Let’s all go wild in the garden

Let nature take its course in your plot and go wild in the garden.


Just how much of this country do we devote to our gardens? More than a million acres, apparently. Imagine the impact it could have on biodiversity if we all gave up just 10 per cent of our plots to wildlife. This is the challenge that Jordans Cereals, partnered by farmer and science presenter Jimmy Doherty, is putting to the gardening community.

After success in persuading its cereal suppliers to set aside a similar proportion of their farmland to wildlife habitat so that bees, butterflies and birds can thrive, the company is encouraging gardeners to do the same.

Taking time off from fielding a delivery of turkeys on his farm, Jimmy Doherty explained to me the thinking behind this latest initiative. “Garden land offers acres of opportunities to wildlife all over the country,” he says. “If we could persuade gardeners to leave aside just 10 per cent of their space, however tiny their garden, just think what we could do.”

When I asked how he was going to persuade us that tidiness isn’t next to godliness in the garden, he reminded me that “Darwin pointed out that beauty is in the small scale. If you look closely at a mossy bank or messy verge, you’ll see it is a powerhouse of diversity. Insects carrying on their lives, and while they’re turning over the soil, they’re improving and enriching it at the same time — pollinating plants and creating the biodiversity we want for our own selfish needs.”

If the thought of leaving even the smallest bit of your garden unkempt and your ve getable plot full of weeds and flowers fills you with horror, start with just a few small steps in the right direction. After a lifetime of tidying the garden before we put it to bed in the autumn, just let it be till the spring, and leave stalks and leaves as habitat, seeds and desiccated flowers as food sources, and concentrate on the beauty of the winter garden instead. Think of the frost on architectural shapes against a slate-grey backdrop, the look of a windswept prairie and the extra wildlife that’ll make up the colour, movement and drama that’s missing in a pristine dormant space.

Maybe if the famous pleasure gardens of the National Trust and stately homes could set an example and set aside areas as well, and perhaps the photographers in glossy magazines could close up on beauty instead of panoramic sweeps, especially during wintertime, that would help change our minds. If you can’t bear the idea of a year-round scrub at the bottom of your garden, just tidy in spring and leave a winter respite for wildlife. Chances are you’ll be concentrating on indoor pleasures anyway, oblivious of your surroundings.

The London Wildlife Trust points out that 24 per cent of the capital is made up of garden land, but much is turning from green to grey under the concrete and decking of landscape design. Modern fencing is hermetically sealing each garden and preventing the corridors and escape routes that mammals need, so replace a panel or two with hedging that will offer nesting opportunities to birds as well. We all need to think about wildlife when designing our plots, then counterbalance and make up for the hard landscaping near the house with a fallow area at the bottom of the garden.

Matthew Wilson’s new edition of his groundbreaking book with the RHS, Nature’s Gardener — How to Garden in the 21st Century, offers encouragement to help change habits of a lifetime. He explains why working with nature is mutually beneficial and suggests plants that encourage wildlife need little water or are generally easy to sustain in a changing climate. Gardening for wildlife needs gentle managing – watch Jimmy’s video on jordanscereals.co.uk, with tips from Chelsea award-winner Marney Hall, and follow their 10 simple steps – see box, above.

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