ‘TreeIsAlive’ TikTok account has amassed over 79,000 followers and over 500k likes since its creation in January, with the account aiming to give viewers insight into life on ‘The Garden’ commune and encourage them to join.
What is ‘The Garden?’
‘The Garden’ commune, which is based in Lafayette, Tennesea, was previously called ‘Shut Up and Grow It’.
It was originally founded by Patrick Martion twelve years ago, but it appears that the commune has underwent somewhat of a rebrand since growing in popularity on TikTok.
The commune promotes a 100% sustainable living lifestyle, and their website states that they “propagate a culture of sharing, freedom, and cooperation.”
Members of the commune, who sleep in small bunks shared with others, usually spend their days finding the necessities for survival such as food, water and shelter. Facilities on the commune include lodges, compostable toilets, cabins and a schoolhouse.
What is the ‘TreeIsAlive’ TikTok account?
Although The Garden describe themselves on their website as a “leaderless (leaderful)” commune, the most prominent member of the commune – which, at its peak, had 40 members – is the main user of the ‘treeisalive’ TikTok account. The user, who has kept his identity hidden, hails from the UK.
According to Insider, he was first introduced to community living five years ago through ‘Rainbow Gatherings’, which describes a temporary community of people with shared ideologies who live together in remote areas such as a forest.
Through the ‘treeisalive’ TikTok account, the commune member shares insight of the group’s daily life and invites viewers to join by reciting the Garden’s full address at the end of each video.
Why do people believe the TikTok commune is a cult?
The group amassed controversy earlier this month after it was reported by Distractify that, despite the group mostly being vegan and growing their own produce, they reportedly killed and ate a stray cat that killed their chickens.
As well as this, the behaviour of Rel Gumson, another member of the commune with a TikTok presence, has also aroused suspicion. Some of the posts on her TikTok account – which has over 42,000 followers – include her wearing a skirt made from the carcass of her dead dog, candleit seances and passing around a jug filled with wine which has been labelled ‘Kool Aid’.
One TikTok user, who goes by the handle ‘cocktailchinoga’, duetted a ‘treeisalive’ TikTok in order to compare the video with what she calls a ‘cult checklist’.
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She claims that the original video, which depicts commune members playing pool, painting and doing chores, depicts several ‘cult techniques’ such as getting members to perform ‘mind numbing’ activities and to live all together. She also suggests that the ‘treeisalive’ TikTok account is ‘preoccupied’ with recruiting new members.
Meanwhile, TikTok user ‘thomasedisionhatepage’ has made several videos calling out the commune’s treatment of animals. In one post, she criticised the commune’s decision to vote on whether to treat a sick chicken, claiming that the situation is “f***ed up.”
Comments posts uploaded by the ‘treeisalive’ TikTok account are also littered with accusations that commune is a cult. One TikTok user named Bonnie asked: “Why do you always have to specify that the people are here out of their own free will?”
Similarly, in response to a TikTok inviting more people to join, another TikTok user quipped: “No thanks, I’ve seen Midsommar.” Midsommar is a 2019 horror film depicting an ancestral Swedish cult that live on a commune. The comment received over 24,oo0 likes.
How have The Garden responded to claims that they’re a cult?
The ‘treeisalive’ TikTok account has vehemently and repeatedly denied claims that they’re a cult.
“All we’re trying to do here is grow food and educate people about community living and how to be self-sustainable,” they said in one TikTok.
“It’s strange for us to have this experience where we’re feeling like we’re being attacked for trying to help people, to educate people about self-sustainability and off-grid living.”
However, despite their frequent denials that they’re a cult, speculation continues.