An award-winning garden designer’s unique union of a practical how-to book with stories and philosophy
The Wild Way is a step-by-step manual to creating a garden in harmony with the life force in the earth, addressing not only what the people in charge of the land want but also asking what the land wants to become. Mary Reynolds demonstrates how to create a groundbreaking garden that is not simply a solitary space but an expanding, living, interconnected ecosystem. Drawing on old Irish ways and methods of working with the land, this beautiful book is both art and inspiration for any garden lover seeking to create a positive, natural space.
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About the Author
Mary Reynolds is an award-winning garden designer who won the gold medal for garden design at Chelsea Flower Show. She writes and broadcasts about garden design, and designs gardens that embrace the wild beauty of nature.
Read an Excerpt
The Garden Awakening
Designs to Nurture Our Land & Ourselves
By Mary Reynolds, Ruth Evans
UIT Cambridge LtdCopyright © 2016 UIT Cambridge Ltd.
All rights reserved.
Ní féidir an dubh a chur ina gheal, ach seal.
The truth will out.
I have always loved crows. Great families of them would sit in the ash trees outside my parents' farmhouse, gossiping and chatting with big throaty cackles all through the day and into the mellow evenings, when they would eventually fall into a comfortable silence. Not long ago, these creatures began to reappear in my dreams, finally exposing the niggling truth about why I had begun to lose interest in designing gardens.
One memorable dream reminded me of times spent in nature as a child. It made me realize that after years of working as a landscape designer, I couldn't design gardens in the same way anymore. Something was amiss.
* * *
I embodied a crow in the dream. Soaring over woods and hills, I could hear my name being called. I swooped and searched to find the source of the voice, through valleys of mossy rocks, ancient woodlands, fields of rushes and reeds, over streams and rivers. As a bird, I had the ability to hear and see every small thing, and the images and sounds were clear and focused. I could hear water bubbling and gurgling in the streams, and the leaves of the trees rattling against one another. The wind was dancing around me and I could see mice scurrying through grassy meadows and life surging through the tree trunks.
The voice calling my name became louder, more insistent. It seemed to be coming from a nearby woodland, so I chased the sound through the trees towards a lone figure sitting on a log waiting for me. As I got close, the noise suddenly ceased and I stopped still in mid-air above the woman's head. I was frozen in time and space, staring down at a human version of myself, but painted blue. Leaning on a large stick, she simply smiled cheekily up at my bird self. She didn't say a word, but somehow it was like a key turning in my head and everything opened up.
Suddenly, the dream went into reverse and I was sucked upwards, out of the picture as if caught in a huge vacuum in the sky.
The moment I woke up, the dilemma I had been struggling with became clear as a bell. I shouldn't be making any more pretty gardens. Gardens had become the emperor's new clothes; something was wrong but no one was saying anything.
Nature and the land were the answers. Gardens were like still-life paintings;controlled and manipulated spaces. They were poor versions of the real deal – untamed nature, and the delicate yet strong skin of Mother Earth. Somehow, somewhere along our way, gardens had become dead zones.
People are drawn to gardening because it helps them feel connected to nature. The words 'gardens' and 'nature' have become almost synonymous, but in reality they have very little in common any more. You can view this split between gardens and nature as a mighty battle. The frontline on the gardener's side generally involves a lot of hard work and vast quantities of chemicals. Subversive tactics and guerrilla warfare are nature's weapons of choice.
And, of course, time is always on nature's side.
* * *
Finally, I understood that despite my efforts to the contrary, I was failing to work in harmony with nature in my garden designs. I made two decisions based on 20 years of designing gardens, which I now realized had failed the ultimate test. They were decisions that forced me to reexamine everything I was doing with regard to my work, and they led to me writing this book.
First, I had missed the most important part of the puzzle. Although my gardens were beautiful spaces that allowed energy to flow freely through them, the land did not want to remain as I had designed it. We had to continue controlling these spaces, to stop things that wanted to grow from growing. The land had its own intentions. Nature had her own ideas about design and I had to learn what they were. Garden maintenance is fighting against the intentions Mother Nature has for herself. I had to understand how to work with this energy rather than against it.
Second, I decided that it was impossible to continue designing gardens for other people without their taking a more active role and assuming responsibility for the land. I could not construct a bond between the land and my client because, at the end of the day, I would walk away as the relationship was not mine to uphold any longer. My clients had to form and maintain their own meaningful connection with their little piece of earth.
I've discovered that gardens can become something very special if we approach them differently. If we invite Nature to express her true self in these spaces and then work to heal the land and bring it back into balance, something magical happens. Nature begins to interact with us on an energetic, emotional and physical level. Your garden becomes your own personal church; a place of safety, abundance and peace. Once recognized, loved, and respected, Nature will embrace you in ways that most people have not experienced for many, many years. A magical doorway opens for us.
* * *
This book is steeped in old Irish ways of interacting with the land. It offers a practical step-by-step instruction manual, one that will help you bring the land back to life. The practices I describe are based on those of my own culture, but they are similar to the practices that traditional people have used throughout the world for tens of thousands of years. They constitute a way of life that is deeply ingrained in our DNA.
