How about we all let a little bit of garden go wild?

Are we able, even with a small back-garden, to set aside space for nature to take its course a little?

When, about a year ago, my wife and I moved into our bungalow, from our large detached house, there were only a couple of downsides to the downsize— one of which was the new place had a much smaller garden than we were used to. Not only that, the previous owners had laid out most of the limited space to tidy lawns, block paving and concrete, with only a few isolated shrubs and bulbs around the edges. All this was a far cry from our previous long garden that we had long-ago learned to run, shall we say, ‘a bit wild’ in places and into which we had enthusiastically let nature move in. If there is such a thing as a ‘cultivated wild-garden’ (early-Genesis fans might spot the reference) then that was what we were aiming for.

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From left: wild flowers allowed to spread; a visiting duck by the pond; a big group of pheasants finding the scattered seeds.
So we moved from a place where yes, there was a lawn and there were some flower beds but, over time, we had ripped out the leylandii and allowed silver birch, hawthorn, rowan and beech trees to seed and grow; we had planted a mini-orchard — purely for the blossom to support the growth in numbers of pollinating insects and the fruits to feed bugs and birds; our pond was extended and planted out with many native plants and provided a refuge for frogs and newts; wild flowers (in some cases, possibly just nice-looking weeds) were allowed to spread, almost unchecked and birds were encouraged by myriad feeding stations — indeed, seed was thrown out onto our lawn to encourage pheasants from an adjoining field and passing ground-feeders to visit. Inevitably, we were sad at exchanging all this for a smaller piece of land but consoled ourselves that we would find it much more manageable…

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A duck found an unusual but, no doubt, warm perch while trees were allowed to grow where they seeded.

On the day we moved in, our removal team marvelled at our lovely new front lawn: ‘you’ve got your work cut out, keeping this looking so nice’ remarked one… I replied that I would do my best to maintain the high standards, while my (admittedly, slightly more sarcastic) thoughts were along the lines that I could wield a lawnmower as well as the next person and would probably manage to wave a garden fork at any weed that dare poke its head out of this barren soil. Since then, many a passing neighbour has kindly complimented us on how lovely and tidy our front garden looks. ‘Thank you so much’ says my mouth; ‘not for much longer, once I get the time to set to work on it’ say my thoughts.

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‘Lovely and tidy’, say the neighbours; ‘almost barren’ says I

With my long-anticipated retirement last September came the opportunity to spend that time, so I’ve embarked on my ‘mini-wilding’ project and this the first of my humble accounts of how it all goes.

People who garden will appreciate one predicament I faced shortly after we moved in: I wanted to get plants and flowers into the garden quickly but did not want to break the bank or do anything too permanent until I’d done some serious planning. Luckily I’d been invited to a few weddings and, sadly, a few funerals too in the past year and had been given several packets of wild-flower seeds — poppies, cornflower and marigold seeds were in marked packets, alongside one or two that were unlabelled. These seemed like the ideal way to introduce some colour and, maybe, attract some wildlife.

I resolved to make use of all the seeds — including the unknowns (who doesn’t love a surprise when unexpected delights grow in the garden?) We’d moved in towards the end of March so I acted quickly to get the seeds in the soil as soon as possible. I chose an almost-empty, circular bed in the middle of the back lawn, turned the soil over briefly and scattered the seeds.

Within a couple of months, the seeds had germinated and developed into plants that were growing well; by June we had a beautiful display that lasted through to September.

Our mini wildflower-garden with cornflowers and poppies most prominent

Our wild-flower bed in the early stages of blooming, with poppies and cornflowers prominent — the marigolds joined them shortly after and, even later, I discovered some pansies were the ‘surprise package’

More rewarding still, the flowers attracted numerous pollinators and the sound of various types of bee and hover-flies could be heard daily, while the colour and movement of butterflies provided a visual delight. Later, when many of the blooms had turned to seed, we were visited by gold finches, great tits and dunnocks, keen for a snack — a welcome, if slight increase in the meagre number of birds seen from our window, which will be subject of a future article.

In the image above, you will perhaps also notice our embryonic mission to provide nature with a corner — we simply let a segment of the lawn grow to see what happened. In my next article, I will describe how the simple scattering of wildflowers inspired the next move in this mini-wilding project.