Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Mary Reynolds and Nurturing Nature

a trunk of a redwood tree with a sunbeam

Hello fellow readers, After a long day placing plants, I did what I rarely do. I settled down in front of the television to veg out. Legs elevated on pillows to lessen foot fatigue, clicker in hand; I stumbled upon a movie based on a true story titled Dare to be Wild, about Mary Reynolds, a landscape designer from Ireland. It was a love story like any good movie to veg out by should be, especially when it’s just us girls (Jolee and me). But beyond the human love story was a story about the storyteller’s love of the land and nurturing nature.

a swath of ferns in a woodland with a man forest bathing in the distance

Mary Stone in a yellow jacket smiling for a photo while forest bathing in a late fall forest Dare to be Wild featuring Mary Reynolds 

Reynolds apprenticed with an established landscape architect who took credit for her garden designs. Then the architect abruptly let her go, keeping her book of hand-rendered drawings. Uncertain of what’s next, Reynolds bravely submits a proposal to exhibit at the prestigious London Chelsea Flower Show and is accepted. She struggles for funding, travels the world to study the rhythms of nature and plants, falls in love, and everything comes together in the final hour. Even her plants that suspiciously withered rebounded in time for opening day.

In the movie, as in real life, Mary Reynolds, at age 28, became the youngest gold medal winner of the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002 “with an entry that included weeds, rabbit droppings, and giant stone thrones,” reported Smithsonian Magazine (June 2016).

A flat topped mushroom amongst moss and a bottlebrush buckeye leaf

The beauty of a native forest floor.

Nurturing nature and ourselves 

Digging further, I learned Reynolds authored The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture our Land and Ourselves, first published in England in 2016 by Green Books. The intriguing table of contents includes a section on Restoring Wellness broken down into chapters titled: Sacred Spaces, Nature is Stronger than Nurture, Finding your Roots, and Restoring Health to your Land.

Good old Amazon allows for a sneak peek, so I clicked through to Forest Gardening, which discusses designing in layers that “imitate the tiered structure of natural woodlands but have a higher proportion of edible species.” The layers – canopy trees, shrubs, non-woody plants, ground cover, underground plants, and vines – all cohabitate, restoring fertility to the land while producing food in a natural environment.

From the reviews, it sounds like a meaty measure of spirituality is in her book, but plenty of references to plants with charts of characteristics, cultural requirements, and the roles they serve in creating biodiversity. I’m hooked! The Garden Awakening is now on its way.

the sun peering through a forest in the fall “Let nature do what it does.”

Mary Reynolds gave a Ted-talk a while back and described herself as a “reformed garden designer,” which made me smile. Now rather than designing and installing beautiful gardens and then fighting “to keep them the way we want them to be,” she creates environments that “let nature do what it does.”

While the magnitude of what’s going wrong with our world may seem insurmountable, if we each do our part in sound stewardship of the bit of land we are blessed to live on, no matter how small, we can heal our dear earth—one garden at a time. Garden Dilemmas? and your favorite Podcast App.

There’s more of the story in Episode 76 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Mary Stone on one knee hugging a golden brown llama named Betty at Lucky Us Farm

“Meet” Betty in Episode 76 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast

Related stories you’ll enjoy- Designing Garden Layers  and Forest Bathing 

Link to  Mary Reynolds Website



Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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