Embrace the wilderness

By Daisy Brickhill

I had an allotment once next to a very kindly old gentleman, he welcomed us when we arrived as raw greenies, praising our efforts to put together raised beds and generously offering us spare courgette seedlings that were twice the size of our puny specimens. We often looked enviously over the fence at his smug, glossy onions and succulent raspberries. One thing he did not approve of, though, was our small wildflower meadow. You could tell, by the way his eyebrows bristled, that he felt it ‘messy’.

He had nothing against flowers, he grew flowers himself, he assured us and showed us to a neat row of pansies, just as regular and evenly spaced as the row of beetroot alongside them. I have nothing but kind feelings for that old gent, but I do wish that people would be happier with a little mess. It’s not just evidence of a newbie who has let their plot go, or workshy townie who doesn’t want to get her hands dirty.  That pile of old leaves, clump of nettles or riot of untamed wildflowers hide stories untold…

Deep in the leaves a warty common toad lurks, waiting for spring to fully unfurl before he pokes out a toe. On the tip of a nettle plant a leaf is folded over on itself: a tiny tent for a larva of the red admiral butterfly. Cuckoo spit, clinging to the stem of a poppy, shelters froghopper nymphs before they emerge as adults, to leap between plants with an astonishing acceleration of 4,000 metres per second every second.

So, I have kept a wee section of my plot, nothing much and nothing fancy, just a bit of ground where I scattered a few seed balls. Marble-sized earthen balls, seed balls are like campervans for wildflower seeds: everything they need in one compact, mobile unit. Chilli to keep off the pests, compost for nutrients, clay to hold it all together. The seeds themselves, cosy in the middle, wait for just the right moment and conditions to yawn and stretch and say “Hmmm, let’s go somewhere this weekend…”

Of course as a fierce allotmenteer I want to carve out a little space for me, I want to give my veg the chance to grow, and I will weed round them to give them space, just as daisies use special chemicals to ward off intruding plants. But I want to be part of the cycle, part of the grand scheme of things, and although my onions may not be any glossier or smugger for it, I think I am.

As well as a voluntary press officer for Project Maya, Daisy is a production editor and writer for Science for Environment Policy, a news service published by the European Commission. Daisy divides her time between poring over all kinds of fascinating environmental research and pottering about on her allotment.