Try a Little Wilderness

Travel Writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

Nature’s none too tidy, so if you want to see some natural wildlife in your garden, it’s wise to follow her lead.

I don’t find having less-than-perfect patches a problem, being no fan of that ‘municipal-planting look,’ reminiscent of a thousand city halls. I love the exuberance of nature: bulbs that naturalise into lush carpets, like anemone nemorosa in my woodland area, and dainty viola odorata popping up between the paving stones of the upper terrace, like amethysts spilled from a jewel box.

Where I want a tidy finish – on the patio – I plant in pots. Likewise, plants that run rampant, such as campanula rapunculus, which spreads so far that I thought its name was based on Rapunzel’s hair – although textbooks say not.

Anything in a bed is allowed to assume its natural habit, not kept under tight control or pruned to manicured perfection. And I don’t brush everything dead aside and bin it. I leave at least some leaves, twigs and branches lying around at the far end of the garden, and put a few logs there, too – they give all sorts of creatures shelter from cold or wet, and somewhere to hide from predators. I know I’ve got this bit right, because when the seven frogs that live in the pool on my patio aren’t at home, they’re hopping around in this ‘wilderness’.

Nesting birds love garden litter as well, not to mention the moss between the kitchen roof tiles (good news, as it means I don’t have to pick it out myself); maybe that’s why a wren, a robin, a blackbird, blue and long-tailed tits and goldfinches build homes in my garden. Sparrows who nest in the eaves of the houses opposite collect building materials, too, and the magpies that regularly nest in a neighbour’s tree always call in to drag long strands of algae from the frog pool – saving me another job.

In my bid to live in harmony with nature – which is surely the key to this planet’s very survival? – I don’t even batter down spiders’ webs. And not just because I love the diamond dewdrops and raindrops that cling to them. I’m mindful, too, of these words, by the American poet Stanley Kunitz, which I came across at the enchanting Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida: “The universe is a continuous web. Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers.”

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs, a writing and editing service and consultancy, and, a website showcasing properties with a past.