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Are gardens primarily for humans?

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 07 Apr 2014 at 02:36 PM

In a piece in the April issue of ‘The Garden’, the author says that ‘the garden is a habitat for other creatures, but it is first and foremost a habitat for us’. She worries that gardeners are being bombarded with unwanted advice, not unlike the barrage of advice we get about our diets and exercise, and that gardeners are being made to feel guilty for wanting to garden as they see fit.

 The summer border is filled with life


I’m all for guilt-free gardening and everyone has their own likes and dislikes, but I’d like to say a little about the advice I was given. When I first studied horticulture, I had been wondering whether I should grow only native plants for a good wildlife garden. The advice given by my teacher was that whilst it’s true that many plants have specific insect ‘partners’ - Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), for example, is a primary food plant for the butterflies Common Blue, Cryptic Wood White, Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak, Short-tailed Blue, Silver-studded Blue and Wood White – the plants we grow in our gardens don’t have to be all native. We can support a multitude of species in our gardens by growing a wide variety of nectar and pollen-rich flowering plants and providing a few useful habitats. It doesn’t have to be a choice between nettles or pom-pom Dahlias; the number of wildlife friendly plants is in the hundreds, if not thousands. There is a page of good advice here, together with downloadable files listing far more plants than you could fit into most gardens.



 Bumblebee in a foxglove


This leads me on to the ‘us’ bit. I take ‘us’ to mean humans. Are gardens primarily a habitat for us? My own view is that the species who live in and visit the little patch of ground I tend are akin to neighbours – they live in the same neighbourhood, so our activities impact them and vice versa. I garden with ‘neighbourliness’ in mind which, for me, means that my garden is a place for all of us, not just humans. The plants, the pond and other water sources, the ivy growing over the wall, the wood piles, gaps in the wall and compost heaps, are multi-purpose. They provide interest, sustenance and shelter.


 Wood and soil habitat for amphibians, mice, beetles, bees etc


This isn’t touchy-feely, new age neighbourliness, it cuts both ways – not using pesticides enlarges the garden’s food chain and providing habitats for birds, amphibians and beetles means that any species (e.g. aphids) which might cause a nuisance are quickly eaten up. Worms mix plant debris into the soil, mice tidy up the cherry stones deposited by the birds and, in their turn, stoats tidy up the mice. I look after the main habitat, the garden, and the species who live in it work on the smaller details and help to keep it healthy. It works for me and it works for the ‘neighbours’.

 A frog explores the garden


pushkin said:

A particularly interesting entry given the UN warning about what we're doing to our planet.  The photographs are, as usual, wonderful.

on 07 Apr 2014 at 03:57 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Thanks, pushkin. That gardens should be for all species is very close to my heart.

on 08 Apr 2014 at 12:10 PM