New Wild Garden by Ian Hodgson


A new book on natural-style planting and practicalities – ‘New Wild Garden’ by Ian Hodgson –  is reviewed by our guest reviewer Susie White.

Ian Hodgson has a wealth of experience as a garden writer, having trained at Kew and been editor of The Garden magazine for 18 years. The subheading of his new book, ‘Natural-style planting and practicalities’, tells you what to expect, for this is more style guide and manual than purely inspirational. Divided into six sections, it has a wide sweep from large wild gardens to roof-tops and from prairie planting to fragments of wild planting in containers.

side-New-Wild-GardenThe prevailing widespread interest in naturalistic planting in gardens is a response to the depletion of the natural world, the loss of wild places, a concern for wildlife. It’s a movement sympathetic to the natural world rather than an attempt to dominate it as in earlier gardening styles. From large public gardens and spaces creating naturalistic landscapes to tiny gardens, there is a desire to evoke semi-natural communities of plants and to go with the local conditions.

In his first chapter Ian Hodgson discusses the making of these types of landscapes and the need to reconnect with nature. He covers wildlife habitats, ideas for make-your-own insect hotels, the kind of flowers that different pollinators favour and mixing grasses into the scheme. He encourages gardeners to contribute observations to science projects; this kind of data is invaluable and builds up a picture of biodiversity in the UK. There are ideas for large and small gardens, for allotments and for roof gardens; urban areas are very much included in this practical book.

If you are starting from scratch, or know little of this type of gardening, then here are the details; assessing the site, drainage, soil texture and testing, sun and aspect, all the basics. There’s how to sow annual and perennial meadows, plant bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs. It’s helpful to see the pros and cons of annual meadows which are not as easy as they may seem. You need to be able to recognise weed seedlings in some detail. Another method shows impregnated seed paper, covered with sterile compost, which would be helpful to first-time gardeners.

There are detailed instructions on making perennial meadows too, on using plugs and laying rolls of wildflower turf. Or you can let your lawn go wild and plant into it with bulbs and plugs of perennials such as lupins. Prairie schemes are very much the zeitgeist and these are shown in some detail. There are blueprints for specific locations: roof tops, woodland shade, town gardens, with faded out photos superimposed with numbers for the different plants. These then relate to a key, a clear way of showing how to build up plant communities in borders.


Creating a pond is arguably the single most important thing we can do to attract wildlife to the garden and the book covers this as well as ‘rainy day pools’ or temporary wet places. There are planting plans for bog and water gardens and notes on maintenance.

Even if you don’t have much of a garden, there are plenty of ideas for mini wild plantings in pots. Flowers are chosen for their nectar and photos show individual ‘recipes’ for container planting. There is even a tiny annual meadow with corn, poppies and cornflowers. There are trees suitable for containers, a barrel to make into a miniature pond. All this is followed by a plant gallery, which usefully lists what situation each plant is good for. A sourcebook has lots of useful addresses.

There are boxes throughout the book, detailing plants for different situations and how to create naturalistic effects. With a good index, it’s a useful reference, of particular use if you are starting out with this style of gardening.

‘New Wild Garden’ – Natural-Style Planting and Practicalities by Ian Hodgson is published by Frances Lincoln Ltd., – – in hardback at £25.00.

Susie is a freelance garden writer and lecturer. The wildlife of her own garden, with its naturalistic planting, often features in her Guardian Country Diary.