Wild garden
Wild garden

Garden wilding in the Algarve

“Today, conservationists worried about the planet’s future rarely, if ever, mention gardens, though the area cared for by gardeners is much greater than the sum of all nature reserves.

Wilding usually refers to forests and farms, however, Mediterranean gardening offers a way of living in harmony with the earth without contrived effects or heavy spending. Born of long human experience on the land, it is frugal and fruitful, serves many purposes and gives many pleasures year-round.

Today it adapts easily to our growing ecological awareness, to individual creativity and community sharing. Above all, it perpetuates a long-standing partnership between human beings and their environment, tested in Mediterranean countries for millennia.

Garden Before regeneration
Before regeneration

The success of this partnership, in spite of many regressions and obstacles, shows clearly in the region’s exceptional plant biodiversity — four times higher than in northern Europe.”*

A very important development in recent garden design trends has been the awareness that gardens have a role to play in ecological terms. Everybody has a different vision of a garden: an “outside room” with swimming pool and barbecue; a place for children to play; a productive area for fruit and vegetables; somewhere beautiful to relax …

Wilding gardeners have a different vision. For them, a garden is a single eco-system where each element, from the ground up, supports all the others to produce an environment for all kinds of life to flourish.

A “wild” garden can be just as beautiful as any show garden, with the added benefit that it will be full of butterflies, bees, birds, lizards and small mammals. It will also be a positive health benefit for the gardener!

Garden After regeneration
After regeneration

Non-organic gardeners’ eyes tend to glaze over at the mention of natural balances. However, a little observation shows that nature is in fact a system of checks and balances. The vegetation that predominates in a given area is that which has evolved over the millennia to suit its surroundings. Anything that can’t take the conditions dies out.

Gardeners can upset the natural balance. We bring in plants that aren’t adapted to our conditions. We try to make it up to them by giving them extra watering and feeding, changing the soil; but ultimately, an ill-adapted plant will be more at risk from pests and diseases than an indigenous one. So, we resort to pesticides and further alter the natural balance for the worse.

In the long run, the garden can become a war-zone between the gardener and nature. No bets as to who will win here. Nature has a facility for adapting, as any farmer with herbicide-resistant weeds in his fields will tell you.

Dry garden
Dry garden

So, take a good look at your garden and do a little analysis of soils and aspect. If you have a large property, you may have a variety of different zones which offer different habitats for the plants and wildlife. A quick way to get an idea of what indigenous species flourish in your area is to go for a long walk with a notebook and a camera. Ideally, do this at different times of the year.

Generally speaking, in Mediterranean areas, many wild bulbs and orchids flourish in the spring, while early summer is the best time for flowers. In late summer, you can identify the real survivors of heat and drought; and in the autumn and winter, many plants revive and put out flowers much appreciated by pollinating insects.

Wilding your garden involves adapting your planting and gardening techniques to your conditions and using a range of climate-adapted plants, which are key to sustainable gardening in a Mediterranean climate.

Wildlife friendly garden
Wildlife friendly garden

Why is wilding your garden important? Biodiversity is under threat as never before, especially in Mediterranean zones. Average temperatures are increasing worldwide. Water is becoming scarcer. In many countries, land is being built over to accommodate increasing populations.

The use of pesticides and herbicides is widespread in agriculture. As a consequence, insect and bird populations are in decline, in some cases catastrophically. There’s no way of knowing what will happen if the trend continues unchecked, except that we know the consequences won’t be good.

Gardeners in the Mediterranean can do their bit to increase biodiversity and see the results very close to home. Are you willing to go wild?

*With thanks to Louisa Jones – in this talk she explores garden “wilding” in general and specifically refers to Mediterranean regions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foYIw_7VsYk&t=34s

By Rosie Peddle
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