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Down to Earth: The rewards of gardening wild

Don’t get too hung up on weed-free borders and stripe-mown lawns. Gardening on the wild side brings its own rewards, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Encouraging nature into our gardens is becoming more and more in vogue, which as far as I am concerned is a wonderful thing. After all, we need nature just as much as nature needs us and making wildlife as comfortable as we are in our own gardens can’t help but be rewarding. Where else can you get so close to nature other than in our own green spaces?

It never ceases to amaze me that, even in an urban concrete jungle, wildlife will come and pay a visit if encouraged. Before I embarked on studying garden design and horticulture, I worked as a concierge in a very luxurious building in Kensington. My wife and I lived in a small flat on the roof as part of my wage, which was wonderful at the start, but it didn’t take long for me to start longing for open spaces, rivers and greens.

Out of sheer desperation to be connected to nature I bought some terracotta pots and filled them with lavender, ornamental grasses and nepetas and set them out on the roof. Within moments a solitary bee arrived, and I breathed out a sigh of relief.

It was on that very roof that I also realised that to notice birds you have to watch them; to this day I still remember the sight of a jay alighting (clearly lost as the opportunity to gather or store acorns on a felt roof are rather rare). At the time it looked like the most beautiful and exotic wild bird.

There is a lot of negativity around us at the moment and so many of us are still struggling from post-lockdown blues, so it has been really lovely to hear just how positive our gardens have proved for so many people. From the sheer volume of enquiries we are getting, it’s evident people want to improve what they have so they can enjoy their outdoor spaces even


This can only be great for nature. No matter the size of your space, from a balcony to a country estate, if you plant the right plants in the right places then wildlife will gratefully arrive.

The next step is then to be mindful of the wildlife around you. This can be as simple as adding bird feeders and/or a water dish for creatures to drink from; even not cutting areas of

your lawn, so that it grows wild, will drastically make a difference. Neat, manicured gardens are beautiful but, to support our fellow creatures and shake off our own blues, we all need to walk on the wild side once in a while.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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