A two acre plot in a remote part of the Upper Wye valley has been my home for 18 years, and my focus of attention from the start has been to transform it from a much-admired weed-free and highly controlled show garden to a place that is a haven for wildlife.
“Experts” told me earnestly, often and with good intention what needed to be done in my garden to help nature over the years, and I believed them. Thanks to them and with the help of a knowledgeable gardener one day a week, change happened. I made mistakes but learned from them, and thanks to his and others’ advice and my research I felt I was starting to understand what needed to be done to create the garden I wanted. Otters came along with water voles, pine martens, hares, willow tits and other threatened species, but I knew something was not right.
When lockdowns were enforced last year it was a natural point to separate from the gardener, and a temporary pause became a permanent separation: it was right, for both of us. When I was fully on my own at a very peaceful time, I watched and listened and reflected, and realised that there was another, better way, and that conventional wisdom about encouraging wildlife through controlling it was not necessarily correct. Less was more, and the resulting change of my new philosophy was instant.
As weeds flourished and lawns became meadows, as thickets became tangles of gorse, bramble and blackthorn, as hedgerows billowed unchecked, as old trees fell and grew again, as silence reigned in the absence of loud gardening machinery, as human activity was minimised, the relief in the soul of the garden was palpable. It started to relax and breathe: the ecosystem became restored.
There is much more for me to re-learn about how to best support my land, and many of the latest rewilding ideas are invaluable as well as revelatory. I realise now how valuable are the traditional gentle gardening methods that emulate the activity of ancient grazing animals, such as scything or coppicing, and how much indiscriminate damage we do with heavy strimmers, chain saws and even lawn mowers.
Less is more, and this concept applies in our human lives. We too need to be able to breathe, to have minimal noise and disturbance, to avoid being compulsive about tidiness, to stop controlling our environment or having everything the way we want it at the expense of others. Making life easy for ourselves through technology or careless labour-saving gadgets can be at great cost. Spiders deserve to live too.
(A thoughtful contact kindly reminded me of two excellent books on nature and rewilding by Benedict Macdonald. They are Rebirding, and Orchard.)