Reading again some of the poetry that I first read some fifty years ago, I came across my copy of renowned English poet, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”. An amazing work, and, interestingly, as well as its strong Biblical and moral themes, lots of references to gardening.
Not surprising really because Milton (1608 – 1674) was a keen botanist and at each of his homes, including that in Aldersgate, right in the City of London, and his next home in Westminster, he had beautiful gardens. At his final home at Chalfont St. Giles, the garden has now been restored and is, I believe, open to the public, in normal times.
In “Paradise Lost” he writes of Adam and Eve’s duty to tend Eden, to keep nature from running wild. For him it is Man that brings order to Nature. Nature is beautiful but without control.
As a keen gardener I like to see our gardens looking great, and that usually means keeping trees, plants and shrubs in order, weeding and taking out unwanted self-seeding plants, keeping the garden tidy and under control.
But, this week I was looking across the garden to an old, part-rotten elm stump that we had left in a hedge. The towering tree that had once stood there is long gone, a victim of Dutch Elm Disease, but the tree stump still bravely throws up dozens of short bushy stems from its roots, year after year, which we use as plant supports.
And on the morning in question, we had an amazing view of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker working on the rotten stump, seeking out grubs, insects and beetles.
So the old, scruffy and untidy stump was providing food for a beautiful bird, as well as furnishing us with pea sticks and plant supports each year.
Whatever the correctness of his religious views, Milton was only partially right on gardening, and there may well be benefits in allowing part of your garden to go wild, to be untidy and a bit scruffy. All species of wildlife will benefit!