Wilding the garden

I’ve just finished reading the book Wilding by Isabella Tree. It is an inspiring reminder of not only how nature used to look – but also of how we can re-wild it in the future.

Immediately I re-assessed how we can re-wild our gardens – increasing biodiversity to make a real difference. A refusal to use herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides is obvious (their detrimental impact where they are not intended to have such an impact is well understood), as are the inclusion of water, and re-thinking the lawn – whether converting it to wildflowers and weaker growing grasses, or reducing its overall size.

However as Jennifer Owen showed in her book Wildlife of a garden: A thirty-year study, a survey of wildlife in her ordinary sub-urban garden, nature will flock to any space with a layered structure of herbaceous ground cover, perennials, shrubs, and trees. I have only to think about the arrival of bees on Show Gardens, usually built in the middle of a wide open expanse of parkland, to realise how quickly this can happen.

Indeed, adopting the analogy of the ‘wilding’at Knepp Castle, in a garden it is the gardener who acts as the herd of longhorn cattle, controlling the vegetation, or acts like a Tamworth sow, rooting out plants and creating patches of bare soil. As long as this happens gradually the macro- and micro- organisms of the garden can migrate, recover, and flourish.

The key therefore is to try to follow the old adage of do no harm and to adopt a slightly different approach to the Victorian horticultural ideal (where the work of gardeners forces nature to conform), and instead to seek to work hand in glove with nature – tweaking, editing, and creating spaces (rather than removing, hacking, and clearing back to bare soil).

It’s just a thought but a more balanced approach to ongoing gardening would certainly leave more time to enjoy the increasing biodiversity which would follow in the wake of a change of pace.