Episode #36 Daring to be Wild: Mary Reynolds of ‘We Are The Ark’ on ReWilding our lands and lives
Mary Reynolds set her intent to win a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower show with her first (and only) exhibit. To do it, she created a wild garden that left visitors in tears for the lost memories of their youth… and she won her gold medal.
Her life since has been a long unfolding of dreams connecting her to the wild land of her Irish ancestors, deepening her experience and coming ever closer to the land.
With a raw humility and deep passion, she speaks here of her journey and of how we can join her mission to make of every garden an ARK.
Manda: My guest this week is someone who is already crafting that world. Mary Reynolds’s first garden for the Chelsea Flower Show won a gold medal. Since then she’s written a book called The Garden Awakening, which is one of those that left me feeling so much that I was reading Wild Magic from someone who really understands how the world works. More recently, she has set up a website called We Are the Ark, where Ark is spelled with a K and stands for Acts of Restorative Kindness. And she’s built a whole worldwide movement of people who are taking their gardens and turning them into everything that we need them to be to restore the wild magic and the beauty of the world. So people of the podcast with great delight, please welcome Mary Reynolds.
So Mary Reynolds, author and visionary and All-Round Amazing Person. Welcome to Accidental Gods.
Mary: [00:02:16.62] You wouldn’t say that if you met me.
Manda: [00:02:18.73] I’m sure I would, actually. I read your book. Everyone who listens to this podcast is going to want to go and read your book and find your website. So you’re in Ireland at the moment. How has lockdown been for you?
Mary: [00:02:30.94] Most of it’s been it’s been not much different to real life because I work from home. It’s been a lot slower and it’s given me a chance to think. And I actually really enjoyed it. I just don’t want to go back to the craziness.
Manda: [00:02:51.49] That’s the thing. I mean, I’m sure my step-daughter’s husband, I don’t know what relationship that makes when he teaches at an inner city school, was one of the towns near us. And his kids came back and they had genuinely done nothing for however long. And they were people who last February had said, if you could have six months of school, would you be happy? And they would have been very happy. They were desperate to get back to school because they had nothing else to do. I don’t think this is an advocate for our schooling system. It’s an advocate for helping people find other ways to live. But it was it was quite sobering to realize that because exactly like you, I don’t know a single person who wants to go back to the way things were.
Mary: [00:03:33.73] And and it doesn’t seem like there’s vision there to push for a new way from from above. Really?
Manda: [00:03:45.26] No, certainly not with us. You have Leo Varadkar, who used to be a general practitioner. He was an actual medic who understood actual science. So I’m guessing that the Irish approach to the whole coronavirus thing was slightly more coherent than the British one. But even so, there’s there’s this seems to be this rush to get the economy back on track. And from my perspective, the economy wasn’t working in the first place. So why are we trying to get it back on track? But I think there’s more realisation of that. Are you finding conversations are more open and more fluid around you?
Mary: [00:04:21.97] It’s kind of a funny one because people are also becoming quite isolated and they’re used to it. And so. Well, no, I don’t find I have as much contact with the two legged species, so there’s this there’s like a lot of fear and they don’t really know what they’re afraid of, but there’s a lot of fear created. So, it’s very hard to know. I don’t know if we’ve taken the opportunity that was presented to us. I think it was an opportunity and I’m not seeing that it’s being grasped by anyone with any level of power.
Manda: [00:05:05.03] But I’m hoping that in the mycelial undergrowth, there are networks being built and the complexity of the system is being agitated in ways that perhaps we can make those in power redundant quite quickly.
Mary: [00:05:21.89] That would be good, because I think all global movements, all the major changes in the world, have come from small grassroots movements, that really that’s the only time anything has actually changed. So things like that, the Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion and the return to real power of women, which is herbal medicine and understanding our connections with nature and the opportunities of listening and learning from plants. Over here that people went back to growing their own food because they realized that food security is a massive problem. You know, there’s probably only three or four days worth of food available in supermarkets, and we shouldn’t be dependent upon that.
Manda: [00:06:19.82] Yeah, and 12 minutes worth of toilet rolls. Yes. But I think and I think that’s a worldwide phenomenon. I think everywhere people started growing their own. I don’t know how bad your harvest has been, but I just got a quarter of the amount of hay off the hill than I usually get. So I think other things are happening. But this is a good lead-in to all the things that I want to talk about, because your book is one of the most profoundly practical in terms of how we make that spiritual connection to the land of any that I’ve read. And I’m curious to know a little bit before we explore the detail of what you’re saying in the book and what you’re seeing in your website, We are the Ark – how did you come to this? Can you tell us a little bit about your growing up and the evolution of your understanding?
Mary: [00:07:17.02] I grew up on a farm in Wexford, I was the youngest of six children, so we had a lot of freedom because my parents both worked full time as well as being farmers.
And this was in the southeast Ireland. And I’m forty six now. So it was a good while ago and things were quite different back then. You know, the chemical usage was much less and it was still life everywhere. And I remember that life. I remember the magic was everywhere still and it’s not so much anymore. So I guess I kind of I did whatever anyone who’s lucky enough to live in in the way that I do, I kind of I went left home. I was supported to go to college. I’m very lucky in my life, but I, I kind of went. Party for years and basically disappeared, and it’s only when I move back to the countryside and in West Wicklow Men, you know what you could what we call mountains in Ireland with the rivers on the hills.
And I remembered that even though I had just come out of college and I was doing really well as a designer with gardens, I kind of suddenly realized, ‘God, I what am I doing? Like, this is so awful. And nature is is magic.’ And I had forgotten my relationship with nature was the only really good one I’d ever had in my life. And so I tried to fix it and I started by going to the Chelsea Flower Show because I couldn’t convince anybody to let me design a garden like this. And I’m a bit spontaneous. So when I get to a level of understanding, I jumped at it before I worked out maybe there’s a deeper level of understanding and I keep doing that my whole way along. I went to the Chelsea Flower Show. I got a gold medal for this particular garden using magic and intention.
