I’ve always written about our gardens being seen as mini-wildlife reserves, eco systems we protect and observe rather than something we manage and control. It’s more fun, it creates a sanctuary better for our wellbeing and that of the little lives we give a home. Our little patches contributing to a greater movement to save life on our planet as it is rapidly being wiped out day-by-day, football field by football field.
Recently there has been a lot of outrage on social media (predominantly Twitter) about ornamental naturalistic plantings being labelled or sold as wildflowers, when they’re not. I really haven’t liked the anger and mob nature – as much as I understand and share the same principles – because, well, I just don’t like it and I think it pushes people away rather than educates. Rejects people for mistakes rather than says, it’s OK we all make and learn from them and can change. I was particularly sad to see people singled out, focussing on the ornamental and not appreciating the decades of vast research into plant habits and habitats they have made.
Worse, I have felt over the last year that many are so focussed on meadows (themselves not entirely natural spaces) that we’re losing sight of the most important thing: protecting and enlarging the little wild habitats we have left, those without any human management at all. Woodlands, scrublands, grasslands, wetlands… all the lands, including meadowlands. And of course seas and waterways. Removing human activity completely except to go and observe.
I even felt rejected and bad personally, which is absurd because I agreed. Spending my waking life admiring, protecting and encouraging wild flowers in our streets, my allotment and garden designs. As well as popping out to visit our native populations of wild flowers to admire, document and educate. What can I say, I don’t deal well with confrontation, I’d rather be looking at butterflies 😀
It was positive then to read well constructed blog posts and to chat to people about it all. Suddenly I understand that this is all about blurring: blurring of definitions and blurring of nature and ornamental plantings in an unhelpful way. I do agree that definitions should be clarified so that public are educated better and brought on our journey. This will be more helpful than berating them for doing something they thought was an act of good.
I hadn’t realised people were weed killing wild verges to plant them ornamentally, something I don’t feel is necessary given the beauty of natural verges:
I have only ever seen ornamental meadows in gardens, parks or well contained concrete wastelands (city centres). Managed by gardeners who know how to contain them. Something I have to date (bear with me on this point) felt is a good compromise because the amount of land used is minimal in comparison to verges and wild habitat. The latter our most precious resource to protect.
For me, having been accompanied by the wildflower verges and woodland along the train tracks for seven years on my fifty mile commute to Brighton, I feel sad that other people can’t see the beauty of these spaces already. It all comes down to education, which tools like Instagram are helping with a lot. Highlighting the beauty of the life around us.
In terms of what I’ve been doing, I’ve been including wild flowers in my designs and bringing more and more into my own garden in amongst the ornamentals. On my allotment I weed but I leave so many weeds for insects there are more weeds than there are vegetables, and it’s fine.
But this is the personal conflict I have been struggling with: as a gardener and amateur botanist interested in plants from all over the world, where is the line? As is hopefully obvious from my blogs, photos and writing I personally do feel that we need to bring more native plants back into our lives, showing them more love and appreciation for their incredible beauty. But does this mean we should move to a world where we grow no ornamental non-natives at all?
I often day dream about my future and somewhere in that – if I’m lucky enough to live it out – I hope to have a larger garden out in the countryside. I already know this garden will be almost all a nature garden. Different to what people might think by that but natives that are beautiful with the intention of showcasing wildlife predominantly, even more so than the plants, which some may be surprised to hear. I am a naturalist and conservationist at heart.
However, in my little dream bubble I had always imagined still having some of my favourite ornamental plants. Near this imaginary house, perhaps with an imaginary tropical walled garden. None that can cross with natives or spread, but those I know, as a gardener, I can contain. Obviously there will also be a large number of imaginary edibles to live sustainably, organically, largely plant based and to be self sufficient.
The question then, is this a wake up call for gardeners to go even further, to dream beyond this and move to a place where we only grow native plants? Edibles I assume are allowed if we are to eat year round. I don’t know the answer, I don’t believe anyone can yet know the answer but it’s something to discuss. And I hope we can discuss it in a sensitive and compassionate way that helps us all to learn from one another.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts below