'Wild Gardens' have a different kind of attractiveness - and value- to those that are more actively 'gardened'
‘Wild Gardens’ have a different kind of attractiveness – and value- to those that are more actively ‘gardened’

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating, beautifully written book about taking a more ecological approach to gardening: ‘Noah’s Garden’ by Sara Stein. Set in the suburbs of the USA, she describes how she ‘unbecame’ a gardener and developed her plot into somewhere that bore a closer resemblance to the native surrounding countryside. In short ‘restoring the ecology of our own back yards.’

I have her sequel, ‘Planting Noah’s Garden’ and another book called ‘Noah’s Children’ ready for my summer holiday reading! The latter is about ‘restoring the ecology of childhood’, and I’m especially looking forward to reading this because of my interest in designing and promoting ‘natural play’ spaces. Stein wrote these all about 15 years ago, but they still seem very relevant today (Stein passed away in 2005).

I’m left wondering if and how far the principles she advocates can and should be applied to somewhere like the UK. Here the climate has – at least up to now- enabled us to grow a very wide range of plants, and so has given us the chance to grow more ‘exotics’ than  many other places around the globe. Arguably this resulted in a diluting, if not replacement of a ‘native environment’ hundreds of years ago, especially from the foreign travels of the ‘plant hunters’ and the subsequent importation of exotic species, as well as the devleopment of new, hybridised forms.

I guess the principle of gardeners working with nature, acting as ‘managers of the environment’ not ‘controllers’ (or worse still, having no concern for the wider impacts of what we plant, construct or remove in our gardens), is still very valid, and we should always have regard to the impact of our planting on the wider environment – in terms of the wildlife habitats and food sources it provides, for example.

Sara Stein

Sara Stein

I was especially taken with Stein’s suggestion in the last few pages of ‘Noah’s Garden’:

‘Let’s imagine a goal: that at some time in the future, the value of a property will be perceived in part according to its value to wildlife. A property hedged with fruiting shrubs will be worth more than one bordered by Forsythia. One with dry-stone walls that provide passageways for chipmunks will be valued higher than one whose walls are cemented stone. Buyers will place a premium on lots that provide summer flowers and fall crops of seed. Perhaps there will be formal incentives; tax abatements geared to the number of native species; deductions for lots that require neither sprays nor sprinklers. A nursery colony of bats might be considered a capital improvement. There could be bonuses for birdhouses.

Oh, brave new world!’…

Well, in the UK the arrival of energy efficiency ratings for houses is perhaps a step in this direction? Maybe we should encourage ‘Garden Ratings’ too?

Old School Gardener