Manda: [00:09:30.42] Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Because because the magic and the intention are really one of the things that I push a lot on this podcast, and it’s wonderful to hear someone else actually using it.
Mary: [00:09:40.35] Ok, well, I suppose even the word magic, it’s unfortunate, isn’t it, because it has become associated with children’s stories or, you know, Harry Potter. Potter. But it’s a funny thing. You know, Harry Potter was such a beautiful story, but it and it did so much good, but in so many ways, it did so much damage because it disconnected people from the reality of the magic that we’re surrounded by and explore further and further into the depths of of of of fantasy. Yes. And I heard or I read that J.K. Rowling actually said once that she didn’t believe in magic. And I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God, the damage… Because the power and magic that’s available to us – unless you believe in it, it’s not there. And I suppose I saw it all the way through my life. I’ve managed to create things in my life very with basically a mix of emotion and belief and intention.
And so I was trying to figure out how to incorporate all this into my work. And so when I did the Chelsea Flower Show, for example, which was all the way back in 2002, I told all the people I was working with that the reason we’re building this garden is to create a space that reminded people of how important nature was and how we were losing it, and we needed to protect it, and all the wild places.
And that was the intention they all built it with. So that energy got held within the space. And the impact of that was that there was a huge queue of people who wanted to look into the garden and talk to me about it. And I was standing at the front handing it leaflets because I had 14 sponsors in the end and I was desperately trying to make their input be of some benefit to them. So anyway, they all wanted to talk to me. It was really interesting because anybody from England or America or beyond, they were all in tears, looking in. And they were saying, ‘Oh my God, I had forgotten about these places.’ And how they all had a story from when they were young of a place they remembered that had this magic and it was a nurturing memory. And they were devastated with grief that all those places were gone. And a lot of the Irish people are Scottish people passing by, they would often they kind of go off just like a little bit of home because that magic still exists in many places, but less so since then.
Manda: [00:12:35.17] It’s the energy even in that time, because it’s not less than 20 years ago. Can you give us a little bit of a word picture of of what you built in in that particular exhibit at Chelsea for people who kind of want to build it in their heads?
Mary: [00:12:51.15] Yeah, well, I guess it was really tiny. It was something like eight by ten meters. And it was basically a dry stone wall with a stone moon gate as the entrance and within the stone wall, the earth undulated. So there came down from the inside of the stone walls to the ground level. And then there was a circular kind of doughnut, which I called a Rath of of meadow around a central pool and in the pool stepping stones led to four stone thrones: north, south,east and west.
And the idea was I was drawing on old ways. So our ancestors used to believe the sun sunk into the waters that held power and at nighttime and the thrones were places that people thought to be in direct contact with the earth, which is often examples of stone thrones all over the countryside, they kind of would have been instilled with a particular intention themselves. So it was a very simple space. It was it had it had a certain amount of very old Hawthorn trees, which we had saved from farm drainage schemes and road widening schemes.
Manda: [00:14:06.18] What happened to them afterwards?
Mary: [00:14:08.22] They ended up going to Battersea Park. They live there now, which at least they have each other. So and then that was it. And then it was full of basically what people would call weeds. Wild plants – ‘weeds’ are a good thing in my book, I love them, but it still has that negative connotation.
So it was very simple and it was filled with symbolism and feeling.It wasn’t trying to be perfect. There was lots of dead things in their way. There would be in nature this. It’s not. It was. It was absolutely cCompletely different from what had ever been in Chelsea before.
Manda: [00:15:02.63] And probably since from the sound of things.
Mary: [00:15:04.40] But no, I think there’s been a lot of people doing similar stuff since. Actually, it’s kind of it kind of started off that whole fashion for want of a better word of wildness. It allowed it to creep into people’s gardens. And it was quite a game changer in itself, you know.
Manda: [00:15:20.93] And how many people did you have on your team and how long did it take to build?
I think it’s about 15 of us think they were friends. And there was a whole romance going on at the same time with me and one of the main builders, which is quite an interesting story. And anyway, that it was that’s not really important.
Manda: [00:15:40.40] It would be very interesting because I would like to go back a little bit… Actually let’s take this opportunity to go back, because there’s two things you talk about in the book. Well, there’s quite a lot of things. One is the dream that started it out, the Crow Dream? Do you remember that? Can you tell us about that? And then there’s also a story I’d like to get to about setting intent with the picture the first time you fell in love. I’m really curious because this idea of setting intent with emotion, belief and intention is a very old one and very well documented. But I’m wondering, were you reading Israel Regardie and people like that? Or did you come to this from the intuition of the land? Let’s let’s go back to that. Tell us about the dream first. So can you tell us about the Crow Dream that started everything off?
Mary: [00:16:30.39] That was when I had just moved back to the countryside from living in Dublin and partying and I started at the business. But anyway, when I got back to the countryside, it was there a few nights. And all through my life I have occasional dreams, which are very clear and they’re strong messages. So this one was basically I was a crow in the dream and I was flying along over a really beautiful old landscape, the ancient woods and hills and valleys and rivers. And it was pristine. It was beautiful. And I heard somebody call my name and. I veered towards it, and it was in a wood and I swooped down into the woods and I could see this person sitting on a log. It was actually me as a woman. But I was painted blue and I was holding a big stick and I was wearing very tattered. clothes But as I got closer and realized who who had been calling my name, the Mary on the log basically looked up, kind of grinning cheekily and at me.
And it was she didn’t say anything, but it was so obvious, it was like a key to open the door to a new kind of understanding. And so when I understood that, the crow just froze in midair and I woke up. But I understood then that gardens are just controlling and they’re still life. And they they don’t include all the other life forms that we have stolen this land from. And they don’t understand that the magic in nature is missing and there are just other rooms. And that the real deal is nature. The real magic, the true, beauty is nature. And that our our pathetic attempts to create beauty based on some psychological image are damage that we may have had or fashions is wrong. It’s wrong and it’s selfish and it has to stop.
