Gardening provides an opportunity to get closer to the natural world even though you might consider the two unlikely bedfellows. Gardening, like agriculture, involves both working with nature and battling against it. You need to work with the soil and the seasons, and to select plants that work best in the conditions that your garden presents you with.
For me it is a pleasurable experience to sit and work a border, picking out unwanted seedlings, like nettles, bramble or wavy bitter-cress, that have arrived from outside sources. Weeding by hand allows me to be selective and also provides an opportunity to interact with many of the smaller creatures with which I share the garden. Various beetles march across the soil’s surface, disturbed by my activities, while centipedes, small snails and woodlice are revealed as I move bits of wood or leaf mulch. Such creatures are easily overlooked but a bit of time and a small amount of effort can provide you with a long list of fellow garden users.
Gardens contain a wealth of life, making them one of the main contributors to biodiversity within our increasingly urbanised landscapes. The recent Garden Bioblitz event helped to raise the profile of the many small things that can be found in our gardens. Admittedly not all of this life is native, our passion for new and unusual plants often leading to the introduction of species from elsewhere across the globe. Most remain within the confines of our gardens but some ‘escape’ and become a problem in the wider countryside.
The presence of these other creatures, some of which are now increasingly rare in other habitats, underlines that our gardens do not truly belong to us; in effect, we only have a tenancy over them. While we may exert a very strong influence on ‘our’ gardens and their wildlife through our activities, other creatures will have their own hold on the garden, perhaps even shaping how we use it. Some gardeners simply will not tolerate this interference, blasting unwanted plants and invertebrates with chemicals, but many more are learning to garden with nature rather than against. Such an approach still involves ‘gardening’ but it provides a more pleasurable and rewarding experience. Perhaps this is why, as a naturalist, I enjoy my garden its wildlife.