We need to remember and reset our roots; to acknowledge the pain we feel as a result of our separation from the earth beneath our feet. The earth feels this loss as much as we do. The land we work with on our farms, urban parks and gardens is nearly dead on every level of being, but it is not too late to revive it. Not yet.
All my life I have been chasing a particular atmosphere. It is the same atmosphere I spoke of in the crow dream – the sensation of life bubbling up around you, the energy of creation. I am not sure how to explain it, but I'm certain many of you know what I'm talking about, even if you don't remember right now.
I experience it as a mixed sensation – the energized awareness of a pulsating life force, along with the comfortable and the familiar feeling of coming home. I feel it at least a little whenever I'm in the countryside, but certain places present a more powerful energy than others. Ever since I was a child, I've wondered why this is so. As I grew older, I became curious about why I never experienced this feeling in a designed garden.
This vibrant, energized atmosphere is found in wild natural landscapes; places where nature is no longer interacting with people, and perhaps never did. These are often areas that once were farmed or had otherwise been disturbed, but then were left alone for many years. During that time, nature slowly repaired itself to the point where its primal spirit could return. Healthy woodlands have this energy in abundance; and mountainous areas are often strong, probably because they are not so easy to get to or disturb.
Anywhere wild has a strong atmosphere. Landscapes that have been left undisturbed are simply racing with life. These are places where the life force of the earth flows freely, and you can feel its power and vitality directly. All of us, no matter how insensitive we claim to be, can feel the energy, peace, thrill and, for some, the fear we experience when we step on to an untamed piece of land. Although it can be invigorating and joyful, it can also be laced with feelings of grief, pain, danger, or darkness.
* * *
There were other energized places that I didn't understand at first. They were referred to as 'sacred places'; often ancient sites such as stone circles, but they also included old Christian sites, holy wells, some churches, ancient monasteries or their remnants, prayer mounds and so forth. Often they were not even vaguely wild; many were just in open grazed fields. Some of these sites had no special feeling, while others had noticeably charged atmospheres. I wanted to know what it was that created this energy.
The arrival of Christianity in Ireland brought with it the painful disconnection from the earth that still resonates today. Until then, people lived in harmony with nature. The power and importance of the land was understood and respected. For Christians, this life on earth was only a preparation for the next life. They believed it was acceptable to use and abuse the land as much as we liked in order to achieve our goals in the next life.
The pagan religions, however, were deeply ingrained in Ireland, so the clever Christians knew that enforcing their beliefs with brute force wouldn't work there. In order to facilitate their slow and insidious takeover, they blended the Christian religion with the native earth-based faith, eventually nearly rooting it out, but not completely.
After doing some research, I realized that although they were two distinct cultures, both the Christian and the pagan religions understood how to create energized places. I was eager to understand their reasons and methods, and how to use this knowledge to bring the same magic into my gardens.
Ireland is a great place to seek out and research sacred places because the country is simply littered with them. You can barely walk across a field without tripping over a sacred stone, falling into a holy well, or disappearing into a crack in a bumpy field that turns out to be an underground burial chamber in disguise.
There are many sacred sites where you feel energized – the air is potent, the atmosphere is thick and you move through your environment with complete awareness. In these places, the veil between this world and the world of spirit is very thin. I discovered it was usually where people had 'laid down' an atmosphere, moved things around, built structures and shifted earth, all with a particular intention in mind. In some sacred sites, thousands of years had not diluted the energy. In others, it was gone.
People seek out such sites because we long for the reaffirming connection with nature and with spirit. Some do this by taking day trips and holidays to beautiful places where they have access to wild landscapes. Those who visit our gardens and parks, however, must settle for a critically dumbed-down version of the real thing. These settings bear little resemblance to the radiance of truly natural areas and the healing they provide.
In this book, I hope to impart a very simple system that will allow anyone to connect directly with nature and access the limitless energy available to us. You can conjure up this energy very simply in your own garden.
Nature is Stronger than Nurture
Is treise an dúchas ná an oiliúint
Faery energy, the Gaian presence, the Goddess, Mother Earth. Every culture has had a name for this awareness and understanding of the life force in nature.
Do you remember how Peter Pan insisted that Tinker Bell would die unless the children in the story truly believed in her? According to Peter, fairies only existed as long as children believed in them: "... every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead". This is a great illustration of the way things work in the invisible levels of the world.
We only exist if those around us acknowledge we are real; otherwise we would just wither and die.
The 13th-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick II carried out a cruel language-deprivation experiment on a group of orphaned babies. He wanted to discover what language they would speak if they heard no spoken words while they were infants. The experiment was recorded by the Franciscan monk Salimbene de Adam in his Chronicle. He wrote that Frederick bade "foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them". Eventually the poor creatures died.
The worst thing you can do to another living being is to ignore it. Even hating it is better than ignoring it, as at least then it feels acknowledged and real.