Manda: [00:18:56.67] Have you met that version of yourself since – the Blue Mary? Was she was she a different age to you? Do you think you’ve grown into being her? That’s two separate questions, but I’m pushing them together.
Mary: [00:19:07.92] I haven’t met her in the dream world, but I think I’ve almost become her. I’m not quite there yet, I’m still like everybody full of damage and full of full of mistakes and full of limitations. And my sense of freedom and my ability to be uniquely who I truly am is is still teetering on the edge and falling backwards.
Manda: [00:19:35.75] I think that’s the nature of life, really, isn’t it? Knowing that that’s the case is the key. So then we can match ourselves up to who we could really be and constantly be stepping towards that.
Mary: [00:19:49.49] Exactly. And one thing I can say that I’ve learned is that the magic stuff that I started talking about in the book or that I started practicing in my life – at the time, it was a means to an end or it was for specific reasons – like that time in the book where I explained how I used magic to corner and force a relationship.
Manda: [00:20:19.83] Can you tell us a little bit about that? Because I think this is a really interesting concept and the outcome of it is a really valuable teaching. I do want everyone to go and read your book, but it won’t hurt them to have the occasional story from it. So if you’re happy with that.
Mary: [00:20:32.88] That’s right. And actually my book is available in libraries, so they don’t have to go buy it either. So the story was that I had fallen in love with this guy and they actually made a movie about it, which is called ‘Dare to Be Wild’, which is a very light hearted, sweet film, but it doesn’t quite capture the actual story. But it’s a sweet film. And my ex was living in Ethiopia. And when I met him, he was living in West Cork, which is in the west of Ireland. And I totally fell head over heels in love with him and to a point where it just broke open my heart and I was terrified of going back to a place. And of course, I hadn’t taken responsibility for my own life at that point. So I was convinced it was all down to him, that I needed him to stay with me. So when he went to Ethiopia, I went into massive fear. He was going out there to work on restoration projects, the ecological restoration, and I was afraid I’d lose him.
And I got it in my head that I couldn’t build the garden without him. I just a mess. So I took a picture that we had taken together on one of those photo booths and there was a picture of the two of us. So I cut one of them off – you used to get four of them on a strip or something like that. And I cut one of them off and I went to local stone circle, which was full of energy, and it had this magical old hawthorn tree there as well. And I climbed up into the tree and I shoved the photograph into the heart of the tree and and I asked the tree to take this relationship and bind it together forever and then I believed that that that would be done.
Manda: [00:22:57.42] And you really wanted it. It’s that combination of really powerful emotional belief and intention all combined together.
Mary: [00:23:05.76] Exactly. So when I walked away, as far as I was concerned, it was it was completely. And then I went out to Ethiopia just to be sure. And I forced him to come back. And anyway and then typical of me, when I finished building the garden and our relationship started to come apart because I realized I had put everything into one basket and this wasn’t going to work and so I broke up with them. I ran off with someone else. I was such a disaster, but I didn’t realize how invested he was. And of course, I was only thinking of myself because I was young and selfish and stupid and he was very upset. So now obviously he’s very happy since and he has his own family. So this is just a reference to long time ago. But I realized that he was desperately upset and I had broken his heart and he wasn’t recovering. And I panicked one night when I remembered what I had done, so I raced across the fields to this hawthorn tree and I undid it.
I took the picture and I ended it. And I actually tore the picture up. And I suppose I was so full of horror at my own actions at that point that there was plenty of emotion to go along with that, you know, and I walked away knowing that he’d be OK now. And it’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Because you have to really believe that the stuff you’ve just done is going to happen because otherwise it won’t. It’s a funny kind of a skill. And we can all learn it. And it’s not it doesn’t belong to one particular person. This is a power that every single person has. And that’s something I’ve learned over the years, that we are all incredibly powerful. But we’ve we’ve been taught that we’re not. And that final key of walking away from an intent, believing that it’s now already in place is almost impossible for people to actually do. And it takes a lot of practice. But there’s so much support there if you ask for it. Well, for me, it’s from plants. For other people, it’s from animal, for other people they don’t need it, they just they just have themselves.
Manda: [00:25:41.31] I think for most people there is something in what a David Abrams calls the More than Human world – something there that helps. Even if it’s the planet herself or itself. What really interests me on this is the intent and the integrity. We spend quite a lot of time in the shamanic dreaming group that I work with, really focusing on integrity because we know that you can harness your intent to things that are not necessarily going to be for everybody’s best and highest good. And I’m really, really interested that you did this with this person who presumably at that point didn’t know, but the doing and the undoing of it were yours entirely. And I’m guessing that you wouldn’t do that again.
Mary: [00:26:37.78] No, God, no. And that’s what I say in the book. Be careful what you wish for. Know, be very careful because it’s like you say, integrity is the most important word, which I should have used. Actually, it’s a great word because that’s what you need to hold is integrity and be aware that if you’re asking for something to happen, always add in that ‘if it’s meant to be’ or ‘if it’s for my higher good’, whatever way you want to put it, whatever you believe in, just make sure you’re not forcing something which is, you know.
Manda: [00:27:10.95] And it’s hard because our egos get in the way and tell us that this is for the best and most good of everybody, when in fact, sometimes it’s not, it’s our fear speaking. saying that ‘I want the world to carry on being exactly as it was, because that’s the way it goes’. And I think I sometimes look at Donald Trump and think he’s a really good example of what happens when somebody with – I would venture to suggest not necessarily the integrity that I would want – has the ability nonetheless to hold a very clear and strong intent. And I’m still curious, because there are areas of life where this combination of emotion, belief and intention are quite deeply written about and I’m wondering, did you learn this innately from your experiences with the land? Because you talk a lot about your experiences with the land in the book. Or were you exploring the nature of intent as a kind of sideline.
