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First, Dare to Be Wild

by Joyce McGreevy on July 25, 2016

The Art of Gardening to Save the World

A close-up prairie flower in Chicago's Lurie Garden reflects the trend toward wild gardening. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Up close, a wildflower is a world.
© Joyce McGreevy

Here’s what happens when landscape designers dare to be wild. Lavender hyssop, maroon prairie smoke, blue quamash, and frothy calamint run rampant in all directions. The work of creative problem solvers, wild gardening centers you in the heart of nature.

Native spiderwort flourish in Chicago's Lurie Garden, thanks to wild gardening. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Native spiderwort and wild grasses grow knee-high in Midwestern fields.
© Joyce McGreevy

A Wild Surprise

Now, look skyward. See the skyscrapers. You’re standing in the center of America’s third largest urban area. Welcome to Chicago, city of wild surprises.

Laurie Garden, Chicago, IL is the work of creative problem solvers who dare to be wild. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Meadows in an ultra-urban setting draw 4 million visitors
annually to Lurie Garden, Chicago.
© Joyce McGreevy

Wild in the City

The urban oasis of Lurie Garden is part of a cultural trend toward New Wave Planting. Inspired by wild gardening, this relaxed style makes plant design less controlled and geometric than conventional gardens.

As Lurie Garden expert Noel Kingsbury wrote in Planting: A New Perspective, “When people say they want some nature, what they usually mean is a particular vision of nature, one that looks nice, fitting in to a distinctly human-centered idea of what nature is or should look like…. The task for the gardener or designer is to create an enhanced nature… one that supports biodiversity and looks just a little bit wild.”

Wild Irish Dreams

Chicago is also where an Irish lawyer dreamed of wild gardens. Says Vivienne DeCourcy, “After 20 years in a Chicago high-rise, I craved the wild West Cork landscapes of my childhood summers.”

Lough Hyne, Co. Cork, Ireland inspires Vivienne DeCourcy, writer-director of DARE TO BE WILD. Image © Joyce McGreevy

Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first marine nature reserve. epitomizes
the beauty of wild nature in West Cork. © Joyce McGreevy

Meanwhile, she wrote 16 screenplays, each reflecting her longing to affirm the wild beauty of our fragile planet.

In 2004, DeCourcy returned to Baltimore—no, not in Maryland, but southwest Ireland, where the place-name originates. It’s an Anglicization of Baile Tí Mhóir, Irish for “town of the big house.”

DeCourcy’s home, nestled into a mountain that sweeps down to the sea, inspired visions of a wild garden that invited the outdoors in.


Vivienne DeCourcy's home in Ireland reflects her love of wild gardening. Image © Vivienne deCourcy

DeCourcy “pictured native plants articulated into the vast landscape of Roaring Water Bay . . .”
© Vivienne DeCourcy

Sunset above Roaring Waters Bay, Ireland, home of creative problem solver and filmmaker Vivienne DeCourcy (DARE TO BE WILD). mage © Vivienne deCourcy

“ . . . And a moated effect around the house that would light up the living room at sunset.”
© Vivienne DeCourcy

Tiny Seed, Big Screen

When DeCourcy finally found the one landscape designer who understood her vision, her dream of wild Irish gardens became a cinematic vision. The extraordinary life of designer Mary Reynolds inspired DeCourcy’s movie Dare to be Wild.

Irish landscape designer Mary Reynolds advocates for wild gardening . Image © Dara Craul/ Mary Reynolds

Self-described “reformed landscape designer” Mary Reynolds
urges gardeners to work with nature, not control it.
© Dara Craul/ Mary Reynolds

By the time production wrapped a decade later, it had involved several Academy Award winners: producer Sarah Johnson (Birdman), costume designer Consolata Boyle, and musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (Once). Acclaimed Irish musician Colm Mac Con Iomaire composed the score.

Emma Greenwell and Tom Hughes star in Dare to Be Wild, Vivienne DeCourcy's film inspired by the wild gardening of Mary Reynolds. Image ©Vivienne deCourcy

Tom Hughes and Emma Greenwell star in Dare to Be Wild, a film written and directed by creative problem solver Vivienne deCourcy. Image © Vivienne deCourcy

Emma Greenwell and Tom Hughes portray Mary Reynolds and Christy Collard
in the upcoming independent film Dare to Be Wild.
Both images © Vivienne deCourcy

A love story based on true events, Dare to be Wild has more twists than a corkscrew hazel tree. Ranging from the green hills of Ireland to the arid mountains of Ethiopia, it centers around London’s famed Chelsea Flower Show.

The Olympics of Gardening

This isn’t just any garden show, but the Olympics of gardening. In 2002, Reynolds, unknown and unemployed, became the youngest person in history to win Chelsea’s coveted Gold Medal for garden design. Among the finalists Reynolds bested for the prize was HRH Prince Charles.

Reynold’s “Celtic  Sanctuary” featured hundreds of wild plant species, a traditional drystone wall, monumental stone chairs, and a fire bowl–all of it transported to England and built in three weeks.


A Celtic Sanctuary scene from DARE TO BE WILD reflects the film's focus on wild gardening. Image © Vivienne DeCourcy

Recreated for the film Dare to Be Wild, Reynold’s “Celtic Sanctuary”
shook up design circles with its iconoclastic style.
© Vivienne DeCourcy

Now Reynolds and DeCourcy are on a mission to protect the planet.  Reynolds has authored The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves. The wild gardening book became an overnight bestseller in the UK and, with advance screenings of Dare to Be Wild, was rapturously received in Japan.

Fans of Reynolds’ book include Jane Goodall—yes, that Jane Goodall:

Wild Buzz

Meanwhile, DeCourcy is generating buzz. As a passionate advocate for the bees that nurture wildflowers and food plants, she wants people to rethink the conventional culture of gardening.

Irish filmmaker and writer Vivienne deCourcy is a creative problem solver with a love of wild gardening. Image © Vivienne deCourcy/ Dr. Michael Sheehan

“We need to throw a lifeline to the wilderness,” says DeCourcy,
echoing a line from her screenplay.
© Vivienne DeCourcy/ Dr. Michael Sheehan

“Only by experiencing the wonder of wild nature locally can we appreciate what’s at stake and be moved to protect wild nature globally.”

One way to do this, she says, is to replace conventional lawns with clover.

“The typical lawn is a matte green desert that guzzles chemicals. It cannot support a single bee—a creature responsible for one in every three bites of food we take.”

But a clover lawn is a habitat, where nature’s balance can thrive. “It supports a myriad of pollinators, only needs mowing once a year, and, being chemical-free, presents no toxic downside.”

The grounds of Lismore Castle, Ireland showcase the beauty of wild gardening. Image © Joyce McGreevy

At Lismore Castle, Ireland, one of DeCourcy’s favorite gardens,
wildness receives a royal welcome.
© Joyce McGreevy

A Wild Idea

Suddenly, a smile lights DeCourcy’s face. “Imagine your clover lawn, then a hundred of them, and then thousands, and you can see how easily we could create a sanctuary for our friends the bees.”

“Oh, I see”: The seed of a wild idea can grow into gardens around the world.

DeCourcy and Reynold’s wild ideas took root in Ireland, spread to Ethiopia, and flourished in England and Japan. Now they inspire gardeners everywhere. That’s what happens when creative problem solvers dare to be wild.

See the trailer for Dare to Be Wild here. Follow it here.

Meet Reynolds here and discover her gardens here.

Explore Chicago’s Lurie Garden here

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here




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