“People today have forgotten they’re really just a part of nature.”
The following is an extract of ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’, a pamphlet written by Susanna Grant (garden writer and co-founder of Linda—an outdoor shade-loving plant specialist and garden-design business in east London), and published by Rough Trade Books in partnership with the Garden Museum. Examining the premise that naming species allows us to expand our understanding, our interest, our ways of looking at the world around us, and the idea of plant-blindness—our tendency not to see what we can’t name in the nature that surrounds us—Susanna throws a spotlight on five of her favourite wildflowers with accompanying images by photographer Rowan Spray.
LATIN NOUN PHRASE (ENCLOSED GARDEN)
Historically, a garden was known as a hortus conclusus—a walled or fenced-in space, a representation of nature perfected by human art. Walling something in is also keeping something out. It’s an excellent metaphor for land ownership today—it’s a matter of perception.
The intrinsic paradox of gardening is that you are attempting to tame nature, pulling out plants that have grown naturally, and adding things that would never grow there with a fence or a wall as a dividing line between what you find acceptable and what you don’t. I have found, from sneaking onto golf courses, train tracks and the backs of other peoples’ gardens as a kid or trying out the various ways of clambering over or under the fence into Glastonbury, that a lovely thing about walls, hedges and fences is that they don’t really work—you can usually find a way in if you really want to. Small, terraced back-to-back gardens are long stretches of land, foxes make holes, squirrels go along fences as well as from tree to tree and birds fly, so it’s helpful if we think of them as green corridors rather than private parcels of land. Looking at them this way has changed the plant choices I make; they need to work for me but also for the wildlife I want to encourage and for the soil they grow in. Leaving areas of my garden wild appeals to me (not least because I’m naturally messy) and leaving some weeds in place often means I end up with accidentally lovely planting combinations I can pretend I planned. It reduces the tension between cultivated land and the wildness just beyond the fence, weaving the garden back into the surrounding ecosystems.
During lockdown, private outdoor space became increasingly covetable. Friends who had sworn they’d never move out of the city started poring over remote houses with gardens to move to. I spent hours on Instagram looking at some of my favourite public gardens that had been closed temporarily during this bizarre time and, initially, I loved how the lack of visitors and the furloughing of staff meant the gardens looked a little less clipped and a little freer. But rather than feeling welcomed, looking at gardens from a distance just made me feel shut out.
It was images of community gardens that increasingly drew me—those left a bit wild intentionally, abuzz with wildlife, giant seed-heads, beautiful weeds, everything spilling over the edges. These may also have teams of gardeners, but the aim is not to make money; it’s to be part of something bigger, to encourage people to be amongst nature and to encourage nature back into cities. These gardens remained open during lockdown— like common ground, they are for everyone.
Achillea millefolium – Yarrow
Flowers: June – Oct
Old man’s pepper
Bad Man’s plaything
Tough little wildflower with feathered leaves (millefolium means 1,000 leaves) and white or pink-tinged aromatic clusters of tiny daisy-like flowers. It’s perfect growing through lawns, meadows and borders. Its nectar-rich flowers attract bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies, moths and other pollinators. Birds love the seedheads.
Entirely edible, though bitter, it was once used to flavour beer in Sweden.
Named after the Greek hero Achilles, who supposedly used it to staunch his wounds on the battlefield. Sword-carrying soldiers would carry it with them as it works particularly well on wounds cut with steel as it provides a structure for the wound to heal across. Its leaves are strongly astringent and especially good for nosebleeds. It contains salicylic acid, which Aspirin is synthesised from, and which was used to treat fevers. Such a winner, it actually makes me smile when I see it in gardens. It’s so often overlooked by its taller, showier siblings but it’s really pretty and long-flowering.
It also works really well as a dried flower.