Mary: [00:28:12.20] I’m not sure because I know that I have imagined things in my life, and they’ve come to pass. And then other times I’ve tried to imagine things that I want to come to pass me and they haven’t.I only started to kind of grasp it. I remember I was reading a book when I was doing the Chelsea Flower Show called ‘The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success’. And it said that if you write something down and you repeat it every day until you actually believe it’s happened, then it will happen. So I did that. I wrote ‘Tthank you for my full sponsorship and my gold medal at the Charles Flower Show’, and that’s kind of all I did to make that happen.
Manda: [00:29:04.75] But then you also built an amazing garden, Mary. I think that is also an integral part of it.
Mary: [00:29:09.31] I know, but coming up with all that money for someone who really have no connections or abilities in that world was pure magic. There was no way around it. It was pure magic the way it happened. Yeah. So and lots of those things have happened in my life. It’s the opposite of worrying.
So I watched I watched my mother worry herself into dementia, you know, and worrying is the opposite of I believe in magic intention or prayer or whatever you want to all it.
Manda: [00:29:47.34] It’s also creating a future with real emotion and intent and belief, but it isn’t the one that we want. I have a feeling that that’s what we’re doing in the world at the moment. But we have the capacity, if we can feel our way into ‘How would the world be if we got it right’ and really feel it as if it happened, exactly as you said, you have to be in the place where it’s happened.
Mary: [00:30:11.33] And actually, that’s so important. And I’m so glad you said that, because sometimes I think I’m the only person thinking that. So that is just wonderful to hear you say that, because I actually think there’s something incredibly powerful. I often have this image of of all of us in our tribe. I do feel that those of us who are on this kind of individual path, who have stepped out of the mists of craziness that we were living in – we’re a tribe in some way. And I think I often imagine if there was enough of us sat quietly and went in and imagined the beautiful world, like Rob Hopkins wrote that beautiful book ‘From what is to what if.’
Yes. we need those images of of beauty and health, healing and potential, because otherwise we’re just all focused on the edge of the cliff, which we’re pounding towards and all of us are. And we keep eating that image with news and all the articles. It’s terrifying because nobody is presenting it in a really kind of mass media way. Nobody is presenting an alternative image for the future.
Manda: [00:31:33.70] I got together with two friends, one of whom is a director on The Matrix. And we are writing a ten season television program of ten minimum 10 episodes per season. So it’s a long term project, but taking us from where we are to a place we could be, that would be that flourishing place. Because there is no roadmap otherwise. Nobody has a clue. We got plenty of road maps of how it could be really bad and there is no roadmap for how it could be good. Sorry, this is an aside. We just need sponsorship. So I am working on that. We just need people who really get it, who are prepared to get behind it and let it run.
Mary: [00:32:15.61] What about crowdfunding. Have you looked at that?
Manda: [00:32:19.00] And we are contemplating that because it’s just that no, we need it, you know. Yeah. Yeah, that would be great.
Mary: [00:32:27.46] Television is a very powerful medium, isn’ it?
Manda: [00:32:29.01] I think it’s our equivalent now of what’s sitting around the fire in the Roundhouse was 2000 years ago. It’s a way of reaching very large numbers of people that are otherwise unreachable, particularly now that nobody’s going to be sitting in a cinema watching a film anymore. But binge watching Netflix is what we do. Instead of sitting around the fire and telling each other stories of the heroes, you know, Cuchulain and anything else. But also the podcast. I am so in love with your book because you talk about intent and the ways that we can connect it to the land. I was particularly struck by your talking about biodynamics and ways of increasing this soil biome as a way of increasing the whole biome. And this is one of my big things. I got into regenerative agriculture, but I didn’t know about the yarrow and the stag liver. So just we’re going to talk a little bit more about gardens, and I’m planning on all of the things. But just tell us about the arrow in the stag liver. Do you remember that?
Mary: [00:33:30.64] But I do remember that, but in a way I’m really sorry I put that in because I didn’t word it very well. Because people who are using biodynamic practices really got upset by it because they thought I was kind of poo-pooing it. And I know it really wasn’t my intent at all.
Manda: [00:33:49.39] And that’s not how it came across to me.
Mary: [00:33:51.02] I tried to claim that, you know, all of these things that we do are based on intent. It’s like when somebody hands you a stone and tells you that it’s going to cure your headache and you believe it, that then it’s done its job. It’s all about convincing our own addled minds that something will happen because actually the power all comes from within us to make these things happen. And it’s not for money or those other things. But you know that, you know, I have Newt and tail of Frog or whatever it is – all of those things were done in order to trick ourselves into believing that something has happened. Because we get in our own way so quickly and so easily, I do it every day, I get in my way every day.
Manda: [00:34:44.24] How do you get out of your way, though, Mary? Because that’s all of us listening. We all know how easy it is to get in our own way.But then some people have tried and tested pathways for getting out of their own way, and I’m thinking you are one of those people, you’ve written books, you’ve created amazing gardens, you set up the website, ‘We are the Ark’, which we’re going to talk about shortly. So you must have also ways of getting out of your own way.
Mary: [00:35:08.77] I don’t every day. I struggle a lot and it’s almost like the more I struggle, the harder it can get some days. So I do find the only way out of it is even when I’m panicking or I’m riddled with anxiety or whatever it is – I focus on what is in this particular room, or in this field or in this moment, that I have to be grateful for? And I force myself to look at the things that I’m grateful for, even if I can’t breathe at that particular moment. And it’s like digging a new channel in your brain because the old ones are so easy to slide down. And we need to constantly work very, very hard to maintain new channels. That don’t remove our power.
I don’t know where all this is going to bring us, but I know that we have the power to change everything instantly if we just believe we do. And I really want to get myself into a place where I can just sit in a room and imagine. And I think if lots of us were doing that, I think it would change everything. I just like you say, we need a roadmap to imagine so that we’re all imagining the same thing, because that will change everything.
