Having myself submitted a wild garden to RHS Chelsea that got absolutely nowhere, I was pleased to see that two very young women had had better luck than me. Caitlin and Tessa McLaughlin, will be making a tiny show garden for the Malvern Spring Show, 7th-10th May.
Their aim is to show that youngsters can do it, that the unqualified can do it and that women can do it. These are all sentiments I applaud.
Caitlin and Tessa are both under the age of twenty five and clearly filled with youthful enthusiasm for the environment. Their design turns fashionable horticulture on its head, by concentrating on the wild relatives of common crops.
I’m already fascinated.
I’ve been banging on about wild carrots and greens for some time. Bread makers have been waxing lyrical about forgotten strains of wheat flour and chefs have been guardedly introducing us to steamed nettles, wild garlic and lime flowers.
I think that the sisters’ lack of tutoring has been beneficial. So few professional gardeners, and even fewer horticultural schools seems to focus at all on wild species. It is as if the words, natural, wild and genetically diverse are bad words, not to be mentioned in the prim world of garden design or RHS shows. The concept that weeds might stray into the herbaceous border is as shocking an idea to the hatted brigade at Chelsea, as the gardener coming into the lounge, with his wellington boots still on!
And of course all gardeners, as we know, are men!
Yet, biodiversity is the word on every natural scientist’s lips these days. Without the genetic variety found in wild species, we are in danger of losing the natural vigour in farmed crops. Without that diversity we endanger flavour, cooking characteristics, longer cropping times and all round goodness.
The girls say on their website,
“Our garden’s message and focus will be on the conservation of Crop Wild Relatives (CWRs) and their importance. These are wild plants related to major food crops, such as wheat and barley, and hold a wealth of genetic traits, for example drought tolerance, which are essential for future food security. However as they are traditionally considered weeds they are overlooked and in need of conservation. Utilising these plants and their traits can help us tackle future pests and diseases and climate change challenges.”
Their images are endearingly simple. Their descriptions are conspicuously lacking in Latin hyperbole. An Allium is an Allium. Who should ever consider that there is more than one variety? For in the English countryside only one of the species grows wild.
I hope the project is a success. I hope that it comes to the notice of the plant toffs that our green and pleasant land is already cloaked with such a wonderful variety of wild species, it is the cultivars that need to be used sparingly, and not the other way around.
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