Re-Wilding & Biodiversity


Words by Niall McCauley

 


The Beauty of Biodiversity

For years we’ve talked about bringing the outdoors indoors. Well, now is the time to take the next step - welcoming the more natural elements of the landscape and all the benefits they can offer back into our gardens.  

 

Embracing nature in our gardens is growing in popularity, with terms like biodiversity, rewilding, and no-mow trending in magazines and online. But why? And more importantly, how can we achieve it? Spoiler alert - I’m going to give you permission to ease up a bit and let yourself (and your garden) go a little wild!

So Why Do It?

So much of what we consider standard in gardening, tightly mown lawns, big blowsy flowers, and weed-free borders, can actually create a garden that whilst attractive, is limited in how it can support wildlife. That’s because so many of our native insect, bird and mammal species look to the shelter and food provided by longer grasses and native plants for their survival. Increasingly, we can no longer assume that these habitats exist in abundance elsewhere, as they are challenged by urban development, intensive agriculture, and forestry.

But I’ve got good news! We don’t need to rip up our gardens and turn them over to the wilderness to make a difference. Unless you want to of course. I won’t judge! Each of us can help whilst making our spaces even more beautiful at the same time. By shifting our expectations of what a garden can be, and embracing some changes, we can create havens that will attract, and bolster biodiversity… and here’s how.

Re-Wilding

There’s no single definition for rewilding, but I’m willing to bet that you’ve seen the word used a lot recently. At its heart, it’s about returning the land to its natural, untouched state. Like most things, you can take this as far as your bravery will allow! Go for the fully paid-up option, and it’s more than just sitting back and letting nature reclaim your garden like those

Victorian walled gardens that are miraculously rediscovered after decades of neglect. Rewilding can include removing manmade elements, and in some cases, reintroducing species that won’t appear by themselves… often on massive, national-park-sized scales.

Although it’s unlikely that any of us own that kind of acreage, we can take the essence of rewilding and bring some of that magic to our own space.

 

The No-Mow Lawn

The idea behind no-mow is super simple. It’s an easy, and surprisingly satisfying way to quickly boost your garden’s biodiversity. By letting your grass grow, it provides just enough meadow-like messiness and variety to attract and sustain wildlife. Seduced by the idea of less grass cutting (to my shame I hate grass cutting with a passion!) and boosting biodiversity in the garden, last year I stopped mowing a lot of my grass in favour of a no mow lawn.  

The diversity of plants and flowers that popped up was incredible. They just hadn’t had a chance to flourish - held back by the lawnmower’s blades each week. A word of caution from a battle-weary gardener however! No-mow is epic but remember that all that long grass will need to get cut in late summer so pick a patch that you know you can handle. I discovered this the hard way (you can thank me later for making the mistakes, so you don’t have to!) as I attempted to cut down and wheelbarrow away nearly half an acre of no-mow meadow!

 


Growing Wildflowers

The reality of many rewilding efforts is that the spaces can look a bit, well, unkempt. If that’s not your bag, enter wildflowers! They are a great way of curating the best bits of the natural world into our gardens. Except that it’s even easier to control where they grow (and even better, where you don’t want them to grow!).

Ireland has a rich and varied range of wildflowers of every colour, shape, size, and scent imaginable. But not only are they beautiful, they are suited to our soils, climate and native fauna, fine-tuned by nature over time. Having these in your garden, or even window box, will attract the very kinds of insect life that are key to boosting biodiversity. These can help pollinate your plants, control some pests, and provide food to other animals and birds. No matter the size of growing space you have, there’s a native wildflower for you!

My favourite wildflowers evoke the feeling of their natural habitats. The striking spires of Foxglove, reaching several feet in height in shades of white, pink, and purple remind me of being at the edge of woodland. Cow Parsley with its light, cloud-like white flowers takes me to a quiet lane in late spring. The delicate blooms of Centaury, Oxeye Daisy and Devil’s Bit Scabious - quintessential meadow flowers.  

Most wildflowers are built to flourish in tough environments so many will happily grow from seed in our gardens, whether it’s as a meadow, in a flowerbed, or even in containers. More often than not they perform better and flower more when grown in poor soils. They’re adaptable plants and can be stunning additions to your garden.

Experiencing Nature in Our Own Gardens

For me, the beauty of modern gardening is the freedom we have to create the spaces we want without the confines of traditional, rigid gardening styles. The next-door neighbours aren’t going to be checking whether your Marigolds and Petunias are in straight rows anymore! That opens up a world of opportunities to create stunning, wildlife-friendly spaces.

In truth, every small step you make to increase biodiversity is a positive, helpful one that nature will quietly thank you for. Whether it’s creating a small nature pond or specifically choosing plants for their contribution to pollinators, letting some of your lawn grow a little longer, or sowing wildflower mixes, it makes a difference.

But it also makes a difference to our wellbeing along the way. Actively supporting nature in our actions can be so rewarding. We can catch tiny moments of joy; spotting a new wildflower or insect we didn’t know existed or watching as our garden ecosystems build and balance. Incorporating that little bit of ‘wild’ into our gardens isn’t just about improving THE environment, it’s about levelling up OUR environment.


Clay, The Contemporary Botany Company


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When not writing for the Clay Journal, Niall fronts the young, dynamic, Irish YouTube channel, ‘Niall Gardens’. Unashamedly garden obsessed, Niall shares his passion for plants and gardening from his stunning one acre garden in the Irish countryside.