Our head gardener Charlie Harpur shares his take on Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh's views on wild gardening. We've invited them both to come and see for themselves the work we're doing here at Knepp.
Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh have made their views well known on the trending, ‘wild’ approach to gardening. As a gardener, I can sort of see where they’re coming from. But what isn’t too helpful is what comes across as the ‘all or nothing’ view, when gardens could provide the solution to reversing biodiversity loss. 88% of us are lucky enough to have them in some capacity, and the garden area of the UK is nearly five times more than national nature reserves. Think of the opportunity!
I manage the gardens at the Knepp Estate – known for its rewilding project. What we’ve learned is that rewilding is not just abandoning land (I would be out of a job if it was…) The key to creating a mosaic of different habitats – which Alan and Monty don’t acknowledge – is disturbance. In the rewilding project at Knepp we have animals to graze, browse, rootle etc, which sculpts the land and creates a range of varying habitats – homes for an array of different species. And here is the crossover: in the unique, domestic context of the garden, the gardener is the keystone species. Active gardening is therefore actually needed to create a dynamic landscape which provides different opportunities for wildlife.
We take our horticulture seriously here. In our rewilded walled garden, we are active and thoughtful stewards. We ‘grow things, take cuttings, sow seeds and beautify’ – but our mindset is a bit different. We take our cues from nature, thinking about the role of each plant and what it can provide for wildlife. Nothing in nature is uniform, much like no garden is the same. And that’s what is beautiful about gardens. It should be celebrated.