What is a flourishing garden?
We may dream of a thriving patch of green, humming with a rich mix of birds, insects, and wildflowers, but unfortunately, a barren landscape of over- tended hot house flowers and grass monocultures is what is too often sold to us as the archetype of gardens. Dead spaces that are reliant on chemicals manufactured by corporations who destroy the natural world not only contribute nothing environmentally but can be actively detrimental to the health of the planet.
Every green space in our increasingly concrete world is an opportunity for positive change. A tiny garden in the middle of London isn’t going to stop the climate crisis. But a crisscrossing web of green corridors across a city does have a genuine, measurable effect on carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Each plot is a chance to create a tiny oasis that connects to others to create a winding network of life and health through our urban sprawl.
Yes, the spaces we are dealing with are small, but we shouldn’t underestimate nature's incredible ability to be a positive catalyst, its tenacious capacity to adapt and to prosper, even in the most unlikely places. In this process, our role is to give it every possible chance to do what it does best. Instead of creating a garden that must struggle with harsh chemicals and constant interference as we wrestle it into the shape we think it should be, how about we nurture it to develop in the way that it naturally does.
This was our aim when we set up our new garden at Willesden Junction; to create a space that grew in harmony with what was already there. To the casual observer, it may have looked like a piece of unremarkable scrub land. But a little investigation showed us that Sweet Peas and Toadflax were blooming there, amidst clouds of Yarrow, bright pink Cranesbill, and purple Speedwell.
We decided to encourage these wildflowers and not crowd them out with competitive exotics. We brought in other native plants that would bloom alongside the current residents. By creating a garden that thrives in the climate we have, we are reducing our need for watering and maintenance, to create a resilient green space that will eventually take care of itself.
Thinking in terms of complete ecosystems helps us to have an empathetic and instinctive understanding of how we should be tending our gardens. A balanced combination of plants creates a rich soil, which in turn encourages a variety of soil fauna, providing food for birds and supporting nutrient cycling. We need the detritovores to play their part in recycling dead material, as well as a mixture of pollinators such as moths, hoverflies, and beetles, to ensure the constant flowering and fruiting of plants that we rely on.
Nurturing a space in this way isn’t a stagnant process, it is dynamic and fluid. As the climate changes, the type of plants that will happily survive in the UK is evolving, and in response our native fauna is adapting to have a more cosmopolitan diet. We don’t have to be dogmatic and prescriptive, but we should be mindful and observant. If we find ourselves struggling to remove something that’s gone rampant or desperately drip feeding something that’s losing the will, we should probably ask ourselves why, and take the time to assess the broader picture.
We’ve been punishing and brutalising nature for long enough and the consequences of this are all around us. Let our gardens be the first place we start to take a gentler approach and see what benefits we can reap.
Naomi Yamamoto Paine, MSc Plant Diversity | Energy Garden Community Engagement Officer | 09 September 2021 |