Mary: [00:36:38.35] And I think for me, the thing that came from out of lockdown, I went and I live on the side of a hill and I go up the hill and I asked the Hill, ‘What do you want to me?’ Or I asked the world. And what came at that point was that I needed to record a meditation for people to do that does exactly what you said and the key was, that we need to feel our way into a future that feels like the one that we’d really want. We don’t necessarily need to in the beginning, know what it looks like. And we definitely don’t have to think about how we’re getting there, because that way we sidetrack ourselves with all of the ‘Yes buts’.
And so I recorded that and then I began doing it and I found that even now… I sat with the ponies yesterday for about an hour and a half, and even now the bits of me that get in the way going, ‘Yes,but that can’t happen.’ Or ‘Yes, but that’s too complicated.’ or ‘Yes, but everybody’s pulling the other way’ – are huge.
And it takes a lot of time and it takes the belief that it’s worthwhile and that it will work to get to that place inside, that kernel where I can actually feel this place of the future where it’s OK. And I know what it feels like. And I can sit there and from that place, my sense of who I am really shifts. And I think this brings me back to your dream of you as the blue woman. And I’m really interested in the blue and what kind of blue it was and why it was blue – and is that the version of Mary that is living in this future that we can build if we can just connect with it.
Mary: [00:38:10.45] I never thought of it like that.
Manda: [00:38:12.73] And do you think I don’t know what sort of blue was it? We’re going in a bit of a circle. People in the podcast get used to it.
Mary: [00:38:21.19] I would you I know I not good at types of blue. It was the Braveheart kind of blue colour.
Manda: [00:38:41.93] And you know, the thing about woad is it doesn’t make that color often. When I was writing the Boudica books, I had to really look into it. And there’s some amazing things about woad. And if you mix it with egg white, it takes about 90 seconds for the color to begin to develop. So I’m imagining you’re in a ceremony 2000 years ago and the person that you respect most in the world paints these designs on you and you can’t see anything. And then you go out in the light and gradually this color arrives and how amazing that would be. But the really interesting thing is that if you mix the woad with bear fat or goose fat or tallow, which is sheep fat, it comes out as exactly the same color as armies of the world use in their dawn and dusk camouflage. And a spear or a blade will slide off unless it’s really directly straight on. And it has antibacterial properties. So I don’t think they were painting themselves blue, our ancestors. I think they were covering themselves in this amazing dawn, dusk mist-colored because Caesar says, ‘They came out of the mist and we couldn’t see them.
And he says they were covered. They were covered in sky colored paint. They didn’t have a word for blue in Latin. It was sky colored stuff. And they were here at the equinox.And I think the skies at the equinox around here are not blue. The Equinoctial storms are very gray. And so I think they were gray not blue. But but even so, I think that blue for us is a very iconic color of ancientness and wisdom and connectedness.
So there’s so much I want to talk about here. Let’s go back to the thing about the biodynamics I think is interesting. And I really sad if biodynamioc people were offended because I think it’s really inspiring. Because it’s it’s not just intent. It’s also you’re bringing in Yarrow, which is this extraordinary plant. You’re bringing in the power and the energy of the stag. And then as I understood it, you stuff the Yarrow into the stag’s liver. Somehow, I don’t quite understand. Then you hang it up and then you bury it or the other way around. And I’m thinking you then with that are creating the most amazing bacterial cultures that you can then sow on the land as a way of restoring a really diverse biome.
Mary: [00:41:08.87] I guess that’s what they’re doing. But often, I mean, it wasn’t it wasn’t my recipe that I was explaining. I was referring to one that’s standard practice in biodynamic agriculture. So it’s tested. They’ve tested this and it works.
A nd then I have a very simple method of restoring that microbiome in your land by going to an old growth woodland near you and taking a handful of the soil and mixing it into a large container of water. (springwater or rainwater) And maybe put in some molasses to feed the bacteria and the fungi or whatever it is that needs feeding and just keep stirring with the intention of what it is you want to restore, the health of the land or whatever.
And in biodynamics, they stir things into vortexes because it allows the oxygen to reach down into the depths of the body of water and then they go in the direction. And I feel that once you’re using your your thoughts or your words to tell the water what your intention is to hold that for you as well. And then I tell people to stop before they get distracted and bored because then that’s enough. And you don’t want distraction and boredom in the water, you want your clear intent.
And then you don’t leave it for longer than 48 hours and not at twenty four because they start to each other, the microorganisms at that point. So you spray it then on the land and it restores its biome. It’s a very cheap and cheerful method of kicking off the microbiome ecosystem. But the thing I was talking about with the biodynamics is that they often use these methods and I didn’t understand biodynamics enough. Again, that’s another example of my spontaneous dives into things when I’m not quite up to speed, you know, because I get so bloody enthusiastic and I’m so lazy a lot of the time, you know, I just like, oh, my God, I figured it out. And then I go and tell people and then I figure something else out.
Manda: [00:43:29.91] But it feels like it. In the book I read that I thought, oh wow, that sounds really exciting. Let’s do that. Oh, don’t do yourself down.And then if it opens a door to biodynamics for people, that’s great. SO the book was published in 2016. I’m guessing it was written earlier than that because publishing cycles are what they are. So what have you learned since about biodynamics that if you were to update the book, you would put in?
Mary: [00:43:55.32] I learned that I know nothing, but I learn that every day. Every da I learn that I know nothing know. And I suppose what I would do would be if I was going to update the book, I would still hold to the fact that biodynamics are similar to any of those methods which help us believe that something will happen because it helps us get out of our own wayso that we can believe it’s happened.
And once we can steadfastly believe that something is now done, it’s done. I don’t read books about this stuff. So I’m sure that’s actually written really well about it. But I just have a very simplistic and kind of very Irish way of looking at it. It’s just my understanding of plants and now it’s developed into something else. I didn’t realize that I had this really strong connection with animals and creatures. And I’ve been given that indication all along. But I never really grasped it until one day I was sitting at my desk two years ago now, and I’m looking down over my garden. And a fox ran past middle of winter in the middle of the morning. And my kids were going to school and two hares were chasing the fox, which was very unusual. And a little while later, I kept watching and I saw a hedgehog or two running along underneath the hedge in the same direction. And they’re supposed to be asleep and nocturnal. So I got out and I went in the direction they were coming from and across the road at the end of my lane, there was this incredible, beautiful thicket of a field which was impenetrable, full of wild plants and shrubs and trees.
