What is “rewilding?” Valerie Easton’s Natural Gardener column in a recent issue of The Seattle Times‘ Pacific NW Sunday magazine puts perspective to the Johnny-come-lately gardening term. The piece, called “In Harmony With Nature,” is sort of a celebration of rewilding which, she notes, only first appeared in the dictionary in 2011. She says, “I like to think that in the gardenesque sense of the word, rewilding represents a desire to meddle less and celebrate nature more.”
Less meddling sounds like less work to me. Needles to say, your mostly-industrious Planet Natural blogger likes the idea of less work.
What exactly rewilding means is open to debate. Often, it’s linked with the practice of permaculture, because of its sustainability values. Generally it means bringing your landscape closer to the natural world of your particular locale. But it can simply mean paying more attention to what you grow while making your landscape more environmentally friendly. It can even be applied to humans.
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Now we know a lot of people who’ve been rewilding well before the invention of the term, planting their lawns and acreages with native grasses and working native shrubs and wildflowers into their landscape features. Going native is a form of xeriscape gardening. It saves on water with better moisture retention by both plant and soil. Rewilding also means making landscapes more wildlife friendly. Native plants are usually best at attracting pollinators.
Rewilding, then, is less a collection of specific practices and more a philosophy that becomes functional when applied to designing your own landscape.
This is one area we take an expansive view of the term “native.” Native plants from across the country, as long as they’re suited to our zone and conditions, can and should be considered. We like to see California poppies trailing at the end of what used to be a lawn, even if this is Montana.
George Monbiot really gave rewilding a kick with his book Feral: Rewilding the land, the Sea, and Human Life. This philosophical text gives little practical advice other than suggesting the pulling down of fences, blocking of ditches, and the welcoming of wildlife. He also sees its influence in “the rewilding of our own lives.” In an interview with Orion Magazine he suggests that rewilding our landscapes and and our lives is intertwined:
if we have spaces on our doorsteps in which nature is allowed to do its own thing, in which it can be to some extent self-willed, driven by its own dynamic processes, that, I feel, is a much more exciting and thrilling ecosystem to explore and discover, and it enables us to enrich our lives, to fill them with wonder and enchantment.
In short, rewilding brings us closer to nature. But then so does the most plotted garden you can imagine.
On the public scale — city parks to surrounding green space — rewilding often means restoration, returning the land to its natural condition. This might mean woods or prairies and it often means watersheds. Or it might mean making urban landscape features more friendly to pollinators, birds, and other beneficial wildlife. Lurie Garden in Chicago is a good example.
Rewilding always means an end to generalized pesticide and herbicide spraying. And, as Easton points out, rewilding “is to acknowledge how harmful some gardening practices can be.” She asks we cut them out, only in more eloquent words.
And that’s where we find ourselves in full agreement. We enjoy well-designed and manicured gardens as much as the next person. We also love the look of natural spaces. But best of all, we love landscapes that are free of pesticides and chemicals, landscapes that employ natural conservation practices, rather than practices that harm them. So if rewilding is just another form of organic gardening — and it is — count us in.
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