Gardens have the potential to provide ecologically sound and biodiverse habitats in even the most unlikely sites and neglected spaces. In order to achieve this, a site-specific approach to garden design and management is required as well as patience and observation over an extended period of time, particularly in new gardens (Pearson).
Whilst the scale and situation of the gardens presented vary considerably, a key message was that a cohesive approach is required with a long-term view from initial planning stage. This integrated response requires input from policymakers, town planners, designers, horticulturists, ecologists, landscapers and the community who will use the space. In particular, ecology and horticulture should not be treated as distinct disciplines but should work together as they are intrinsically linked (Garrett) and habitat creation should be considered at design stage. Rewilding should not be target driven but process based.
Rewilding can occur in the most unlikely places; in fact, some of the most biodiverse sites may appear, at first glance, barren wastelands. One example of this was Canvey Wick in Essex which has the third highest number of recorded invertebrate species in the UK (Little).
In separate projects, Little and Price transformed desolate car parks into inviting gardens teeming with wildlife. Little maintained the appearance of the parking spaces to emphasise their repurposing as “garden bays” at the Langdon Visitor Centre whilst Price transported hospital patients at Maggie’s Southampton into a safe and inviting haven through clever use of screening and planting.
Experimentation with alternative growing media including recycled materials was explored by several speakers. Drawing on influences from Peter Korn’s talk at the previous symposium, Price adopted his method of using sand as the sole growing medium in her personal garden. Initially a stark desert, the space has since become a biodiverse garden proving how the right plants will thrive in uncompromising conditions. Similarly, in the redesign of the Walled Garden at Knepp, a “patchwork” of media was used to create a 200mm layer for planting which included crushed concrete from buildings demolished on site (Stuart-Smith).
Whilst the projects Alistair Driver of Rewilding Britain assists with tend to be over 250 acres, rewilding is also feasible on a small scale and he encouraged us to look beyond the garden perimeter and, for example, consider diversifying use of buffer strips on surrounding land to create more ecologically sound environments.
Within the confines of an existing garden, Garrett encouraged us to see the potential of every nook and cranny whether it be porous walls, bare ground or niches which offer refuge to a variety of insects and dead wooden posts which support detritivores.
A complex mosaic of layered planting may create a biodiverse landscape, however, a shift in attitude is required as it would be very different from a traditionally neat garden. There was an awareness that wildness can seem untidy and intimidating. This can be overcome by creating negative space, for example, a pathway through meadows which also encourages movement and exploration (Price). Similarly, by including dwell spaces such as the lawn at the Hepworth Wakefield, the public are invited to congregate and linger in a safe space (Stuart-Smith). In contrast, at Great Dixter, previously manicured lawns are mown less regularly with the results seen as charming by some, and messy by others. We were encouraged to embrace an element of chaos within the garden for the net gain in biodiversity (Garrett).
Further, a dead or dying tree might typically be removed from a garden for aesthetic reasons, however, as it might support wildlife, Price suggested introducing plants such as climbing species of Lonicera or Rosa to cloak it rather than remove it.
The concept of pocket forests was explored by a few speakers. Price enthused about making trees the protagonist of a design and, rather than introduce man-made sculptures into a garden, we should celebrate the sculptural form of trees such as a multi-stemmed Amelanchier lamarckii.
Stuart-Smith’s design for the Paradise Garden at RHS Bridgewater includes ten species per square metre with each third dedicated to different geographic regions: American, Asiatic and Mediterranean. In contrast, Guzzon’s advice was to avoid producing complicated planting schemes in favour of easier long-term maintenance. He also advocated allowing plants to seed freely with minimal interference to help the garden evolve rather than keep rigidly to a static planting plan.
The topography of a site is a key consideration and at Knepp Castle’s Walled Garden complex topography is achieved through peaks and troughs up to 1.5 metres above and below original ground level. This has created a variety of habitats which supports ecological richness (Stuart-Smith). Beth Chatto’s garden is another key example where significant height differentials between the five areas of the garden create strongly contrasting microclimates; each with its own profile presenting opportunities and limitations.