And somebody had got planning permission to build house at the top of the field and they’d gone in with a digger and they cleared the whole thing out to make a garden without any thought for the creatures we’re sharing the land with. And I stood there in absolute horror and realized I have done this myself so many times. And that was kind of the end of one world and beginning of another. And I realized that all these creatures have nowhere left to go. Farming has become toxic in so many ways and habitats are removed to within an inch of their lives to make way for more chemically laden crops. And there’s nowhere safe for them. And the only place they have are gardens and that they don’t have the connections that we need all the wild plants, that there’s a whole very intricate web called the food web that the basis of which is our native plants.
And our gardens are filled with things that are totally not native. And so the whole food web is collapsing and the only place they’ve left are these tiny little pockets of wildness. And we keep removing them without considering who is living there. And that that broke my heart. And I went home and I started writing another book.
And then I realized that was going to take too long. So I set up a website with my friends Claire and Jan and Jo and Ruth, this fabulous illustrator who did the book with me, Ruth Evans. She did lots of illustrations and none of us wanted to make any money out of it. Just all of us are very passionate about what we’re doing. And so we started ‘WeAreTheArk’. And I’m asking people to to build an ARK on their land to give as much of it as they come back to nature – Acts of Restorative Kindness to the Earth. It’s very simple, to put up a sign to give at least half of your garden back if you can.
And it’s really cute because I do ask people to grow their own food as a very much an important part of it because we need to step outside the system that’s killing everything, which is agriculture and horticulture and fishing – industrial fishing is a bloody disaster. So in order to really make a difference, we need to step outside the system. And the only way to do that is to grow your own food or to support local organic box schemes and farmers that are actually regenerative and organic. Otherwise we’re not doing enough. So it’s very simple. They put up a sign saying, ‘This is an Ark’ and the website is written underneath that and people make their own signs. We’re not selling anything.
And it’s become this global movement, which is is suddenly now, ‘Do you have a garden or do you have an ARK?’ And it’s. It’s so simple and people have taken ownership of it and it’s all over the world and it’s just wonderful, it gives people hope.
Manda: [00:48:58.04] And the fact that it is global and people are posting things on Facebook and showing pictures on Instagram, and there’s a guy in the states, Doug Tallamie, who’s an instect specialist is set up the home grown national park. And I was listening to a podcast the other day with someone who said they’d done this in their green desert bit of Indiana. And the neighbors were coming to ask, what are you doing? And then going, how do I do this? And this is the way we create revolutions, because this is something visible and practical. And as you said near the beginning with your garden at Chelsea, people weep to remember their childhoods. And we’re finding over here hedgehogs are almost extinct and people remember that. And it’s cutting across the political boundaries a bit. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just make it OK for the hedgehogs? And that just means spraying a bit less and as you said, eating differently and and stop your garden being a green desert. It’s really interesting. So people, on the website, there are all kinds of ideas of what you can do and and just stop mowing the lawn is the first as far as I can tell.
Mary: [00:50:16.70] Well, if you have a diverse lawn, sometimes people have like green desert lawns, which are like just one species of grass, and then they actually kind of have to scrape it off and so an ARK meadow, which is locally collected, weed seeds or else to patches of native plant islands within the lawn and allow them to spread out from there, because the kind of non-native grasses are really competitive and they won’t allow things to compete with them. So there’s a lot involved but and yet it’s so simple.
And there are certain things that people just don’t understand is that like all this lighting that we have is killing.
Manda: [00:51:04.85] Yes, this was something I had no idea about. So tell us about the lighting, because that’s really interesting. And also something people can just do today.
Mary: [00:51:11.66] Yeah, I don’t know either. But it is like you think I’d have known, but I didn’t know that the blue and white toned LED lights are blinding all the nighttime pollinators. And they’re cutting a massive amount of strands of the food web because now bats don’t have any food, because the moths are disappearing. There are so many nighttime pollinators, which are extremely important for pollination, but also as a food source for so many creatures at night. And without them, the eco-system collapses. So when it collapses, we go too. In Ireland, nature has already collapsed. We’re looking at the remnants of nature. You know, it’s mostly just the sheep ranch now. And that’s just really sad. So we do have to change everything.
So you can change your bulbs in your garden back to an amber tone or just switch them off so that we have darkness. And if you have to have a light, do that thing where it comes on, when when there’s a motion in case you need it, when you come home to get out of your car or something, if you are lucky to have a home in a car. But it’s simple stuff and, you know, start sharing your seeds with your neighbors, start sharing your properties. People are buying up land, create communal ARKS and you know, and it’s all done through other people because I can only take on so much so. And I didn’t want anyone to think that they couldn’t own it. Because this is a movement not a corporate structure in any way.
Manda: [00:53:00.95] Yeah, and it’s beautiful. And you can join the map and you can see there’s all sorts of empowering things here to let people know there.
Mary: [00:53:11.24] Yes, though most people don’t want to put their marks on the map because of food security issues, which I totally understand.But even with us, there’s nine thousand acres on the map as it is, and every tiny window box full of weeds is important. And you get to see all these creatures come to visit you in your window box if you only live in an apartment, you know, and it’s just magical. You’re sharing this earth then with those little creatures and it gives people hope and inspiration. And even if they’ve only given a part of their garden back to nature, when they see what comes to live there, they very, very quickly give the rest of it back.
That’s the best thing about it. They spend their life suddenly with infra red cameras nd suddenly people’s lives have meaning again. Because, of all the creatures in this whole earth, we’re the only ones that don’t have a role in that food web only one. And our only job here is to look after the rest of us. That’s we only get to be here if we look after it. So we are the guardians, right? If we weren’t, we are now. And the point is that if we don’t step up and remember who we are, then we’re screwed. And I think there’s enough of us who have woken up to to shift it and only takes 3.14% of a whole population to shift in consciousness before the whole thing shifts instantly. So that’s not a huge amount. We can do that.
