Dominion and the blessing of the garden
Alan Titchmarsh defends the traditional garden against rewilding
Alan Titchmarsh is a well-known gardener and TV personality in the UK. He has recently defended the traditional well managed garden that exists in Britain. This defence was in response to environmental campaigns that seek to rewild many of our gardens, parks, and countryside. Titchmarsh stated in a written representation to the British Parliament’s House of Lords that a carefully kept garden actually attracts more insects, birds, and small mammals than those areas of land that have been set aside for rewilding purposes. In other words, human activity, far from harming the environment, actually increases bio-diversity, and provides food and shelter for many more months of the year.
“Domestic gardens and well-planted parks offer an opportunity to all forms of wildlife—be they birds seeking nesting sites in hedges, berried plants that provide winter food, or shrubs that offer shelter to mammals.”1
This is borne out of his own gardening experience; he had set-aside two acres of land to grow according its own devices.
“Domestic gardens, with their greater plant diversity, offer sustenance and shelter to wildlife from March through November. Nine months of nourishment. A rewilded garden will offer nothing but straw and hay from August to March. A four-month flowering season is the norm. … This is at odds with my experience as the custodian of a two-acre wildflower meadow and garden. … The garden is patently richer—and for longer—in the variety of insect and bird species it sustains.”1
He also drew attention to prejudice that exists against imported plants; florae which have actually helped to increase diversity of species in the UK.
“I find it worrying that misleading propaganda suggests only native plants are of any value to wildlife and the environment. … Domestic gardeners have a duty to ensure the survival of this unparalleled resource. … Should a current fashionable and ill-considered trend deplete our gardens of their botanical riches then we have presided over a diminution in biodiversity of catastrophic proportions.”1
The Garden of Eden
The Bible also speaks well of the garden—in fact, God planted the first garden in Eden to be a place where Adam and Eve could live and have fellowship with their Maker. And still today, Christian believers often feel closer to God surrounded by the beauty of creation—the garden being a place where the splendour of God’s remarkable design and handiwork is blended with human endeavour and thought. As Rudyard Kipling put it: mankind has been called to be a “partner in the Glory of the Garden”, and just like the gardener Adam, so “half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees”, which leads on to a life of prayer.2 The New Testament also speaks of our heavenly Father being a gardener, the one who prunes the branches of the vine (Christ’s followers) so that they become more fruitful.
Following Adam and Eve’s creation, and placement in the garden, the first couple were given authority over the rest of creation in terms of managerial responsibility, or dominion [רָדָה radah]. We have previously discussed dominion in greater depth in relation to conservation versus evolution, and questions around the rewilding of animals. There are further examples where human intervention has been shown to be beneficial: the careful management of cattle herds in Africa helps to maintain grazing land and prevents the growth of the Sahara desert,3 and the reduction in fuel loads and the formation of fire breaks reduces the impact of wildfires. The Bible records the dominion mandate as follows.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ … And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26, 28).
However, because of Adam and Eve’s Fall, the work in maintaining the garden became more arduous—Adam’s curse fell upon the ground:
“ .… cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” Genesis 3:19.
The Fall of course impacts all of us because of sin, as we are the sons of daughters of Adam and Eve, but there is at least the prospect of finding peace, forgiveness, and fellowship with God through repentance and prayer—we can also find pleasure in enjoying the beauty of the worked garden (Titchmarsh has also called for gardeners to not mow the lawn on a Sunday, so as to allow people to enjoy their day of rest).
This evidence reinforces the biblical mandate that people have been called to be good stewards of the world in which we all live. Although the dominion mandate has sometimes been seen as exploitation and subjugation, God has designed the world to be a place where human beings can enhance the ecosystem through intervention. As Titchmarsh’s testimony shows, the ‘dominion mandate’, utilised in managing gardens and parks, actually increases biodiversity, not lessens it. On the other hand, naïve environmental campaigns that seek to rewild nature may reduce biodiversity instead—abandoning the well-ordered garden in favour of something less managed is counter-productive.
The Bible asserts that humans have been given dominion over the creation, not to exploit it selfishly, but to allow both humanity and nature to flourish. God has designed the creation to be a place where people and animals can live in harmony when we take seriously our calling to be good stewards of nature.
References and notes
- Fernandez, C., Alan Titchmarsh warns that trendy ‘rewilded’ gardens are ‘catastrophic’ for wildlife and reduce biodiversity, Dailymail.co.uk, 17 July 2023 and Ng, K., Alan Titchmarsh warns against ‘ill-considered’ rewilding trend in domestic gardens, independent.co.uk, 17 July 2023. Return to text.
- Kipling, R., ‘The Glory of the Garden’ in A School History of England, Clarendon Press, Oxford pp. 249–250, 1911. Return to text.
- Lillie, B., Fighting the growing deserts, with livestock: Allan Savory at TED2013, blog.ted.com, 27 Feb 2013. Return to text.