While your eye may naturally pick out the flowers, when I was face-to-face with this memorable landscape, I marvelled at that long, structured wall of tree trunks and re-purposed construction materials in the background. The fauna wall was by far the biggest insect hotel I’d ever seen.
Broad swathes of the Wilde Weelde garden’s boundary are made from small sections of logs of different diameters, stacked leaving gaps between them – the log version of a dry stone wall, you might say. The effect reminded me of the ramparts of a castle, except these walls have gaps that a raider could saunter through.
Channeling rainwater is made fun: the water flows through overhead poles that end in gargoyles or long, swinging rain chains made from bent spoons.
It’s not obvious from the pictures, but the inside of the garden is a spiral design that symbolises the natural cycle and makes the area seem larger than it is.
Unusually, Wilde Weelde was designed for people and nature. While it might seem obvious that any garden is nature, the Wilde Weelde garden sets a new, higher benchmark. It wants to make nature happy, too.
I walked around the layers in the spiral, noticing how well the elements for humans and for wildlife had been matched. The human layer included long, decorative walkways; gutters of roof tiles or small stones to help drain water quickly; wall-length benches beneath the food bank of edible plants; a pool to gaze on; and educational posters.
‘Official’ structures had been invitingly set out to entice other living things, such as insect hotels, bird houses and hedgehog houses, partly as a signpost of inclusivity to remind humans of their responsibilities for the lives their cities have displaced. A large, funnel-shaped bat box had been installed in one of the trees in a small island on the water and there was a steep bank of tree stumps for the kingfisher to nest in. A thousand other gaps and places that wildlife might take a fancy to had been intentionally incorporated and a wagtail had already taken advantage by making its own nest on site.
Over 90% of materials used in the garden are second-hand, and include less-favoured items such as culverts.
A pragmatic approach means that native and non-native plants have been combined here, aiming for a natural, but pretty effect. By adding long-flowering varieties, the garden provides nectar for pollinators over the longest time possible, plus material to lay their eggs on. Helenium, goldenrod and veronica grew alongside herbs and edibles that can feed humans too.
‘Wilde Weelde’ means ‘wild wealth’. You could sense the fascination with soil: the idea of it being like a treasure chest, the respect for the community of living things in the soil, the thoughtful ways to welcome and manage rainwater so soil can host a wide variety of plant life. There’s even a hatch that visitors can open to see what’s in the ground under their feet.
This is a thought-provoking garden, like so many of the exhibits at Floriade, given its ‘Growing Green Cities’ theme. How do we live in harmony with nature within a city? How can the partnership between humans and nature be more equal, better balanced?
Not easily. It means compromise, perhaps with deer, urban foxes, rabbits and hedgehogs. Nobody much would object to hedgehogs, you’d think, or at least I would have if I hadn’t been re-educated recently by reading about a hedgehog squirmish. A lady who had been encouraging a wild hedgehog drew the ire of a neighbour who discovered (the same?) hedgehog at the bottom of her garden and demanded that her neighbour came to move ‘her’ hedgehog to her own garden. Good luck with that!
Yet have I much room to talk? Like most of us, I’m trying to do better. This is the first summer for some time that I haven’t sprayed for greenfly or used slug pellets in my garden. Strangely, there are fewer slugs than ever.
But – and I’m not proud of this – although I love to try to squeak anoles down from the trees, I’m afraid of snakes and was once alarmed to discover I’d been sitting on the ground for twenty minutes a few feet away from a watersnake that was harmlessly sunbathing next to a small pool. Would I be able to tolerate one, if I knew it was there? It would be a lie to say I could at the moment. Could I learn to? P-e-r-h-a-p-s, but it would take a sea-change.
And that’s what’s needed. Humans tend to put humans first. Once we take ownershop of a space, an important consideration is how to exclude other lifeforms. When my sweetheart heard a gnawing noise resonating in the walls of his cabin yesterday, his first thought was not ‘Oh, wildlife – how lovely!’ Luckily, it was only a squirrel sharpening its teeth on a birdhouse pole, outside.
The Wilde Weelde network (Vakgroep Wilde Weelde) have a different perspective, and encourage us to set aside our human-centric approach in preference for nature-inclusive building projects:
- Architects and house owners should allow space for native wildlife, such as a loose tile, or a gap in the eaves.
- Cities and homeowners should leave the leaves of street trees to lie where they fall on the soil, as the best soil improvers.
- We should consider plants that seed themselves into difficult places, such as small edges between tiles or gaps in walkways or cracks in walls, as wanted greenery, not weeds.
Some of their ideas about green rainwater harvesting might be new for the average homeowner too:
- Prevent rainwater running into your sewer.
- Saw through the drainpipe on the house and let the rainwater run off into a nearby plant border or a barrel.
- When disconnecting several downspouts, let them end in a wadi. (A wadi is a planted ditch with a permeable bottom where rainwater collects and slowly seeps into the soil.)
- Install natural helophyte filters of sand and riparian plants to improve water quality.
Having a lot of ideas in one space, it’s handy that visitors were encouraged to linger and reflect. The rear of the garden is open so that it overlooks the Weerwater lake to life in the city beyond. Turning their backs to the city, visitors can find repose contemplating a pool of rainwater and groundwater that offers a home for toads, frogs, salamanders and dragonflies.
While the wild wealth in the garden was evident during the show, we’d be foolish to think the balance can be kept without compromise, maintenance and ongoing intervention. If we want to reverse the trend of cities being places just for humans, and live in green, natural environments, this is what’s needed. Our reward could be places to live that are healthier, happier and a lot more fun for people, native mammals, birds, insects, pond life and plants.
The Wilde Weelde garden will continue to be a green space in the new Hortus residential area that will be built when the Expo closes on 9th October.
Links for more information
Vakgroep Wilde Weelde, the exhibitor, is an ecological trade association of 200+ companies who work in an environmentally-conscious way to create biodiverse landscapes.
Finally those who love Instagram can connect with the garden.