Manda: [00:54:36.40] We can do that. Yes. I didn’t know it was 3.14 That’s really interesting because that’s the first three digits of Pi. That has to be something in that. We’re going to have to stop soon. But I wanted you to talk a bit about the the hedgehog pathways we need to make, because I think, again, that’s something that it’s obvious once you’ve heard it, but it’s not necessarily obvious otherwise.
Mary: [00:55:03.02] You mean between people’s spaces? It’s just that if you have a wall around your garden,or a fence even. So it’s very simple. All you need to do is replace your walls with with living walls which are hedges or if not, get some help and do it safely, but cut a hole in the base of your fence. If you can find someone who will help you do that without collapsing on top of you.
It has to be safe, but do something. It’s not just the hedgehogs. There’s so many creatures that need access because like hedgehogs, I think they have something like a 10 acre territory. And so if they only have access to one garden, they’re screwed. They won’t survive. They’ll starved. And that garden is full of ornamental plants that have no who have not evolved alongside the local food web. Then they won’t have any creatures to eat.
Manda: [00:56:13.60] And if it’s flooded with blue, white light that’s blinding everything, so they’ll die off. There’s all these things that we don’t know. And then if the soil isn’t alive enough. It doesn’t have the worms and there’s nothing for them to eat, then we’re screwed.
Mary: [00:56:25.27] So the wonderful thing about it is how quickly it will recover. So, for example, my friends, Claire and Joe, when I was writing the book, we felt I’ve been doing it for other people, but I need to do it for us. So we built our biggest forest garden there. And then two years ago, they agreed to turn the rest of it into an ARK, but they were already doing it really because they had become so obsessed with the amount of life that had come back, even with the forest garden.
And that’s what happened. So we built a pond and we put in loads of local tree cuttings and shrubs and we allowed the wildflowers to come through because there’s like 5000 weed seeds in every square foot of soil. They just need just a thirtieth of a second of light to be activated. So it’s very simple. They’re all there unless it’s a very damaged piece of land and then you do need to give it more support. But that’s individual kind of situations. But the point is from a four acre horse paddock, which had nothing but short grass and horses know a couple of years later they have owls and peregrine falcons passing through and shrews and hedgehogs and badgers and every type of insect life, every type of bird life you can imagine. It is hopping.
Manda: [00:57:53.29] And a forest garden from which they’re feeding themselves.
Mary: [00:57:56.29] The problem with the forest garden is that the birds are eating everything because there’s so many of them. So they get a lot of food out of it.But mostly they’ve kind of given it to the birds because it’s just so many of them. And they love all those creatures. But they get a lot of fruit out of it and perennial vegetables and stuff. But they also have their polytunnels, which we need in Ireland, really to survive and set up a sustainable system.
Manda: [00:58:24.37] But that’s sounding good because then you’ve got maximum amount of biodiversity on your land. And then and then you can feed yourself in the public tunnel as well.
Mary: [00:58:32.17] Yes, Martin Crawrod has a fabulous forest garden in- we think – Much Wenlock and another in Dartington in Devon. It takes a while for those to get to a point where they are ready to feed you, you know, as well as all the other creatures that are going to race back there because they’re desperate.
Manda: [00:59:01.93] And maybe we need to look at regenerative farming, which which draws in carbon into the soil and builds biodiversity and holds water. Because at last week, we had the most astonishing storms and someone had just plowed a field in the neighboring village. And basically the soil of that field ended up on the road and is gone now. And I mentioned to a local farmer’s daughter that maybe planting some trees would be good. And she folded her arms and said, ‘No, I don’t think you’ll find that’s good because the trees take take the water from the soil under the grass needs.’ And yes, but now there’s no soil because there were no trees. So we need to be having slightly different conversations. And and I’m very bad because I obviously trigger everybody’s Telegraph-reading instincts somehow. But if we can get the regenerative agriculture going and get people off the industrial agriculture, then we can also have the four acre former paddocks that become wildlife havens. That would be fine.
I heard something a while ago, a guy called David Johnson, who’s in university in New Mexico, and he did a calculation that if 40 percent of the world’s surface area that’s given over to industrial agriculture – chemical agriculture -were given instead to regenerative agriculture of the sort that builds the soil, builds biodiversity holds water, we would be at pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide within 10 years.
Mary: [01:00:26.45] Wow, that’s amazing.
Manda: [01:00:28.46] And I think that’s that’s a no brainer. It’s not hard. You get better, more nutritious food. I don’t know if you’ve listened to any of the stuff on glyphosate, but it’s genuinely terrifying how utterly damaging that is to all of us. So you get food that isn’t killing you, or your kids. We get massive increases in soil biodiversity, plant biodiversity, the whole of the food web. And it draws in carbon. So the only thing that happens is that Monsanto goes bust. I think this is a win all round as far as I’m concerned. And I do not understand why we’re not doing it. Other than the fact that Monsanto would go bust and they don’t want it. But it’s worth working for.
Mary: [01:01:08.00] Politicians have been lobbied by these very wealthy corporations, and that’s why.
Manda: [01:01:14.99] But even wealthy corporations are made up of individuals who I bet if we had brought them to your garden in Chelsea, would have wept.
Mary: [01:01:24.77] Yes. And I always say that to people that even in in America, where they have all those really weird what are they called community kind of police on housing, it’s like a collection of the people who live there and they have massive power and you have to have nothing but grass in your front lawn. You have to have a particular type of bird box.
This is the land of the free. This is astonishing. This is a land where libertarianism grows and thrives.
Manda: [01:01:57.65] It’s not the main problem in America because people are not allowed to do anything other than what the local housing association or whatever it’s called deem because they get sued.
So we need to take over the local housing association.
