Rewilding for gardens?
Recently I’ve heard several people talking about “rewilding their garden” – as a wildlife lover this is music to my ears, but do they really know what they are talking about? If a garden is truly wild, how can it also be a garden? Apart from anything else, the ideas around rewilding aren’t really fully agreed upon yet.
So what actually is Rewilding?
The safe definition is something like: “letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes” (from rewildingeurope.com).
Animals are usually part of the rewilding picture, and this is where it gets tricky. We are trying to recreate patterns of disturbance and dispersal of seeds that were present in the ecosystem before humans hunted down all those animals. And this bringing back animals that used to be here is where the main disagreements crop up – notably around the beaver, a recent reintroduction to Britain. Maybe the actions of beavers can restore the land and reduce flooding – but perhaps bringing them back is just more human meddling, and will result in more problems?
I am going to bypass the debate for now, by returning to the smaller scale I work on… When it comes to ‘rewilding’ your garden, most experts would say: how can a piece of land the size of a garden, even a large one, accommodate the complex interactions and processes that will restore wild systems? This is a very good point, but I would say: “with the help of a gardener!”
Perhaps an informed gardener can act as a missing link. A gardener can browse like a deer with secateurs, graze like a horse with a lawnmower, root like a boar with a fork (with the robin joining in) or turn over the turf like a herd of cattle.
If we really want to help wild our gardens, because they are small and the only animals remaining do too much of the same thing (nibble everything like a rabbit), we need to do more than just leave them alone. For me, the thought of the animals that may have lived here long ago, and the part they would have played in the ecosystem, helps me in my pursuit to help make places more wild. I was trained by the Royal Horticultural Society how to cultivate pretty gardens, but I am finding it increasingly interesting considering this different role I could play, informed by the actions of animals.
Garden Designer and Wildlife Specialist