A Secret Garden
By Liz Nicholson
Ever since Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote The Secret Garden, we crave a touch of the unspoilt, wild, overgrown charm. And yet, as soon as we spot a dandelion in our lawns, nettles on the compost heap, thistles in the kitchen garden, we are out with our hoe to restore control over our patch of grass.
But I sense a wild garden revolution is upon us. As The Archers introduce the concept of rewilding into their farming storytelling, hugely successful estates like Knepp in Sussex have now proven a well published success. Letting nature take its course has seen the return of nightingales, turtle doves and peregrine falcons. Knepp is set over 3,500 acres near Horsham in Sussex, and has been devoted to rewilding since 2001. www.knepp.co.uk
Our gardens may take inspiration from this project, discouraging petrol-greedy and labour intensive lawn mowers and instead allowing grass to grow wild with a single annual cut. Anyone who has walked in a wild grass meadow with the wind wafting gentle patterns in the sward will acknowledge that there are few greater natural wonders.
Cutting simple curving garden paths through long grass can give new adventure to gardens, places to go and routes to new vistas. When planning your pruning regime, dare to ‘forget’ to prune that scrambling rose or honeysuckle, and sit back and enjoy the wild naughtiness of a climber “let go”.
I feel that our senses are only exercised in contrast: we need to feel sad occasionally to get the complete high of happiness; we need the garden to have secret abandoned areas to fully value those perfect stripes on our lawns.
As a design studio, at Nicholsons we have always favoured natural, traditional gardens with good bones but this year will see us driving in a different direction. Less mowing, less hard landscaping, less of man’s influence over nature, and more celebration of plants, wild grass, free growing trees, wooden swings in trees, abundant hectic vegetable patches, cascading climbers, groaning fruit trees… And yes, spaces to sit and enjoy the richness of nature, and the occasional visiting robin – as within the walls of The Secret Garden.