Gardens Can Save The World

I've been spurred into action by BBC's Radio 4's World at One article on today's release of the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on global bio-diversity. 1 million species... the need to radically change the way we live...

It has been so heartening to see the effect the cumulative influence of David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, the Extinction Revolution and so many other campaigners have had. Kate and I have been wanting to get this blog started and have made several attempts, including sitting in bed this morning writing ideas down over a cup of tea. Kate is a bit of a perfectionist and struggles to write in way she would enjoy and is happy to share. This morning I argued we should write from the heart and get things moving even if the quality and depth we would aspire to is not there at the start. So here is the first post... driven not by quality but the need to contribute; to make a small difference if we can.

Kate said it months ago and it resonated for me: “Gardens can save the world!”. She wasn't entirely serious: gardens form a small portion of the UK and world land mass and we all have limited time and resources, but our gardens are under our control and through them we can make a difference. Historically gardens have been hugely influential and we in the UK are known worldwide for our passion for gardening. The influence our gardens can have goes way beyond their physical boundaries as we will explore in what follows.

When I met Kate she had a beautiful garden and over time it developed and changed and became deeper, richer and more beautiful. But for me there was a problem: we could never sit and relax in the garden because Kate would have to jump up every few minutes to deal with something. Worse still if the weather or some aliment affected the health of the garden, it would affect Kate. A sunny day would send her out watering, wind or cold would mean plants needed protecting. Ailments meant hours of research and treatment. I loved her passion but what bothered me was that she didn't seem to be enjoying it. The garden was rich and beautiful, full of butterflies, bees and birds and her work was to create similar spaces for other people. My work involved sitting in offices and endless meetings: who was I to criticise?

So how can our gardens save the world? My simplistic interpretation of Kate's rantings is this: Firstly we can create healthy environments for ourselves, where we can relax in our spare time, we can have healthy produce in food and flowers and we can create special spaces where we can nurture ourselves and our families and friends. Secondly we can create an environment where nature can flourish; we can plant for bees and other insects and encourage birds and other wildlife. We can avoid chemicals and either accept what happens or use natural remedies to control things we see as pests. These first two create sanctuaries for ourselves and for nature, offsetting the damage of daily living and the ravages of the agro-chemical industries. Thirdly we can influence others by what we do; as we develop our understanding and respect for nature we help our children and our friends to appreciate what we all have, and in doing so we help them to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

This is a weak rendition in summary of so many influences. A huge change for us is the sense that there is hope, that it really is possible to change things. So many people are engaging and in such positive ways. Studies like Knepp show that in the right circumstances nature can regenerate really effectively and suggest a direction of travel. What we want to do in this blog is share and collect ideas and knowledge, in an open, relaxed and accessible way. We don't have all the answers but we are learning and experimenting and we hope that if we share some of our ideas, others will too and more people will try things and between us, we will make a difference.

By way encouragement: as we explored and developed Kate’s ideas around a new approach to gardening and her work with design, her relationship with the garden has changed. She gets more pleasure from and we often get to sit for longer periods enjoying the space… although the conversation is still almost entirely about gardens.

Dylan, May 2019

Comments and contributions please!