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The Philosophical Gardener

Why we need gardens  Author: Geoff Smith – Volunteer media editor/gardener.

  • Habitat
  • Biodiversity
  • Metaphysics – fundamental nature of being
  • Ecopsychology – Gaia


At some time or other you will have encountered or experienced gardening. Pottering in your back garden or strolling through someone else’s on a balmy afternoon, soaking in the sights, sounds, perfumes and perhaps   partaking of some people-watching as an aside. Gardening means different things to different people. At one end of the spectrum gardening is that chore we avoid, perhaps because it means cleaving through a jungle of unruly plants and weeds and serves no purpose other than to result in cuts, bruises and back-pain. Not to mention some colorful language as one cradles ones wounded pride.  Blow that for a lark….

Conversely your connection with your garden goes beyond a simple activity to being an essential part of your very being. The garden is an expression of your connectedness with the nature of the planet.

For my part I have thought long and hard on this subject. Admittedly circumstance and a very enquiring mind have facilitated the investigation. It can be a deep subject but I feel it is more than worthy of exploration and to share those insights which might be food for thought when you have nothing better to do than stare into space and wonder – ‘What shall I do today?’


It won’t have escaped your notice that some species of flora and fauna are in trouble around the world to greater or lesser degrees. In the last 60 years the UK has lost 95% of it’s wild meadows and over 60% of fruiting orchards. Connected to that habitat loss and through a similar time frame, birds and insects that were common in the 1950s, such as sparrows, thrushes, starlings, grasshoppers, ladybirds, moths, butterflies and bees have declined significantly. Put simply the flora and fauna are a delicate interwoven system that cannot exist without the other.

Some 500 species of plants and animals have become extinct in England in the last two centuries and on top of this over 1000 species have been given conservation priority because of the threats to their habitat.

Intensive farming, urban development and use of chemical substances on the land are just three areas that have impacted wildlife and plants over the past 50 years.

So what has this to do with me and should I care? The answer is a lot and yes.

There are roughly 25 million homes in the UK and the majority of those have a garden of some description, be it big or small. There has been an alarming decline in front gardens where nearly 30% in some areas of the country have been concreted or paved over due to changing needs and fashions.

Thankfully back gardens still thrive and it is here that one can make a real difference towards supporting flora and fauna.

My garden is perhaps an average size and I will not hide that fact that I wish it were bigger. None the less I enjoy it intensely and over the years I have become acutely aware of the changing climate and my environment. I enjoy the fauna and flora that co-exist in my garden and I know I would be the poorer if it were not there busily going about it’s business. If I take bees as one example. No bees would potentially mean no fruit and vegetables, no honey, no pollination. That among other things concerns me because I’m rather fond of a little honey on my bread and fruit for my breakfast and there is a certain fascination in seeing these insects doing what they do and how they fit into the greater ecology. Having an appreciation of nature opens ones eyes to the complexity of our world and the need to protect it for future generations.

Biodiversity – Giving nature a helping hand 

It’s quite surprising what a few adjustments to ones garden can make. When I took over my existing garden it was just lawn and nothing else and I’m not talking manicured here but rather rough, moss ridden and unloved.

Over the years it has gone through various transformations. Gardening is all about change. As Alan Titchmarsh once remarked, “You cannot pickle a garden in aspic and expect it to remain static”. Experimentation, trial and error is what makes gardening exciting.

Today my garden contains over 100 species of plants, various fruiting and non-fruiting trees, perennial flowers and herbaceous borders, wildflowers, a pond, soft fruit bushes and a vegetable plot. Various other measures have been added too which include:-

  • Birdbath – essential drinking area for visitors.
  • Feeders – winter is hard on small birds.
  • Bug box – They need a home to overwinter too.
  • Compost heap – Frogs and hedgehogs love these.
  • Herb garden – Insects adore these.
  • Log pile – various insects and invertebrates take up residence here.
  • Nesting boxes – essential accommodation for a feathered family and generally predator proof.
  • Rockery – Ants, insects and my neighbors cat enjoy this area.
  • Greenhouse – Butterflies and other insects use this for a temporary home away from the elements.
  • Shrubs. Bees love shrubs too and they give gardens structure.
  • Hanging baskets – More flowers can only be good where pollinating insects are concerned, especially wild flower varieties.

Where there was virtually no wildlife there is now a multitude of regular visitors to the garden. The following  illustrates the change:-

Blue tits, Great tits, Jays, Magpies, Doves, Goldfinches, Robins, Thrush, Long tailed tits, Blackcaps, Starlings, Crow, Jackdaws, Field mice, Frogs, Toads, Hedgehogs, Woodpeckers and multitudes of insects, butterflies, moths and beetles. Sometimes the occasional fox or Red Kite.

These are just some of the fauna that I see day to day. I’m certain that had I not got my hands a little dirty none of this would be here now and I would not have the garden I enjoy today and every day.

