Garden for yourself
Towards the end of summer, the garden can start to look a bit tatty and eager gardeners get the urge to 'tidy up a bit'. There's no denying that most gardens do need a certain amount of tidying to keep them looking...well, like gardens. That's our aesthetic: we like a bit of orderliness; a bit of neatness: it's one of the things which distinguish a garden from a patch of wildernesswe like a bit of orderliness; a bit of neatness: it's one of the things which distinguish a garden from a patch of wilderness.
But is our fondness for tidy gardens incompatible with the interests of the wildlife there? The answer is that it needn't be. Although you will often hear that nature likes a bit of scruffiness, the truth is that nature is above such mundane cosmetic considerations. What really matters to nature is the content and structure of what's underneath: to nature, beauty really is more than skin deep.
Don't overdo it
There is often an urge to cut back attractive seed heads like these teasles (Dipsacus fullonum) even when there is no good reason to.
You can provide the structure and content which is important for wildlife and at the same time maintain a garden which is visually attractive to people,
A successful wildlife gardener will leave the bits and pieces which provide the diverse structure and habitats for garden wildlife without compromising the aesthetics
but too often we fail because we overdo the tidying up: we scalp the lawn when a higher cut would do; hack back perennials after they've flowered when we could spare some of the attractive seed heads; eliminate 'weeds' like dandelions when we could just control them and enjoy those we leave. A successful wildlife gardener will leave the bits and pieces which provide the diverse structure and habitats for garden wildlife without compromising the aesthetics from the human perspective.
Learning to relax
Achieving this balance is easier to do if you cultivate a relaxed attitude towards your garden. A few years ago gardening was, for me, anything but relaxing: long grass, dandelions, fallen leaves - all these things would raise my blood pressure.
We can learn to see the beauty in plants like dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) - perhaps even making a feature of them as was done here!
Instead of looking at the garden and enjoying the beauty of it, I always seemed to be on the lookout for what was wrong.
Why should I and many other people feel like that? I think the problem stems from the way in which we learn to garden. A few people are lucky enough to study gardening formally; looking at the theory and practice of it with a critical and questioning mind, they learn to trust their own ideas. But most of us just glean what we can from others - family, friends, neighbours and the media - we accept the 'received wisdom' of gardening and all too often that wisdom boils down to little more than a collection of personal preferences, prejudices and stale ideaswe accept the 'received wisdom' of gardening and all too often that wisdom boils down to little more than a collection of personal preferences, prejudices and stale ideas.
The key to relaxing in your garden is recognising that you are gardening for yourself (and in our case for wildlife) - not for your neighbours, family or friends. Your garden should reflect your ideas, preferences and tastes. Don't be frightened to experiment and make mistakes, because that's the only way that learning is truly a product of your own mind and experience. I had to make a conscious effort to change my outlook and it worked: now I feel far more relaxed around my garden.
Get the balance right
Here are some tips to help you get the balance right between keeping a tidy garden and leaving space for nature:
- Do enough tidying to keep the garden from looking neglected, but leave enough structure for the wildlife.
- Leave a variety of perennial seed heads for birds and insects.
- Don't cut the lawn too frequently or too short.
- Try leaving small areas of grass uncut (e.g. around the legs of a swing) - you may be surprised at how attractive the flowering grasses are.
- Leave some dandelions and other 'weeds' and make a conscious effort to appreciate their beauty.
- Leave some non-diseased shrub prunings out of sight around the base of the shrubs.
When clearing fallen leaves from the grass, place some directly under shrubs and in borders.
Be sure that whatever you do, you do it for the right reasons. Don't accept the received wisdom of gardening without critical examination. And above all else...relax!
|First published September 2004.|
Copyright Richard Burkmar. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.|
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