Exactly one year ago, Associate Professor Ben Vollard of Tilburg University and Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad started the crowdsourcing project “Wilding the Garden”. The purpose of the project was to allow people to experience what happens when they leave a plot of land unattended for a year. With 8,500 garden owners initially involved, we can call it a successful project. Now, a year later, we’re looking back and discussing the results.
Throughout the year, participants were encouraged to keep a close eye on their lazy patch of garden. Questioning and connecting with nature was central. What happens if you leave a corner of your garden to fend for itself for an entire year? What grows, blooms, and takes off in this wild patch? Participants were assisted in observing plants and insects through plant and insect recognition applications. In addition, they set out to work on soil type, soil permeability, and leaf decomposition process and were encouraged to talk to neighbors about their wild garden patch.
Four lessons the project taught us
- The interest in natural methods of gardening was overwhelming. Much to our surprise, no fewer than 8,500 families from all over the country participated. Participants’ responses at the end of the short registration questionnaire also reflected this enthusiasm. Usually, the space at the end of the questionnaire under the question “Do you have any other comments?” It is rarely ever used, but on this occasion, rarely has anyone failed to leave comments.
- Participants predicted that almost all of their neighbors would not approve of a sloppy lawn and consider themselves an exception. Participants believed that the neighbors would criticize their failure to remove dead leaves, twigs, and weeds. They themselves are of a completely different mind. 75% of the participants find it okay not to sweep up dead leaves and twigs; 50% are not bothered by weeds in the garden. Two-thirds of them don’t think an untidy garden detracts from the street’s overall appearance. It is possible that participants may believe their neighbors are more judgmental than they are, but this was not studied in the context of this project.
- People’s opinions and methods of gardening have changed as a result of experiencing the wild process up close. After six months, one in three of the participants said they were more aware of the benefits of nature-friendly gardening. The question of whether the garden needs to be arranged more often was answered by these same participants in the passive mode than at the beginning of the project. This changing attitude translated into a different approach to gardening than the rest of the garden.
- The wild garden is adversely affected by nitrogen deposition. The project offers an interesting glimpse into what happens in many different places in the Netherlands if people leave a square meter of land unattended for a while. This was a unique opportunity, because garden owners usually take care of their garden by weeding, among other things. And guess what? In one in four wild patches, nitrogen-loving species dominated in the first few months: weeds, nettles, and bramble. In rural areas, this percentage was twice as high as in the rest of the country.
Bottom line: talk to your neighbors
A year later, it became clear to us that the biggest challenge was leaving the garden. An important reason many people are reluctant to adopt more natural gardening methods is the social norm for a tidy garden. After all, a well-groomed garden sends a message: decent people live here who are ready to fit in. Garden design and maintenance level are part of the group’s behaviour, so changing them is a challenge. If you don’t toe the line, you are putting yourself out of the group.
Aside from fencing off wild patches so that it is obvious which parts are meant to look unruly, another promising opportunity for more natural gardening is to get neighbors talking to each other about it. There is a good chance that the expected blame from the neighbors will be higher than it actually is. Misunderstanding how other people think is common because often potentially embarrassing topics are avoided.
Once the hurdle of the social norm of a tidy garden is removed and people allow parts of their garden to run loose, it may prompt others to do the same. This may eventually change the social norm.
the quote: Wilding 1 Square Meter Garden for 1 Year: Project Results (2023, April 5) Retrieved April 5, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-04-square-meter-garden-year. html
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