West Cork Ark

It seems that someone has got the word out to whoever cuts the grass verges along main roads about leaving dandelions and daisies for the insects. Driving up to Cork last week I was happy to see both flowers bobbing in the sunshine. I think that dandelions and daisies are really pretty. There is nothing more boring than a great expanse of green lawn.  Every time I pass another Mc Mansion surrounded by asphalt and lawn, I can’t help but think how much prettier it would look with wildflowers and grasses, shrubs and trees. Not to mention how much more life it would sustain.

When my youngest was little she once asked me why we didn’t have a green thing outside the house like other people did. It took me a while to figure out that she meant a lawn. The fact is that with nearly three acres to manage, mowing an expanse of lawn was not something I wanted to have to do. Over the years the front field has been largely left to its own devices, apart from a bit of nettle and thistle strimming. The result is summers of long grass filled with buzzing insects, floating butterflies, slow bumblebees and hundreds of birds. There is nothing I love more than seeing a dog, or a small child, running through the field followed by an explosion of birds, bugs and the occasional mouse. 

The back field was mostly woods with sunny pockets where we had harvested trees. It was a tiny wildlife refuge in a rural area that is mostly grazing and lawns. Ophelia put an end to that, wiping out many trees. When the damage was cleared, we had a muddy field that looked devoid of any life. 

What a difference a year makes. The back is covered in new growth. Primroses, bluebells, wild garlic and sorrel are all growing in profusion. Purple vetch, yellow asters and blue forget-me-nots cluster in colourful patches. Tiny violets peek through the shiny new ivy. The big surprise is the spread of foxgloves, which promises a spectacular display when they bloom this month.

Over the years I have developed a form of gardening borne largely from having too little time, too much land. What is the minimum I need to do to stop the house being overgrown by giant brambles? Fallen logs are left to rot, and the property is ringed with piles of brush and branches. Both provide shelter for all manner of small animals and insects. Put simply, I cut back or weed plants that I don’t want (nettles, brambles. dock), and leave the rest to do its thing. Sometimes I help things along, like spreading forget-me-not seeds around, or moving a clump of foxgloves; but I mainly sit back and enjoy the yearly surprise that a bit of wild land provides. 

Twenty-six years later we have what I used to call a European Very Small Area of scientific interest. Along with the wildflowers, ferns, mushrooms, and mosses, we have an incredible range of native birds, insects, butterflies and small mammals. Now I have a new name for it: It is an ARK.

I came across www.wearetheark.org recently. They define an Ark as: a restored, native ecosystem, a local, medium or largescale rewilding project. It’s a thriving patch of native plants and creatures that have been allowed and supported to re-establish in earth’s intelligent, successional process of natural restoration. Over time this becomes a pantry and a habitat for our pollinators and wild creatures who are in desperate need of our support.

I’m not telling you to rotovate your entire lawn – just bits of it. Check out the website (www.wearetheark.org). There are lots of great ideas to introduce a bit of wildness into your garden – no matter how small.

We are incredibly lucky in West Cork. Last year’s muddy field is this year’s fairyland of discovery, and I didn’t plant any of it. It’s all free. All that beauty, all that wildness is in the land, in the air, in all that life that only needs a home to flourish. If we can each rewild a bit of land, together we can build a network of West Cork Arks, full of blooming native plants, that provide habitats and food for native insects and animals. How bad?

Tina Pisco

Tina Pisco is a best-selling author, who has lived in West Cork, Ireland for the past twenty years.

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