The Chicest Gardens Today Are Not Groomed Or Tame, They Are Wild

New York's High Line is one of the best examples of a wild garden in a public setting.
For some time, enlightened gardeners have grown away from contained, stiffly regimented beds organized around lawns in favor of free-form swaths of native plants, pollinators once considered weeds, grasses and wildflower meadows. A new book released by Phaidon on March 9 says it all.
Wild by Noel Kingsbury features descriptive photography by Claire Takacs; together the two show and describe gardens located all over the world. Including examples that range from Chicago’s Millennium Park to New Zealand hillsides to private oases in Great Britain and cemeteries in Germany, the gardens in the book include public, private, urban, suburban and rural gardens. The takeaway is that a wild garden can look and work beautifully in any climate and environment. And, compared to labor-intensive, water and chemical-dependent traditional gardening, it is environmentally friendlier, a boon for birds and insects and, once established, less demanding than the conventional perennial bed.
A secluded private garden takes its inspiration from the native grasses of the prairie. CLAIRE TAKACS
Noel Kingsbury says this trend did not start with the invention of Earth Day. In a private interview, he traced the origins of the wild garden to the late 19th century, when progressive gardeners, including Gertrude Jekyll, rebelled against the crude, garish Victorian practice of “bedding plants,” brightly colored annuals planted in geometric beds. As early as 1871, Irish journalist and gardener William Robinson published The Wild Garden to advocate for a more naturalistic approach.
“One of the things that drove a change is the cost of labor,” Kingsbury says.  
He points to the mid-20th century practice of planting evergreen shrubs as an alternative to labor-intensive gardening schemes.
“In the 1960s, the tedious minimalism of evergreens, which I call the ‘green cement look,’ was very fashionable, but also very boring.”
The wild garden he says, requires less work, “But the work is more skilled. In public gardens, especially, the work is often done by people who have little knowledge about horticulture. For a wild garden, intelligent decisions need to be made We need a new profession of garden ecologists.” 
This style of gardening is especially useful in arid climates. CLAIRE TAKACS
In the United States, a movement among elites and academics towards more naturalistic gardens was gaining momentum in the 1920s and 30s.
“But then we began to see homeowner associations that demand viciously mowed lawns,” Kingsbury says. He believes that Europeans are more tolerant of what their neighbors do in their gardens. “Lawn tyranny is a uniquely American feature and, as we know, lawns require an awful lot of water, fertilizer and care.”
A wild garden, on the other hand, “Can be a biodiversity refuge. A garden should be a mini nature preserve. Nothing matches the relaxed, romantic feel of wild gardens and, for children, they have so much more excitement to offer.”  
Kingsbury points out that pesticides and other chemicals are rarely, if ever, needed in a wild garden.
“If one plant is infected, it’s not so important; wild gardens are much more forgiving. Once a wild garden is established and growing well, there is very little space for invasives, and any insect or fungal infestations tend to be taken care of by other insects or by time.”
The only plants that require fertilizers, he says, are vegetables and roses.
Small spaces, too, are hospitable to native plants that don't need a lot of water. CLAIRE TAKACS
He believes that the biggest environmental issue driving the movement towards naturalistic gardens today is the world’s acute water shortage.
“In the American Southwest, they are ahead of the curve on this. It’s interesting how a lack of water concentrates people’s minds.”
Although he and Claire Takas were unable to document gardens in Arizona or New Mexico because their research was conducted during the Covid pandemic and thus restricted their travel, the book does picture gardens in dry environments, including Spain, Australia and New Zealand. 
“In South Korea, in particular, this style has really taken off,” Kingsbury says. “They compare themselves to their larger, noisier neighbors, China and Japan, and have worked to develop a differentiating aesthetic. In South America, too, there is a great use of native plants.”
As tastes are shifting in the United States, he sees diversity being fostered at garden centers and in garden clubs and associations. “Grasses, which used to be scorned as weeds, are proving to be wonderfully versatile, and there are all sorts of cultivars being promoted.”
He suggests that the gardener seeking inspiration look to plants that thrive in inhospitable places.    
“They do not need fertilizer or any special care: they teach us what we need to know.”
Reprint from Forbes Feb. 28, 2022
Regina Cole, Contributor