Mary: [01:02:12.93] Maybe, but there will be people within there that have kids that have woken up to the will that like you’re saying, all these people have children. Well, if not all of them, some of them will have children. Enough of them and the kids get it. They have kids or sisters or even themselves. There will be people who will come to a crisis point in their lives like we all do if we don’t cop on and they’ll either wake up and see what’s gone wrong like we have. And either they go back or they get even worse, you know, to cover it all up.
But there are going to be enough people to wake up. I’m sure there are. And we are at crisis point. It has been in place for a long time. But look, it’s kind of an exciting time to be alive. I mean, yes, what I’m not afraid of dying. It’s just kind of strange watching it all happen.
Manda: [01:03:10.63] But it would just be nice not to take everything else with us.
Mary: [01:03:14.20] That’s it. What are we doing? Where’s our kindness? Where’s our compassion for for life on this earth? For people, for creatures that just it’s not OK. So, yeah, we need to fix it.
Manda: [01:03:25.90] Just before we end, I want to end on a slightly more up note. And I’m remembering in the book an experience that you wrote about when you were a child and you went into the field and you couldn’t find your way out. And that seems to me that we’ve been talking about magic all the way through. And there is the the magic that is the focused intent of a mind that knows what it wants with clear integrity. But also there’s just the magic of the land. Can you tell us that story? Do you remember that?
Mary: [01:03:57.44] When I was a little girl, I don’t remember what age I was. It was somewhere between five and seven. I walked up to the top of the farm because nobody knew where you went or where you were all day. You just came back for food and that was it. And I walked into this tiny little field, which was really heavily kind of hedged with gorse and brambles and hawthorns and elders and all that around the outside. And there was about a four metre where my dad would have driven the tractor into it.
And anyway, I remember wandering into it, it was May and I do remember that because I remember the smell of the Hawthorns, which was very strong and memories and smells very strong. And anyhow, I walked into the field and I remember I had a very strong feeling that there was something behind me when I turned around the gap, which I just walk through, which is four metres wide, was gone. It had completely closed. It was just the hedge. It was just more hedge and trees and plants. And I got really scared because that’s very scary for anyone, especially a young child. Yeah, I couldn’t understand what had just happened and I couldn’t find my way out of the field. I wandered around for ages crying and shouting, but it was far nobody could hear me.
And eventually I got distracted by the butterflies and I sat in the middle of the field and and then I calmed down. And then I remember feeling like I was being watched. And I looked up and I realised that the spirits that were watching me were the plants themselves, that they were leaning towards me, hoping that I would recognise them. And I recognised that they all had their own personalities, the same as people. Some of them were grumpy and some of them were happy and some were grumpy and some of them were really bright and some of them were kind of suspicious and they all had their own feeling.
I just didn’t understand it like at the time, It was only when I was writing the book that I had to really think about it and I realized that these plants were part of my family and I was part of theirs because the earth is like a huge, big beating heart, and then we started looking at her in terms of ownership rather than in terms of guardianship. We shattered that heart into millions of tiny pieces and we keep breaking it up.
The bodies of land that we work with are all unique individuals, individualized like we are. And the boundaries of those pieces of land that they’re part of our family, the whatever is within it. And we often have to walk the boundaries and let the piece of land know which part we’re working with to hold the boundaries, which reflects in our own lives. But that’s what happened.
Mary: [01:07:07.26] But you did eventually get out. That was the interesting thing. Well, one of the many intersting things.
Yes, somebody a neighbour’s daughter, an older girl. I don’t know whether she heard me, but she sheltered over the ditch. She must have seen me because she came across a couple of years to see me. And when I looked around and the gap was back and I just wandered home. I didn’t tell anyone about it until later. I did tell my dad when I was 18. And I remember he was quite shocked because the same thing had happened to his granddad in that field a long time ago. So there you go.
Manda: [01:07:41.94] Which is the amazing thing about ancestral land. The the land binds to the families culture. And that’s so easy to lose.
But it’s also possible to recreate it.
Mary: [01:07:57.21] Yes, you can recreate even with a tiny patch. If you’re lucky enough to have one you can really create a very strong relationship with your land, which is powerful because the land attracts in the same type of person that the land itself is like. So with different types of healing that are required it’ll be different. So say my land, which I have now, it’s starting to trust me, but for a long time I could tell it wouldn’t even look at me, wouldn’t even connect with me. It’s was expecting me to abandon the long as it taken sort of a three, four, five years, five years.
Manda: [01:08:42.47] And you’ve been using real intent to connect with it in those five years.
Mary: [01:08:46.13] But it took a lot of work time like that. I mean, I’m a disaster. I kind of have a major patterns of abandonment and rejection and it’s all my fault. But anyway, I’ve been working on the land to fix that. It’s fixed it in myself. That’s the one. And that’s the opportunity that land presents to us. And that’s what my book is about, really.
Yes. And if people don’t own land, as you said, we can form community groups. If every bit of land that came for sale was bought by community groups instead of by Russian oligarchs and big industrial farmers, we would transform the landscape. And it is possible.
Yeah, and create corridors and some kind of a patchwork quilt of hope, really, which is what you need to know.
Manda: [01:09:29.78] Oh, I love that. That can be the title of the podcast ‘A Patchwork Quilt of Hope. So I think we’re going to have to close. Is there anything that you’d like to say to people listening in closing? I think a patchwork quilt of hope is a very good ending. But if there’s anything else that you felt you wanted to say, now is the time.
Mary: [01:09:47.27] Just don’t ever think that anybody else knows more than you. You know, just trust yourself. Everyone’s learning and just to believe in yourself if you can. And I know it’s hard because some people are very difficult lives. But if you do have a garden, you you can get a lot of support there and a lot of a lot of joy. And the ARK movement brings a lot of belonging and hope with us. So it’s so simple if you don’t have to do too much.
So jump on board. Magic. Jump on board and I will link to the ark and to the Facebook group. And there’s the community there, people. And it’s very well worth joining. Yes. So thank you so much. That was that was just actually magical in its truest sense. I am so glad we were able to connect to things.
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