Rewilding Your Lawn and Garden

Rewilding Your Lawn and Garden

By Michael Jenkins

While the concept first appears in the 1980s, rewilding is getting more attention of late and we thought we’d address it here. Rewilding is an approach to garden and  landscape maintenance that embraces natural processes, native and wild plants, and letting the ecosystem regular the space. There are a number of advantages and joys to rewilding along with a few things to consider, so let’s dig in and learn a bit more about rewilding and how you can incorporate rewilding into your garden, lawn, and landscape.

What is Rewilding?

Rewilding is a form of conservation via ecological restoration. In application this means restoring some of the landscape or landscaping/garden space to a more natural state. Rewilding may involve removing none-native or decorative species in favor of wild plants, avoiding weeding in order to allow a more natural ecological balance to emerge, and making spaces for native insects, birds, and wildlife. Far from being a careless, laissez-faire approach to gardening, rewilding involves careful planning and maintenance particularly in small spaces. Some rewilding projects involve creating and cultivating a more wild space in a garden, some incorporate much larger spaces and involve species reintroduction, wetlands restoration, and reforesting. It all depends on the location, the goals of the project, and the size of the space available.

Rewilding Your Garden, Lawn, or Landscaping

Let’s start with an important and obvious question: is rewilding right for your home or garden? Well, it depends; rewilding generally requires at least a bit of space so small gardens or container gardens may find it a bit difficult. Under those circumstances it may be better to focus on other ways to support local wildlife, insects, and pollinators.  However, if you have a bit of space that you can devote to it, rewilding can help make your garden space not just more ecologically oriented but far more interesting. It can add a new focus to your landscape and provide visual interest in contrast with more cultivated and controlled areas.

How to Rewild Your Garden

While there’s no single approach to rewilding that will work in every space or every environment, we’ve put together a few general ideas for how you can go about rewilding a portion of your garden or lawn. These are just a list of suggestions, so feel free to modify them as you see fit and as fits your needs. Also—please do click on the links we provide as they can guide you to more in-depth information on particular topics relating to rewilding.

  • Do some research: There are some things to know before you start rewilding. What plants and landscaping best fits your region? What are the legalities and regulations involved? Local ordinances and home owners associations may have rules about landscape maintenance that you’ll need to address. If you’re working with our around wetlands, there are generally local, state/provincial, or federal laws that must be taken into account. Get an idea of what the requirements are before you jump in and your rewilding project will go more smoothly.
  • Identify and use native plants in order to really capture the spirit of rewilding and the essence of the native landscape around you. There are some great sources for learning about native plants, choosing the native plants that are right for you, and incorporating them into your space, so make use of them. Your county extension office is a great source for this information, and they’ll likely be happy to provide it to you upon request.
  • Designate a space for rewilding. Rewilding doesn’t have to involve your entire lawn, garden, or other space—you can designate part of the space for rewilding and do what you want with the rest. Even a 4’x8’/1.2x2.4 meter garden bed can be rewilded with native plants and landscaping to good result—certainly the birds and insects will be grateful. Do what you can with the space that you have and do what makes your rewilded garden happy and interesting for you.
  • Making space for birds, insects, and wildlife is a big part of rewilding, and what that means varies with your space and location. We’ve written before about how to support birds and wildlife in your garden and how to plant a pollinator friendly garden, so reviewing that information may yield some useful ideas. One of the great things about rewilding is that it requires us to learn a bit about our native plants and animals, so embrace that as you begin this journey.
  • Keep it under control. Rewilding does not mean neglected—you’ll still want to keep garden paths clear, trim trees and shrubs away from buildings and structures, and ensure that your habitat is wild but healthy. Spending time in your rewilded space maintaining it, keeping an eye out for harmful or invasive organisms, and otherwise tending it can keep it vibrant while also maintaining the connection to nature that so many gardeners love.
  • Try new things—as with any garden a rewilded space is a space for experimentation. As you learn more about your landscape, your ecosystem, and the natural world around you it may come time to try new things with your rewilding. That’s a wonderful part of the process, so embrace it.
  • Get your neighbors involved if at all possible. Talking to them about what you’re doing and the benefits for the whole community may spark some interest and lead to more rewilding around you. There’s a wonderful “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” effect to this kind of thing that can make your whole neighborhood a much friendly place for native wildlife and plants.

Rewilding is a journey, just like any aspect of gardening. You can try it in stages, grow into as you need to, and adopt the parts that work for you. We hope you’ll consider it—if you have the space it can make for a much more interesting garden while helping the planet at the same time!

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