Raise your hand who loves the idea of rewilding your garden but can’t quite let the garden go completely wild? As a designer, many of my clients love the wild aesthetic and want to encourage wildlife and nature to flourish, but there is often confusion about how to even begin a rewilding mission.
I am often asked, “Isn’t reseeding just allowing nature to do what it wants?” and if that is indeed the case, what of the aesthetes among us who yearn for some kind of formally conceived beauty in nature?
In theory, it’s true: rewilding gardens means letting nature do its thing. But the reality is that in urban gardening it is a much more nuanced and subtle journey, one that requires careful thought in order to achieve a balance between us humans and nature with its many forms of wild animals.
This is particularly relevant in the context of how we have developed as a culture, and the urban context in which nature now finds itself immersed. It’s that age-old question: where does human design stop – and where does nature begin? And how do we ensure that there is a place for both in our gardens?
So if rewilding isn’t just about sitting around and doing nothing, then where do you start this journey of reconnecting?
We start by understanding “the why”
It makes sense to start asking where the need for this more holistic way of looking at design in gardens comes from, and what are the reasons for the need to rewild our gardens. The answer? Massive decline in our biodiversity – and the recent attention given to this in the media.
Simply put: we finally see that what we have done so far has not worked for us or for nature, and now is the time to strike a new balance. Additionally, in an increasingly wired and tech-connected world, many of us seek a more fundamental balance with nature, a balance that promotes mindfulness and inner balance. We now know that bringing nature into our living spaces is a powerful antidote to the stresses of modern life.
So what are the benefits of rewilding gardens?
Basically, if done right, there are so many benefits – for us and for nature. From our perspective, the balance found in a more relaxed and natural space, which we share with a diverse range of insects and wildlife, has a good effect on our body and mind – of a greater sense of connection and calm to an appreciation and gratitude for our natural world.
On the nature side, rewilding brings benefits to the essentials of our green spaces: the maintenance and regeneration of soils, as well as the creation of refuges for insects and animals. This sense of cohabitation benefits everyone and is one of the biggest wins of rewilding, especially for urban spaces.
But where to start ?
Now that we know why, let’s take a look at some very simple steps to start your beautiful rewilding journey.
1. Revive yourself
Since rewilding is all about finding a new relationship with nature, I would suggest just spending time outdoors and really seeing what brings you the most joy. Spending time in your space surrounded by greenery, ladybugs, butterflies and bees is good for the soul. Taking this time will help you begin to see where your rewilding efforts can begin.
2. Go organic
This is non-negotiable in a rewilding context. In this approach, there is no room for weed killers, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. If you do one thing in the garden this year, go natural and organic, and watch your garden thrive. The magic of this is that once you give up the chemicals, nature can rebalance itself and you will even start to find fewer pests on your plants as the balance of pests and predators is restored.
3. Mow less, cut higher, or let areas grow wild
There are many ways to beautify your lawn. A simple step for beginners is to adjust your blades to have a taller cut, allowing more biodiversity to flourish. Letting the grass grow tall or planting a meadow of wildflowers are both wonderful ways to make a huge difference. Consider mowing areas or walkways around a soft, wild area, which can be an impressive design feature. The balance of mown paths through rich tapestries of wild perennials or grassland is magnificent and it will become home to a huge range of wildlife.
4. Leave some corners intact
Celebrate that forgotten little nook in the back that has messy nettles and logs – it may be the most valuable part of the garden for wildlife. Make sure you have undisturbed areas scattered around. A messy pile of leaves might annoy you, but if you think it might become a home for insects or small mammals, you might be more forgiving. Remember that nature is magical and everything has its place in a re-wild garden.
5. Every little account
Rewilding is often associated with a large open countryside, but there are many ways to rewild even a smaller space. The most important thing is to add planting areas that become havens for animals and insects. And remember – a balcony or a garden might not seem to make a difference, but when we as a community start creating wild spaces, these can become part of a bigger whole, creating corridors wildlife across our cities and countries.
The ABCs of rewilding: a simple three-step design to go wild
Finding a way to balance the beauty of nature is a wonderful starting point in the garden. It’s not about choosing between design and nature, but about finding how we can coexist and live harmoniously with wildlife and nature. Designing around that is a great place to start. Here’s a simple three-step design approach to start getting wild.
A Start with a layer of evergreens, which give the garden visual structure. These will be the backbone of a good design. Everything from cut box to yew, pittosporum and more can become an anchor in a wilder space.
B Make sure you have valuable layers of support hedges, shrubs and wildlife areas. Native hedges are always best and consider the seasons here too – spring bloom for pollinators and also fall berries and hips. All are valuable for inviting nature into your space.
VS Add a rich tapestry of beautiful pollinator-friendly plants that will delight the eye, invite biodiversity and celebrate the seasons. Choose from endless ideas to suit your location and style – from scab to borage, echinacea to open dahlias, to surprising additions such as ribwort plantain. The idea is to mix the best for wildlife with your own favorites for maximum benefit across the board.
How to aim for maximum biodiversity
Remember that when we allow nature to fully take over and regenerate, we often see particular plants become dominant. This can be counterproductive to helping wildlife. What we want is a maximum of biodiversity. One way to do this, and therefore to take care of many animals and insects, is to plant a wide range of plants that are rich in nectar and food.
Think about the seasons so there is something for wildlife at all times of the year; consider early-flowering perennials such as winter-flowering heather, winter-flowering honeysuckle, and evergreen clematis.
Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) and our native primroses are also very valuable low-lying flowers to include in a seasonal wildlife program.
Late-season flowering trees and shrubs with berries such as mountain ash – Sorbus vilmorinii (Vilmorin’s mountain ash) and the native Euonymus europaeus (the euonymus) and native tea cranberry (Viburnum setigerum) are all excellent bird berry suppliers. Other winter plants such as sarcococcus, witch hazel, mahonia and forsythia are valuable for insects that stay out in milder weather.
To learn more about wild gardens and get personalized tips and ideas for your garden based on the three-step plan above, sign up for Leonie’s new Wild Side package (leoniecornelius.com).
Year of the Triffids: It’s been a wild ride in the garden
With wildflowers, you can’t just sit back and let it be – nature will find a way, says Emily Hourican
It all started, like most things, with the best of intentions. A corner of the garden at the back, near the shed, sunny but secluded, a bit wild; not as part of my main gardening endeavors. What should I do with this? I know, plant wildflowers. That way I’d be doing a good thing – we love wildflowers, don’t we? The environment loves wildflowers? – while no longer doing any work for me.
I bought a packet of mixed seeds, scattered them around and sat down. The first year was delightful: a delicate bloom of different flowers: wild poppies, chamomile, cornflower, daisies, wild carrots, etc. Blues, yellows, reds, pinks. So beautiful. So durable, I thought.
The second year, only a handful of the original mix returned. Poppies were there, daisies and lots of what I think is corncockle. They were clearly very happy. They grew large and abundant that year, rather dominating all other flowers.
The third year was like something out of an alien movie. Nothing came except the corncockles, and they were on. An extensive network of hard, hairy stems, with an insufficient amount of pinkish-purple flowers to compensate for the stems. They began to spread out vigorously from their designated patch, advancing ominously into the bed beside and around the back of the shed.
Year three and a half – I dug up most of them. Not all. I have planted other things there and will be keeping a close eye on the abundant corncockles. Lesson learned? Even with wildflowers, you can’t just sit back and let it be. Nature finds a way. We also have to find a way.