(A bedroom in Dublin. Monday. 5.30am. A rooster crows in the mid-summer rain. A young woman hauls herself out of bed. She throws open a window into the morning. A grey tit hops along the wooden fence below. The distinctive call of a pheasant. The trill of a tit. The thrill of the wild.)
This is how my days begin now. I wake to a symphony of birdsong. I wake to a wild life.
I’ve always loved animals and nature. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than being outdoors. I, myself, was a little bit wild. I was always climbing, running, exploring. I was less of a barbies and dolls girl and more of a climbing walls girl. I had far more interest in catching bees and butterflies than sitting at home playing dress up. I was a scuff-kneed, rock collecting, river wading, bird chasing, tree hugging wild child.
Growing up in a city suburb never really held me back from loving my natural environment. There was quite a lot of green space where I lived, there were local hay fields, farms and parks. I spent a lot of time in the wild Irish countryside. My parents brought me on holidays all around Ireland and I’ve had the privilege to see and explore so many of our wonderful landscapes. I’ve spent entire summers in the midlands, playing on farms and bogs. I’ve travelled along the whole west coast; the rugged Burren, wild Connemara, the lakes of Killarney, the beaches of Achill. I’ve visited forests, cliffs and caves. Climbed mountains and fished in rivers. I’ve collected turf, shorn sheep and plucked pheasants. I have been in love with this lush island my entire life.
However, living in Dublin, I haven’t always been as in touch with the natural world as I would love to be. The rapid development of large housing estates in North County Dublin during the boom years, rendered many of my childhood exploration haunts into haunted ghost estates. There are acres of unfinished houses, scaffold cities, empty developments and abandoned building sites. Where I once spent my summers picking wildflowers and hunting for frogs, there are now apartment blocks, parking lots, train stations, space-wasting NAMA-NAMA-NAMA-NAMA-CRAPLANDS!
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore Dublin. I think it’s a great city. I love the culture, the food, the nights out, the festivals, the history, the hustle and bustle, the atmosphere; but sometimes I look at some of the suburban areas and despair. When we were so busy building and planning and expanding, where did all the wildlife go?
Living in a city, it is easy to forget that it is populated by more than just people, more than shops and offices and pubs. It is populated by more than human beings. It is so easy to forget that there are entire populations of wildlife living in Dublin too. More animals than humans, more insects than animals.
This is one of the many reasons that gardening has become so vital for me. The garden is not just a place in which to grow food and flowers, it is a place of sanctuary for me and for many others. It is trembling with life. My garden has reconnected me with wildlife in this great urban sprawl. Four years ago, I’d have been hard pressed to identify a breed of bird. I’d have had no idea that it was a pheasant call I was hearing every day. I’d have been unable to tell you the birds living in my neighbours garden were in fact grey tits. I’d have probably been quite annoyed at the rooster waking me every morning.
I’d have never developed an obsession with bees, collected worms, discovered that ladybirds are ruthless killers, gone on regular slug patrols or learned what an ichneumon wasp is.
I’d never have developed a tenuous relationship with a hare. When I visit the plot in the early mornings, when there’s not another soul around, I often stumble on a slumbering hare in my rhubarb patch. We’re developing a bit of an understanding, she sleeps on my plot and leaves when I arrive. She often stares at me for a moment or two before bolting. I’ve yet to take a photo of her as I don’t want to spook her for the garden is her haven too.
I’d have never met Joseph Gordon Levitt. No, not the actor, the robin who visits my plot (if you get the reference, a virtual high five to you).
I’d have never learned that wasps build their nest from their own homemade scraps of paper and spit. I’d have never seen a fox chasing a hare while I was picking beetroot for dinner.
I have seen buzzards circling my plot, hunting for prey. I’ve seen sparrow hawks, thrushes, finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, pigeons, crows, the list is endless. I’ve even found a family of ducks, waddling past the plot. I’ve discovered xenomorphic looking chrysalises in nooks and crannies all over the garden. I have a shed full of giant spiders. Last week I found a song thrush egg lying on a rhubarb leaf.
My garden is not just mine, for a garden does not belong to the gardener. A garden belongs to everyone and everything in it. Gardening taught me to be excited by insects and birds and animals again, to scuff my knees and climb and explore and to still freak the hell out when I accidentally touch a slug.
Gardening allows me to be a wild child again.
Sometimes that rooster really does annoy me though.
I have learned more about our wildlife in the past four years of gardening than in the previous twenty-eh-something. With this in mind, I’m going to write a series of posts on encouraging wildlife into your garden. If you are one of those people who is terrified of creepy crawlies, I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t be (except maybe earwigs, nobody likes earwigs). If you find yourself running away from bees, I’m going to tell you why you should be chasing them in to your garden. If you’re afraid of butterflies, I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do for you, you’re a lost cause.
I’m popping some useful links below if you want to learn a bit about Irish Wildlife, these sites are brilliant resources for amateurs like myself who want to know a bit more about our indigenous species.