In my part-time day job, I attempt to sow wildflowers, food and inspiration in built-up urban areas. The idea is to make them healthier to live in, for both humans and other beings. Despite the huge benefits, there are many barriers to inviting nature in to a concrete jungle, both physical and psychological. I’ve heard people calling nettles and teasels ‘dangerous’ for example. Or residents worried that a nearby bat box will mean bats come stalking them through their bedroom window.
Most people can enthuse about a wildflower meadow however – partly thanks to the recent media focus on wildflowers, pollinators and particularly, bees (see Sarah Raven’s BBC Series, the Olympics wildflower meadow, the recent neonicotinoid and bee campaign).
Of course, I want to build on that enthusiasm and create a wonderful wildflower meadow, replete with grasses, poppies, cornflowers, buttercups and ox-eye daisies – a Jackson Pollock of colour. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple to pull off something glamorous and eye-catching. Whilst it may look stunning in the height of summer it can turn straggly and brownish for part of the year. All kinds of things can go wrong: birds can eat up the seeds, housing contract gardeners can mow the meadow down too early, people can dump litter, steal plants, or let dogs poo on your great work. The best meadows need impoverished soil, plenty of sun and regular watering at the start. Very often in urban areas the ground is too shady or nutrient-rich (thanks partly to dog poo and previous regular mowing) to give meadows the best chance.
So here I am, working hard to achieve a glorious result – and in the meantime have neglected my allotment. When I do finally turn up, what do I find? A gorgeous, entirely natural and self-seeded wildflower meadow!
How perverse! Nature has created the result I’ve strived for elsewhere – but in the ‘wrong’ place. How could she do this? So rants my mind. And then my annoyance turns to admiration, humility and reflection: it is us human beings who are perverse. Meddling, egotistical, arbitrary – wanting wildflowers here, but not there. We want Nature to dance to our tune, when we say so, where we say so. But we forget we aren’t her master – we’re part of her.