It didn’t cost much but it does make a vast difference. Not just to the wildlife but it has also encouraged neighbors to do something similar so that they enjoy nature too. Swapping plants with friends and neighbours is a great way to expand your garden with new plant material without straining your wallet.

Early on I decided not to use any chemicals in the garden what so ever. Companion planting and judicious weeding followed by some liquid soap spray seem to do the trick of keeping the unwanted bugs at bay, most of the time that is.

So while you’re contemplating this article, why not give nature a home in your garden and get the kids involved too.

Help save our Bees and pollinators.

Below are two links to the RHS and Sarah Raven’s Kitchen and gardens. Both sites have a wealth of information on flowering plants that are nectar rich and will help encourage pollinating insects into your garden while providing colour and spectacle during the spring, summer and autumn.

Metaphysical – Gardening for the soul

Gardens can be a source of pleasure in many different ways

Most of us have encountered gardens in one form or another and even though the visit may have been brief we have felt a sense of calm or even wellbeing in their company. The poem ‘Time to stop and stare’ by William Henry Davies 1871~1940 comes to mind often when I think about gardens.

We live our lives at a furious pace in this modern world. Like an express train racing through the countryside, we fail to notice it’s beauty and majesty because for the most part it is but a blur.

It would be true to say that we have never been so disconnected from nature as we are today. For those of us who have not taken the time to step off the merry-go-round, gardens are quite possibly your best route back to sanity and spiritual wellbeing.

When I’m out busily getting hands dirty here at The Vyne or soaking up the sun as I meander through any of the National Trust’s gardens up and down the country, time seems to become inconsequential. More often than not there are no sounds of traffic, planes overhead, crowds of people with hands full of shopping bags and all the usual intrusions of day to day life. Just me and the garden and other like minded people who have come to realise they need to feel reconnected, rejuvenated, filled with a sense of joy and well-being that these special places can offer. They know that coming to the garden and spending time with an old familiar friend fulfills a deep need to attain an inner self calm and balance with the world around them.

I have never seen gardening as a chore, something to be put off at all costs. Rather it has become something I simply cannot do without, essential as the food I eat. If circumstance prevents me gardening one week I notice a difference in my mood, vitality and focus the next. You may smile and dismiss this as mere whimsical musing, however, millions of people the world over will give you a similar account of their experiences and feelings around their time spent in gardens.

For my part it’s both a privilege and pleasure to work in National Trust gardens, they are a wonderful cure for anyone stressed out and worn down by the demands of modern life in the 21st century. The secret is to let go, stop and stare…..let the moment take you…

Gaia – Ecopsycology

Our home

In Greek mythology Gaia was the Earth-goddess, mother of all we know as Earth. Today the Gaia hypothesis [James Lovelock – chemist] proposes that all organisms and their in-organic environment are closely integrated to form a single, complex, self regulating system that maintains conditions for life on Earth.

The concept of a living Earth has caused a great deal of controversy since it’s proposal in the 1970s and is a complex subject debated around the world even today.

What ever the eventual consensus is regarding this theory, the events and discoveries of the past 50 years have more than ever underlined the need to look after and respect our environment.

Around the world our impact on the natural world around us is a hot topic of discussion right at the top echelons of world governments.

At grass roots level, ‘you and I’, there is a need to reconnect with nature. Changing attitudes and working with nature allows us better co-exist with all the life we share the planet with. Importantly getting the young to understand and appreciate how plants grow, where their food comes from and how we can use gardens to better live a sustainable existence.

Here at The Vyne – National Trust we adopt several approaches to ensure what we do in the gardens is both sustainable and as environmentally friendly as is possible.

  • Strict use of peat free plants.
  • Recycling of organic matter – composting.
  • Use of natural biological pest and disease controls.
  • Companion planting where possible within walled fruit and vegetable gardens.
  • Use of green composting techniques.
  • Minimal use of machinery and fuels.
  • Plant propagation and husbandry to ensure continuance of plant stock and reduce need to buy in replacements.
  • Collaboration between properties/gardens to source and share plant material where appropriate.
  • Development/sharing of skills and knowledge to ensure everyone has the tools to be effective within their individual areas of garden maintenance/development.
  • Sympathetic approach to nature and the importance our gardens/woodlands play within the environment.

These are just a few of the measures we adopt and there are many more which are continually under review as we learn more about the flora and fauna here in the UK and around the world.

As a charity one of the things we like to encourage is for people to get involved locally. This can be gardening with one of our teams, giving guided tours of our gardens to the public or simply coming along to see for yourself what we do here at The Vyne. You may be surprised by what you pick up from our experienced and dedicated crew of staff and volunteers. We are always happy to answer questions what ever they may be in the hope you will get more from your own gardens. As with all good things, the joy is in the sharing so please encourage your friends and family to visit us here at The Vyne in Hampshire


A poem that sums up one individual’s love of the wonders of nature and his observation of our relationships with it.

What is this life if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass,
No time to see, in broad day light,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty’s glance
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

[William Henry Davies. 1871~1940]


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