Gdns Ill July 2023

It’s everywhere.

Various Chelsea Flower Show gardens this year included the newly  fashionable weeds.

Interestingly, I saw someone quoted as saying that that was ok because ‘it was just in the naturalistic gardens.’

Being a naturally difficult person, I wondered why that should be the case. Why are we beginning to assume we want gardens which look as little like gardens as we can imagine? And what do we want them to look like instead?

Wild Garden

In a wild garden

‘Wild’ is the current buzz word, naturalistic has been fashionable for longer. I’m not sure whether we think these things differ. Let’s be totally on trend and use ‘wild.’

I appreciate that many people want a ‘wild’ garden because it’s good for ‘wildlife’. But does this mean it has to look wild?

I think in the UK we have begun to think of a particular garden style as ‘wild’ and therefore in some way also morally good.  Monty Don has suggested: “It is as though a so-called ‘wild’ garden that mimics natural conditions is somehow worthier and more moral than one in which mankind’s creative skills are more obviously played out.”

It’s hard to define wild, since the UK has been extensively managed by people for thousands of years and most of what people think of as ‘natural’ or wild is usually part of farmland: like hedgerow, meadow, pasture, field margins, stream or river bank, ponds. There is no reason why we shouldn’t incorporate farmland into gardens, and we certainly have at Veddw, where we have kept ancient meadow as part of the garden and gardened it as if it were a traditional hay meadow.

Meadow at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Ours has certain rather unnatural aspects though.

Or a wild garden may basically be woodland. The idea of being permitted to wander in someone’s managed woodland can be a great delight to someone living in a city, surrounded by housing and traffic. I say managed, because it is very hard work making your way through unmanaged woodland, where the understory will probably be like this. (Unless it’s a conifer or beech wood)

Woodland floor copyright Anne Wareham

Local wild: bracken, bramble, and our UK most poisonous wild plant, Oenanthe crocata

And woodland may be good for much wildlife – ours boasts deer, rabbits, squirrels, badgers and stoats, as well as a great many more obvious creatures and things like plants, lichens, mosses, birds, bats, owls, snakes and insects. (pollinators and refusing to pollinate ones, whichever they are).

Wood at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

Beech wood. Good for walking in, but if you were a wild thing, would you prefer this or a gardeny garden?

But these things possibly thrive even better in a flowery ornamental garden than in the wood. (especially if it’s a conifer wood or beech wood, where not much clutters the woodland floor) Most of them seem to prefer our garden to the wood, however hard we try to persuade them differently. The complexity of biodiversity in gardens is well demonstrated by the Biodiversity Audit of Great Dixter

So your garden doesn’t need to look wild to be wild or full of wildlife and those pollinator things.

I have always loved the contrast between wildishness and formality.

Oxeye Daisies at Veddw Garden copyright Anne Wareham

This is a bit of ancient grassland/meadow, full of oxeye daisies, with a nice formal hedge setting it off.

Vita Sackville-West, described the garden at Sissinghurst as: “The strictest formality of design with the maximum informality in planting” and that has certainly influenced me.

So is the fashionable wild garden really more about the choice of plants?

Not just weeds/native plants, but plants which look like weeds/native plants?

dahlia flower

Not so much like this.



More like this?

And  you need an absence of familiar features of gardens:

such as borders, straight lines, clipped edges, lawns, hedges, containers, topiary and so on? If it’s a bit formless, random, chaotic, it will look wild? 

But, my point is this: if you’d like borders, straight lines, lawns, containers and many other possibilities (a New Perennial garden, perhaps?) you can still be virtuous, pollinator and deer friendly. You can still grow delicate plants which look wonderfully weedy, or indeed, weeds. It doesn’t have to look as if someone gardened it thirty years ago and then walked off. Or as if it once grew veggies and there are still some struggling on as forlorn remnants. Or as if the Forestry Commission will soon come and chop it down.  How does all this translate to America? Are you all going wild???