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Learning by letting wildness into my garden and life - the first year

The saying “if you love something let it go” feels as fitting for nature as it does for people I love. I love the natural world of Britain. It’s flowers, bugs and furry creatures and as I have learnt more about the impact of chemicals and the loss of habitat for all things non-human I have decided it is time to let some of my garden go, to let it go wild. And through this I hope I too can lead a more relaxed and feral life.

How do I learn to let my garden go? To let the wild in? My garden has been my sanctuary and passion for many years. I have created and tended my herbaceous borders, planted trees, cut the grass, trimmed the edges and taken out tonnes of weeds and now I want to learn to let the wild in and ti help me I will to keep a diary of the changes in me and the garden, the highs and lows of letting go.

I have been the guardian of my current garden for a year so it feels important to share a brief history of the past 12 months before I start writing about the present.

The garden is about an acre in size and in three parts; closest to the house is a more formal area with herbaceous flowers and raised beds for vegetables; the next part has fruit tress and rough and uneven grass and the final part is a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees, about 60 in total. One edge of the garden is bounded by mature oak, beech, ash and horse chestnut trees and there is a mixture of fencing and Hazel coppices to the other sides.

The garden was pretty wild when I first moved in and very overgrown with saplings, brambles and lots of rubbish strewn in amongst it but it was also alive with foxes, hedgehogs, frogs, birds and bugs. But the woodland felt impenetrable at the beginning and although I wanted to leave it wild it was too wild for me at the time so I cleared most of the sycamore and Canadian maple saplings to find out what was underneath with the hope there would be spring flowers. I cut back the brambles and trimmed the ivy off some of the trees so I could get closer to and touch them, to get to know them and how they are. I cleared a huge amount of rubbish including old upholstered bed-headboards, a bath and I filled many boxes with bits of old plastic. I felt I needed to be able to get into each corner, each space so I could begin to know it. I can hear in my head the words of many people who think I should have left the garden totally wild and not cleared my way into the wild corners and yet this is how I find my place in the world, to be of the world and not separate from it. If I had left it untouched I would still feel removed from it, barred from it and I yearn so much to be connected and so I cleared and connected. The result was a woodland alive from January with the first snowdrops, then lesser celandine, wood anemone, bluebell , common dog violet, primroses, crocus, fritillary, and tulips.

In January 2019 I cleared a huge pile of old fencing panels from the back of the wood and dug a pond, about 2.5 metres by 4 metres with 3 levels ranging from 5 cm at one end, so the birds can bathe and hedgehogs can climb out if they fall in, to 1 metre deep at the other so frogs and bugs can hibernate without being frozen in the winter. The pond was filled in April 2019 and I planted grass and wild flowers along the edge to provide cover and food for the little creatures that need it. At one end I created a woodpile facing south to offer a warm bank for slow worms and grass snakes to bathe in the sun. I was offered frogspawn by a neighbour and some other from Chalford which have flourished and the pond is brimming with tadpoles. I was gifted some pond plants which came with soil and all the creatures that called it home and I took a scoop of mud from the canal in Chalford to also act as a culture booster.

The wild and scrubby grass was hiding a multitude of lumps and bumps and plastic too and I wanted to create a wildflower meadow that would hum with life and which we could spend time in too. The area was already busy with life so it was a hard decision to clear and level the area so I could re-plant it with a wildflower meadow mixture. The clearing and sowing was done in the middle of May 2019 and thankfully there was a lot of rain to help the seed germinate and grow. I have let the grass amongst the apple trees grow long with only winding paths cut through and let the ‘weeds’ flourish. There are more hard decisions to be taken with the fruit trees, but that is in the future.

I added four small raised beds (1m square) to plant vegetables as an experiment to see what would grow under the tree canopy. The onions, leeks, peas and squash are doing well, sadly the courgette didn’t do so well and I only have one plant left but it’s a start!

I haven’t changed the area by the house apart from adding a small greenhouse and some native hedging to one side.

And then there is me and my change as part of wilding the garden. The work of Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology has opened my heart to being in relationship with all things, and that my thoughts and feelings arise in relationship not in isolation. When I was barred from parts of the garden by brambles I felt barred from the land and all the creatures it held, I felt fear. Was this why I needed to clear it? Did I need to feel control over the land? Do I need control to keep my fears at bay? The garden is teaching me already to explore how I can let the wild into my life too.

This is the beginning and brings me to the summer of 2019, the garden is alive with so much life and I will have so much more to notice and share as the days go by.

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