At last, unruly lawns and weeds are cool... and Cork is getting in on the act

With the arrival of 'No Mow May' and the Chelsea Garden Show on the horizon, KATHRIONA DEVEREUX reflects on the importance of rewilding of our lawns and gardens
At last, unruly lawns and weeds are cool... and Cork is getting in on the act

PIONEER: Gold Award winner Mary Reynolds at the entrance to her Celtic Sanctuary garden at the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show

MOST of us have never attended Paris Fashion Week, but seemingly what we wear on a day to day basis has been influenced by a glamorous catwalk show that happened a couple of seasons ago.

The fashion creations of designers for the rich and famous eventually trickle down to the masses.

The same is true of gardens. What happens on the international horticultural stage later becomes the trends in our garden centres and back gardens.

This month, the Chelsea Flower Show will be in full swing in London, welcoming celebrities and setting trends in gardens around the world.

The nearest I’ve ever got to the world famous show is sitting in the ‘Irish Sky Garden’, a 2011 entry to the international gardening competition by designer Diarmuid Gavin, now happily grounded permanently by the River Lee in Fitzgerald’s Park. Gavin’s creation is a big and bold statement that has influenced garden design for a decade.

Chelsea Flower Show’s organisers, the Royal Horticultural Society, say the event “represents the pinnacle of horticultural excellence with showstopping designs, innovative materials and glorious blooms”.

This year’s crop of designers are thinking about the power of gardens to restore human physical and mental health, but also the power of our modest back gardens, balconies, or ‘yardens’ - a yard that could be a garden - to restore nature by providing an opportunity and space for regeneration.

The organisers said: “It’s no coincidence that the restorative power of gardens and gardening - both for people and the environment - returns as the main theme for 2023’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.”

Four out of the 12 show gardens displaying this year will feature weeds such as brambles and thistles in their designs to highlight benefits to wildlife and the planet. Weeds are cool now.

It’s more than 20 years since Irish gardener Mary Reynolds, who describes herself as a “reformed landscape designer” won a gold medal at Chelsea for her, at the time, “subversive” garden which mixed Irish stone masonry with native plants and weeds and celtic spirals.

It has taken two decades for Reynold’s approach to go mainstream, and now the RHS are rebranding weeds as “resilient plants” and “weed heroes”.

Around the city and county of Cork are positive examples of what would have been described as “neglected” areas but are now seen as pockets for nature to rebound.

UCC’s stunning campus blends the well-maintained Quad with wilder, weedier corners with signs that tell us are “managed for wildlife”.

Shelving the sprays and the strimmers means grassy verges are full of colour and life, rather than boring tidy green spaces.

Even Fitzgerald Park, with its pristine rose gardens, has had a recent blitz of tree planting.

The “weeds are cool” memo hasn’t reached everywhere yet though, with large swathes of greens on estates and public parks still shorn tightly all year long.

If you’re sitting on the board of a residents’ association, encourage the landscapers who maintain your greens to leave a verge wild and uncut. Kids still get the space to play, but bees and wildlife get a constant food source throughout the year

Growing out a fringe

Mary Reynolds is still a pioneer of environmentally friendly gardening and encourages everyone to create their own ‘Ark’ - a corner of your garden or balcony for saving nature.

Her book, We Are The Ark, is part of her movement to get people to invite nature and wildness back into our gardens, parks, and every tiny patch of this earth.

Her vision is to “re-wild our world, piece by piece until we have a patchwork quilt of sanctuaries that wraps its way around the globe”.

If you’ve been toying with leaving your grass grow, this time of the year is the awkward stage of embracing the wilder garden - not quite overgrown enough to look intentional and too early in the year for the beautiful wildflowers to have bloomed and compensate for the untidy look.

It’s the ‘growing out a fringe’ stage of rewilding. Consider just mowing a border around your grass so it shows someone still cares for the plot. And use the time you would have spent mowing or strimming to make your own ‘Managed for Wildlife’ or ‘No Mow May’ sign.

Darkness into Light

This Saturday, May 6, is the annual Darkness into Light fund-raising event for Pieta.

There isn’t a house in the country who hasn’t lost a friend or a family member to suicide, and it’s a wonderful event in the quiet hours of dawn to think about those that have left us and do something positive to try and help prevent others from experiencing the same pain and loss.

Pieta provide a professional one-to-one therapeutic service to people who are in suicidal distress, those who engage in self-harm, and those bereaved by suicide. All of their services are provided free of charge.

Since the inaugural event in 2009, with 400 people walking 5km to raise funds for Pieta there are now more than 150,000 participants in Darkness Into Light each year.

The walks provide an opportunity for people to connect with their local community, and bring hope to people who have been impacted by suicide, not just in Ireland but all around the world - as far away as New Zealand.

Pieta is 80% funded by events like Darkness Into Light and the event has raised more than €35 million since its inception.

Around Cork county and city, there are official walks starting at 4.15am that anyone can join, and plenty of unofficial events where funds will be raised for the important cause.

The Lough is a wonderful location to welcome the new day and people will be gathering there in the pre-dawn. I will be attending a yoga class fundraiser there at 5.30am.

If you’re in the neighbourhood, why not bring your sleepy head and a mat along and start the day by doing something positive for your body, your mind and your community?

See you there!

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