Pond in a Danish wildlife-friendly garden.
Photo credit: Anton Stahl Olafsson..

By Oriol Garcia-Antúnez, Jens Lindgaard, Jussi Lampinen, and Anton Stahl Olafsson.

Read the full paper here.

Messy landscapes with uncut lawns and deadwood are slowly gaining social acceptability in urban parks and private gardens. That is exactly what wildlife-friendly gardening (WFG) programs such as Denmark’s Vild med vilje (wild on purpose) and the UK’s Wild about Gardens seek to achieve: rethinking traditional garden management and design practices to make gardens more appealing to wildlife.

Private domestic gardens comprise an important part of some cities’ total green areas. Collectively they have great potential to advance biodiversity conservation. But gardens are divided into countless individual properties, and individual garden owners’ engagement in WFG is voluntary. What if we could get a better understanding of what prevents—or encourages—people’s engagement in WFG?

Results from our online survey and qualitative interviews with garden owners reveal that people assign different functions to gardens, and these functions influence the allocation of resources such as space, money, and time to learn about gardening. A desire to appreciate and learn from nature or to live an organic lifestyle are examples of motivations that promote WFG. However, motivations of personal well-being and family care can perpetuate traditional gardening methods that are detrimental to wildlife.

We observed that gardening motivations emerge mostly from gardeners’ relationships with other people and nature. A desire to maintain good relations with one’s neighbors by conforming to gardening norms, or a consensus about garden maintenance with other household members, are examples of how the prioritization of good social relations can influence gardening behaviors. Similarly, care for nature and respect for other people can both promote engagement in WFG.

This highlights the need for further research to confirm our findings. For this, we recommend mixed-methods research to gain in-depth insights into gardening behaviors. We believe that the adoption of a more relational approach to private gardening is critical if we are to fully understand the socio-ecological feedback loops that underpin gardening decisions.