AS I SEE IT
This is high season for garden lovers. A time to go garden visiting, enjoy garden shows or just sit back and smell the roses. But change is underway for enthusiasts, with the move to rewilding and a more nature-friendly approach to gardening.
Converts argue that we should let nature take its course, enhance habitat for birds and bees, encourage native flora instead of buying imported blooms and just let the grass grow under our feet. But just how wild are you prepared to go? Would you hang up your lawnmower, let bindweed choke your blooms and insist that your local park be turned into a football-unfriendly hay meadow?
It all takes a bit of getting used to for traditional gardeners. BBC’s Gardeners World presenter Monty Don, viewing an exhibit at last Month’s Chelsea Flower Show featuring a grass knoll, a weathered hut and a beavers’ dam where no beaver in its right senses would build one, remarked: “I wouldn’t call that a Garden.” The garden in question, sponsored by Rewilding Britain, went on to win Best in show.
There’s no doubt that wild or naturalistic effects can be enchanting, what wasn’t to like about the meadow-effect in front of Trinity College, frothing with marguerites and campion? And wonderful things do happen when lawns are left to nature, dormant wild flower seeds germinate and flourish while pollinators increase.
This back to the future trend has produced a wonderful wildflower meadow, home to 148 different species at Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens, Co Wicklow. The display there begins with a magical carpet of crocuses in February/March before the start of the wild flower season. The amazingly even spread of the crocuses was caused by mice who propagated the bulbs as they feasted on their pollen.
There is a bit of management involved in creating a successful meadow though. One of them is to sow meadow hay rattle, a yellow flowered plant which is semi-parasitic on grasses, Kilmacurragh’s Head Gardener Seamus OBrien told me. Reducing grass growth allows wild flower to flourish and the meadow there is mown only twice a year, in September when wildflower seeds have set and in spring to remove winter growth.
Wilding is growing in the wider context of public lands and the countryside. The All-Ireland Pollinator plan is responsible for the change in the way that public lands like parks are being managed and includes recommendations for pollinator friendly actions which could be adopted by local authorities, businesses, schools and farms.
These include ideas like leaving verges unmown, cutting down on pesticides and creating wildflower meadows. I saw this in action in a triangle of previously shorn grass in my neighbourhood. Now it’s billowing with flowers, including purple orchids, different grasses and alive with pollinators.
In Co Clare there is a delightfully named initiative, the Hare’s Corner, named for the custom of leaving awkward corners of fields to nature. This has resulted in the creation of 38 mini woodlands, 43 mini orchards and 30 ponds for wildlife around the county, thanks to a pilot scheme last year run by the Burrenbeo Trust charity. It’s the kind of project that could be copied by other counties.
Rewilding is the kind of thing that anyone with a patch of their own or a neglected corner in their neighbourhood can experiment with, maybe a small start but collectively it can make big a difference. One green fingered friend expanded her activities with what she called commando gardening, planting banks and verges in her area with seeds and slips. The neighbours loved it.
There is nothing new about wilding. Irishman William Robinson wrote his inspirational book The Wild Garden in 1870. His influential ideas on naturalistic planting were a reaction against regimented Victorian gardens with their frequently changed beds of hot- housed bedding plants, (Robinson is said to have been sacked from his job at Ballykilcavan, Co Laois for leaving the tender contents of the glasshouses to die with the window open and the boiler out.)
Inspirational gardens to visit in thes ‘Robinsonian style’ include Mount Usher, Co Wicklow, Anne’s Grove, Co Cork, Mount Congreve, Co Waterford and Dereen. Co Kerry.
Robinson made an eloquent plea for wildness which allows plants to naturalise in every kind of garden. Looking at a carpet of Fritillaria, nodding their gingham checked heads under the trees at Mount Usher recently, I found it hard to resist going wild.