Black Thumbs, Rejoice: The “Anti-Garden” Era Is Here

An excerpt from a new book on horticultural rebellion.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

In the introduction of The Avant Gardens, editor and lifelong gardener John Tebbs refers to backyards as “outside rooms.” And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with outdoor spaces becoming an extension of our interiors, his point is that there might be too much focus on keeping them tidy instead of letting them be. Throughout the book, Tebbs’s compilation of out-of-the-ordinary gardens is meant to inspire a bit of horticultural rebellion at home. In this excerpt, he introduces the concept of the “anti-garden.” 

A Tudor half-timbered farmhouse reclaimed by nature, partly hidden under a festoon of climbers, and surrounded by planting that emerges at every opportunity: This was the vision for Jinny Blom’s “anti-garden.” 

Blom was asked by her client to help turn this 40-acre former high-input dairy farm into an idealized vision of a preindustrial landscape. The idea was that the space should benefit human and nonhuman residents alike, and that it should be gardened and designed in a way that prioritizes nature. 

The term anti-garden was used to articulate the desire to create a naturalizing garden: one that still holds the form of a classic English garden but behaves very differently. Somewhat appropriately, the design has been overlaid onto the existing hard landscaping; the addition of layers of soft plantings that contain many self-seeders creates the fascinating illusion of a garden reclaiming the built environment and adds an ethereal quality to the whole scene. The previous lawns were transformed into vegetable beds and a series of three meadows, each with a different mix of species.  

The planting here is clearly focused on supporting as wide a diversity of species as possible. Habitat and food sources for birds and invertebrates encourage an ecosystem that is bursting with life. This productive element is also carried across in other planting, with a focus on the use of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants throughout. The garden extends out into the wider farm, with a woodland nuttery, an orchard, and fruit-rich hedgerows (some laid and some left to grow out), providing a diversity of habitats that run naturally into the sweet chestnut coppice that flanks the property. Even a number of dead espalier apple trees feature in the garden. They not only lend the garden a sculptural quality but remain productive in a way we do not typically celebrate: by providing a home for a range of invertebrates and fungi that can only exist in such environments. 

Poignantly, this wild-looking garden does not simply let nature run its course. A gardener works full time to ensure this balance between nature and garden is perfectly calibrated and maintained. They also make sure species competition remains mixed, thus creating the widest potential offering in terms of biodiversity. The relationship between gardener and nature can be a tremendously positive one—and as this garden proves, the collaboration can yield enchanting results.

The Avant Gardens


“A Return to Nature: The “Antigarden” from the book The Avant Gardens – Visionaries and Gardens Beyond Wild Expectations”, pp. 232-237 © gestalten 2023.