Breaking Ground with Mary Reynolds

Last year, just before Earth Day 2017, I heard an amazing woman being interviewed on a podcast. It was Mary Reynolds, an Irish gold medal winner of the Chelsea flower show, author of The Garden Awakening – Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves, and a self described reformed  landscape designer. Her ideas about how we, as humans, have a responsibility to care for the earth and how we need to go about doing that captivated me. Her work inspired me to start a garden last year on my family’s old farm property, and also informed a lot of my thoughts relating to a community development project I was working on at the time.

I wanted to learn more so I reached out and got Mary’s email. She was kind enough to email me back. At the time I had some ideas about a blog series I wanted to start, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to it (maybe this will bet the start of getting back to it). This was one of the interviews I did at the time, and it always felt like it needed to be shared no matter what. So, for Earth Day 2018, here is it.

Following are some of the questions I asked Mary and her insightful responses: 

photo by Conor Horgan

Could you explain forest gardening for those who haven’t heard of it before?

Mary: Forest gardening is a way of growing perennial crops in multiple layers, replicating the natural growth patterns of plants in a multi-tiered, medium stage, woodland system. If every single person that was lucky enough to own a piece of land, or had access to community farms or gardens, transformed their land into a forest garden and began to feed themselves and their neighbors, they would step away from the enslavement of industrial farming and our current dependence on supermarket shopping for chemically grown food. This food we are eating, is unhealthy at best and poisonous at worst. It is slowly killing us and all the other creatures on the planet through its production processes. It also a system based on terrible cruelty towards animals in factory farms, which I for one am not prepared to turn away from anymore, I cannot be part of that cruelty. It’s our job to support and nourish all life on earth.

If enough of us grow our own food in such a way that nourishes the land and ourselves, provides habitats for wildlife above and below the soil, then we have a chance to do something incredibly powerful, to step out of the system. If we all heal the little pieces of land we are personally responsible for, we can create a network of interdependent, healed places.

How would you explain to a person, who until now has maybe been unaware of what is happening with our planet, what is wrong with the way we are currently treating Mother Earth? 

Mary: We have finally figured out that our planet is a circle of interdependent life. All the creatures living on the earth form a solid circle which interacts, maintains itself, provides for and naturally controls all of the populations of living creatures. If one part of that circle gets chipped away, it destabilizes that whole circle. For example, if the bees get wiped out from our addiction to chemical usage in farming and industry, the estimate is that humans will be wiped out within 4 years as we depend on bees to pollinate our food to turn it from flowers into grains, fruit and nuts. The bees are currently going extinct, and in general, nobody seems to care or notice. What is astonishing and detrimental to all life on Earth, is that we somehow forgot that our very important role in this circle of life is one of caretaker. We are the guardians of this earth.

Do you think that we can turn things around if we start right now? If so, what does that change need to look like?

Mary: Unless we cease using fossil fuels and we immediately transform all the land currently being industrially farmed back into agroforestry based, no-till systems, I think we have no hope of sustaining life here. If we do manage to overcome the short term thinking of the multinational chemical companies whose greed and drive for ever increasing profits are driving us off the edge of the cliff, we might make it. We can also feed a lot more people this way, especially if we return to small scale, organic and local farming which supports people to feed themselves and their communities. The much-repeated rhetoric of ‘How will we feed the world?” is the fear based engine driving the compliance behind industrial farming, which is also the single most detrimental driver behind the steep decline in wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

What are a few ways people can start to do right by nature in their personal lives? 

Mary: Stop using chemicals immediately. Be proud that you don’t have the perfect monoculture of bright green lawn. Be proud that you are stepping back into your forgotten role as a caretaker of nature rather than worrying what the neighbors will think of your garden. Plant trees, plant trees plant trees! Trees are the top of the food chain in the world of nature. We cannot survive without trees. Plant food producing trees and perennial plants to feed yourself with healthy vibrant food, but also plant or allow the emergence of native plants and trees, to support and feed all the living creatures we are charged with minding. Love your land as you would love a child and grow with it, bond with it, nourish it and support it to become what it wants to become, a multi-tiered woodland system that is racing with life, above and below the ground.


If you want to learn more about Mary and her work you can visit her website.

I also recommend checking out her Tedx Talk – Here

There is also a movie that was made about her experience winning the Chelsea Flower show, called Dare to be Wild. It is currently available on Netflix.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *