How Environmental Jihadi Plots Advanced Gardening
If you adhere to the credo that your garden is there to be shared not only with all God’s defenceless little creatures but also with an assortment of rust-enhanced, eco-friendly props, read on for some tips from our advanced natural gardening guru.
(Our Jihadi guest gardener writes from her cave (à vin) in Provence and her CV is found at the end of this piece.)
Ecologically responsible gardeners have made enormous progress in recent years, improving sustainability, reducing maintenance (and carbon) and reversing a decline in aphids, vine-weevils and many other species. But there is so much more to do for a fully sustainable and organic garden. Fabulous young garden designers of good family are showing the way, applauded by rich old-guard gardeners bored by borders but just wild about wilderness.
Remember that your garden is not yours alone but to share with all the little defenceless creatures who are our companions on this planet. Encourage ants by laying paving on sand. Loosen soil around perimeters to facilitate access by rabbits. Cut holes in fences not just for hedgehogs but for frogs and foxes too, (see the diagram below for a very rural solution).
Don’t throw out your old sofa – in a shady space in the garden it will provide a refuge for dormice and all sorts of insects, and go a lovely shade of green. Rusty statues and steel panels are in vogue at garden shows at the moment. Inspired by a stack of old fridges at the local brocante a year or so ago, why not try a defunct washing machine in your garden? With the door off it would make a wonderful lair for one of our larger mammals. Put a few sheets of corrugated iron on a bumpy patch of ground in the sunlight to attract the beleaguered adder, which likes to shelter in the warm shade beneath.
Help our vital pollinators: spread honey on foliage and leave out unwanted jam sandwiches. Drill holes about half a cm diameter under the eaves to encourage wasps to build a nest in the loft, or bigger if you would like to help bats and squirrels, and who wouldn’t? Encase your wiring in animal-proof metal first. Don’t put birdseed only in feeders. Sprinkle it over your patio to support mice and rats. They will in turn attract a marvellous range of predators such as the rarely-seen weasel. Leaving out a bowl of cat food will do more than anything else to nourish a growing population of small rodents, foxes and crows, and make their lives easier. But do please make sure that your cat has been fully modified by surgery to remove its reproductive and hunting equipment, and herd it indoors where it will make an adorably submissive and dependent pet.
Sustainability and low maintenance
Look for more natural and sustainable ways to develop the planting in your garden organically and without chemicals of any kind. There’s no need for fertilizer – all you have to do is invite the neighbours’ cows, horses or other ungulata over and let them roam in your garden from time to time. Don’t mow the grass and definitely don’t water it, instead harmonize with Nature and find colour swatches in other shades of brown to match. Plant a few hostas, lettuce and delphiniums if you must – very soon you’ll have a vibrant population of slugs and snails which all sorts of animals adore to eat. What’s more, the tattered foliage will proclaim your impeccable environmental credentials. Even if you have only a small garden, give at least half of it over to composting and green manure. Line paths with sustainable nettles. These will provide a nourishing tea that stimulates lactation, or if you steep them in rainwater – use old dustbins – you can make an arrestingly aromatic liquid manure for houseplants.
Lately my friend the Hon. Binty Brewer has done wonderful things with her garden at Tussocks Grange not far from Sade’s castle here in the Luberon. She has had her staff grub up all the dreary high maintenance herbaceous borders, and remove the rose beds – “so dated after two hundred years darling.” In their place is a tasteful and original planting of three hectares of grasses interspersed with foxgloves, lupins, and verbena bonariensis. Binty has plans to enrich this with more wild French plants. “I find many wonderful specimens of cow parsley and deadly nightshade by the roadside, growing perfectly naturally without any maintenance. Railway embankments and motorway reservations are also an inspiration, with nitrogen-fixing clover and the shy, white-flowering ground elder, which make effortless natural ground cover.” She is also busy propagating the rose bay willow herb, “a gorgeous wild flower whose distribution has been in decline as, unfortunately, there are far fewer bomb sites these days.”
Advising on the remodelling at Tussocks is up-and-coming garden designer Tabitha Cholmondeley-Freelove, whose entry ‘A Hard Landscape’, of quartz walls and steps with a covered outdoor yoga area in granite, softened by an innovative and subtle planting of grasses, lupins, verbena bonariensis and foxgloves, won gold in the Budget category (under 100,000 euros) at Parque Villandry. Next year she aims to repeat this success at the Paris flower show. The new show garden will portray the journey of a garden designer from student ennui through marriage, divorce, substance abuse and rehabilitation. It will use recycled material: an undergraduate heap of empty bottles, a confined marital space of broken bricks, another heap of bottles containing tender psychotropic herbs, and finally a covered dining area in Carrera marble salvaged from the ruins of a luxurious Cannes villa, with a patio heater by Flambé et Grillé, subtly softened by a stunningly original planting of verbena bonariensis, foxgloves, lupins, and grasses. “The whole thing will be zero maintenance,” says Tabitha, “signifying a clean divorce from the misguided romance of earlier horticulture. There will be holes for rats (representing men I have known) and squirrels, and gorgeous natural plants such as dock, the leaves of which may soothe the sting of life if not death”. If there’s one thing about this garden, it will surely be ground-breaking.
Jobs for the coming Spring:
- plant out young bramble canes
- remove paint from railings so that they rust naturally
- clean the sundial with rainwater and home-made soap (see p.153)
- order foxgloves and athyrium filix-femina frizelliae before your friends have depleted stocks for this year’s shows
- remind staff to sharpen scythes and cut the grass on polo fields (along with tennis courts, an exception to the no-mow principle)
- peg out baby rabbits to support the declining population of owls and stoats (you may wish to have them killed first in an approved manner)
- buy tickets for the garden show opening weekend – still to be found at very accessible prices
- humanely trap and repatriate invading foreign birds such as Indian parakeets and various migrants from Europe and Africa
- have your gardeners remove unwanted oak saplings from the ha-ha
- if your birdbath has gone foul, replace it – Tarquin and Jules at Jardin Whimsy have a lovely one in Carré d’Arc stone for less than 10,000 euros, as seen at Villandry
- organize natural urine collection to accelerate composting
- use a mild organic stimulant to prevent your retriever from going to sleep in the background while you’re on camera
Writer: Holly R. Thenthow
About our contributor: “After a degree in holistic therapy for plants Holly now writes for Environmental Jihad magazine from her farmhouse in Provence”.