If land is left to its own devices for a long time, it returns to being wild and free. It becomes self-sufficient and independent, just like a feral animal. It develops a strong community of its own, a healthy balanced ecosystem of plants, animals and micro-life. If, however, untamed land is cleared and worked, it becomes dependent on the direction given to it by the people that live or work there. Like a child, it needs love and attention to grow strong, healthy and self-sufficient.
Land creates a bond with people who work with it. If this bond is formed and then the land is ignored, damage is sure to follow – the same as it would for a child. Today, much of the land feels forgotten. It has retreated into itself because we don't believe in it or don't notice it anymore. We only seem to take notice of uncultivated places, which have no bond with us and no need for us. These are what I call lost opportunities. Your land is like a member of your own family. It can form a bond with you but it won't unless you develop the relationship together. The quality of the relationship will determine the strength and quality of the bond.
If we all sit up and take notice, "believe in fairies" and encourage the life energy to emerge in every piece of land we work with, we can infuse our homes, our families and ourselves with the healing, magical energy of the earth.
Our gardens are gifts to us. They can also become our teachers. As guardians of these little patches of the planet, we can learn to work hand in hand with the land to restore each other's health. Every fragment of soil, plant or tree that becomes recognized, respected and loved has a healing effect on the entire planet.
Nature teaches us about the unity of all things. We can create dynamic, balanced and integrated ecosystems that will offer to sustain and nourish us along with all the other creatures that share the land with us. We need a green-fingered revolution to bring nature back into the garden – and this begins with encouraging people to respect and love the land they live on.
Gardens belong to nature, not the other way round.
So do we.
Finding Your Roots
An áit a bhfuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.
Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.
We are only brief guardians of these portions of land we call our gardens. We do not and cannot truly own them. Our bodies are made of the Earth and return to it eventually, but the land will always remain alive.
Everything we need to survive and all that nourishes us comes from the Earth, its soil, the atmosphere, the sun and the stars beyond. We are simply walking pieces of earth.
We are drawn to certain locations where the land resonates with us and pulls us towards it. People can spend their entire lives looking for the places where they belong, places where they feel at home, where they fit and can comfortably set down roots. We are simply a reflection of the land beneath us, and nature is always waiting for us to return home.
The land connects with us in ways we don't always understand. Each of us is attracted to a different space, reflecting our individual personalities. Every landscape also has its own character that helps shape the culture of the people who live there.
Take Ireland as an example. The Irish are a cantankerous lot – at once charming, impatient, arrogant, passionate, changeable, colourful and always a bit unrestrained. Even if we seem tame at times, the wildness is always there, just beneath the surface. You can feel it, along with the ever-present grief, which is also a hair's breadth away. We Irish have a strong connection with the world of spirit and an inherent belief in magic, prayer and curses. Traditionally, the Irish are also laced with a deeply held sadness. The Irish landscape carries many of these same attributes and reflects them back to us. The land and its people are simply mirrors for each other, reflecting the state of each other's general health and wellbeing. Our ancestors were keenly aware of is this. By healing the land, we heal ourselves; and by healing ourselves we can see more clearly what the land needs to return to health.
The land's character is further refined in its counties. Each county has its own distinct landscapes and unique energy, and the people of each county have a strongly defined accent and 'ways' about them. Some areas are flat, open, gentle and 'grounded' like their people; while others are dramatic, ancient and regal, full of stories and myths.
Recently Ireland has seen an influx of people who have come to live here from other countries. It's interesting to observe how even these new arrivals are finding locations that reflect their own personalities. In many cases, the land in those places is in need of the same kinds of support and healing as their new guardians.
The idea that land has its own personality was unmistakably brought home to me one day about 15 years ago. I was rushing around in my spanking new van, working on a garden makeover for a cottage in rural Ireland. It was one of my first attempts at a garden makeover for a TV show and the budget was tiny, so my mandate was to 'beg, borrow or steal' as much of what I needed as possible. I was under a lot of pressure because it was the second-to-last day before the 'finished garden' deadline.
Excerpted from The Garden Awakening by Mary Reynolds, Ruth Evans. Copyright © 2016 UIT Cambridge Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of UIT Cambridge Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Larry Korn,
Nature is Stronger than Nurture,
Finding Your Roots,
Restoring Health to your Land,
Gardens as expressions of beauty,
The five elements for designing gardens in partnership with nature,
Design element 1: The tool of intention. Magic uncloaked,
Design element 2: Selecting areas to hold specific intentions,
Design element 3: Designing with the patterns and shapes of nature,
Design element 4: The power of symbols and imagery,
Design element 5: Putting your design on paper,
The Forest Garden,
Forging an alliance,
I Never Liked Planting Plans,
Grow Your Own,
Forest Gardening in Steps,
The Seven Layers of a Forest Garden,
Bees for Life,
Alternative Management Practices,
Ways to Clear the Land,
Lawns and Lawn Maintenance,
Tonics, Fertilizers, Potting Mixtures and Tree Protection,
The Cultivation and Care of Trees,