Gardening in the wild – the inspiration
We’ve opened our garden to the public for a number of years now. In 2017 we were invited to open with other gardens for the Gardens in the Wild Festival – a Herefordshire initiative – and as we’re only 3 miles as the crow flies from the border between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire (although we are in fact in Powys) it seemed to be a good idea. After all ‘gardening in the wild’ is what we do here…
Good. But this prompted me to start thinking about what exactly is it I mean by ‘gardening in the wild’. Well, we all know what gardening is, don’t we?
A definition I like goes like this ‘traditional gardening is a means by which we attempt to control plants and get them to do what we want’. This comes from a very inspiring book called “Cultivating Chaos’ which, unsurprisingly takes a bit of a different view on the matter.
So, if instead of trying to hard to control plants we allow them to do a bit of their own thing, is that ‘wild gardening’? So is ‘mind-your-own- business’ romping away in my greenhouse un-tended by the hand of the gardener ‘wild gardening’?
Or do the plants have to be ‘wild’? Helpfully some people, cleverer than me, have also been thinking about this question of the Wild Garden. William Robinson, in his book on the subject in 1870, came up with a definition ‘placing plants of other countries as hardy as our hardiest wildflowers in places where they will flourish without further care or cost’ Sounds helpful. But, of course, in those uncomplicated times they also dug up wildflowers to plant in their gardens and give to friends, and spread seeds from the windows of trains…
I rather like some of the things that Noel Kingsbury has to say in his introduction to the afore-mentioned ‘Cultivating Chaos’. He talks of ’embracing plants that self-seed is part of becoming a manager of nature rather than a controller’. ‘Gardening is now much more about an accepting of spontaneity. Dynamic change and chance play important roles in this process, as do the choice of plants and the willingness to work with forces that are outside our control’.
Also in this book (which, you may already have gathered, I find rather inspiring) I came across a gardener by the name of Henk Gerritsen. So I bought his book “Essay on Gardening’.
(Dear reader – please note how cleverly I photographed the cover of hawkweed and knapweed growing in a grassy sward against my own grassy sward including hawkweed and knapweed – under the washing line in fact!)
Piet Ouldolf wrote the foreword. Here’s a quote from that:
(Henk’s) way of gardening certainly contributed to my abandoning those strict rules about what was and wasn’t allowed. During our discussions…about what an ideal garden should look like, matters were raised that were rarely discussed in books. We talked about spontaneity (that word again), about which plants would fit into our image of an ideal garden: they had to be plants that visitors would think had simply walked out of nature but which also knew how to behave… dead plants weren’t ugly either… we thought that seeds and seedheads were fantastic and they were beneficial to the birds and other inhabitants of the garden. After all these years, our idea of a perfect garden is exactly the opposite of the traditional idea, the maintenance of which required pulling our all the stops.’
This book is ‘an appeal to think about our relationship with nature and about how we give our gardens something of this nature’.
So, my inspiration about Wild Gardening comes from books? Well, no, not really. The greatest inspiration is what nature herself gets up to without a hand of a gardener in sight. Hera are a few examples from the garden here at Nant-y-bedd.
And this is how Nature did foxgloves in the forest near our garden in 2016
So the foxglove example is a useful one to remind us to look at Nature for our inspiration. Foxgloves germinate with ease in my garden in bare soil in the onion beds once the onions have been harvested. It’s a great way to create a stock bed of healthy plants to transplant elsewhere in the garden. Some are allowed to stay along with linaria, parsnip and ox-eye daisies much to the concern of some ‘tidy’ garden visitors. We still managed to win the Challenge Cup for “most productive Vegetable Garden’ at the Llanthony Show last year.
And then, of course, there are wild ‘styles’ of gardening which don’t necessarily feature wild or native plants, not to mention the benefits to wildlife of this approach…
If you are interested enough to want to find out more about how we do ‘Wild Gardening’ here at Nant-y-bedd Garden you might consider booking onto the workshop I’m running here on the 24th September 2018.