Originally published Feb. 19, 2015
By Valerie Easton, former Natural Gardener writer
REWILDING IS AN antidote to this high-tech, hurry-up, profit-driven world. It’s all about reconnecting to the natural world while repairing some of the damage that humans have inflicted on Mother Earth.
Gardeners, accustomed to seeking respite in nature, seem to be taking to the idea. While the notion has been around for a couple of decades, the word “rewilding” only made it into the dictionary in 2011.
George Monbiot, author of the book “Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life,” thinks of rewilding as more than the restoration of ecosystems. He sees us changing our own lives to become enchanted with the natural world, and letting go, at least in some part, of that very ordered and controlled life we ordinarily lead. Does this bring to mind those legions of over-tidy gardeners wielding leaf blowers and electric hedge trimmers?
I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more. Perhaps we can learn to adjust to the randomness of nature and its imperfections. If not, we’re fighting a losing battle in the garden because weather and slugs, wind and cold always have their way with our expectations.
Perhaps the first step toward rewilding is to acknowledge how harmful some gardening practices can be, from spraying pesticides to all those plastic nursery pots that end up in landfills. Think of all the green lawns and rose gardens soaked with irrigation and doused in chemicals over the years.
There’s no time to spare in our quest to garden in harmony with nature. We can’t count on familiar weather patterns anymore. The survival of the honeybees, frogs and songbirds that our souls and gardens depend on can no longer be taken for granted.
I’m encouraged by signs of rewilding in even the most intensely urban parts of the city, where it’s most needed. The Pollinator Pathway in South Seattle, a mile-long pilot project of ecologically sound, interconnected parking strips, is gaining attention around the country. Seattle Public Utilities has an active rain-garden program, and Beacon Hill boasts a 7-acre food forest. The landscapes at both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bullitt Foundation are rich in native plants. Developers are planting food gardens on the rooftops of their big residential projects.
If all of us grew even a few native plants, our properties would be easier to care for and more nurturing to wildlife. Leaving part of our gardens wild provides a network of habitats for creatures to freely roam and fly through.
“Real Gardens Grow Natives” is a new book by Portland landscape designer Eileen Stark that offers a common-sense approach to rewilding. She describes her work as less a restoration manual and more a welcome mat for creatures. Stark emphasizes aesthetics as well as ecosystems, with a useful selection of native plants suited to conditions in Northwest cities and suburbs. “Even an urban eighth of an acre can provide for other species and inspire neighbors in the process,” says Stark.
Satish Kumar, longtime peace activist and editor of the British magazine Resurgence, calls for ecological reverence. Who is better suited to lead the way than we gardeners, who fancy ourselves co-creators, in some small part, of the natural world we so treasure?