Earlier this year, Richmond Barracks welcomed our very own Eco-Gardener in Residence – Polly Rowley-Sams!
Polly hosted some bio-diversity and gardening classes last year, and will be hosting some new workshops soon.
We wanted to get to know Polly better so we sat down for a chat about yurt building, biodiversity, how to bring wildlife into your garden, and lots more …
Could you tell us a bit about what you do?
I do a couple of different things. I’m a yurt maker and a builder, so I work in construction and do renovations of older properties, and bits of landscape gardening, and that type of thing. And I tend to work in as natural a way as possible, like with natural materials. I’m also an artist, an educator, and a performance artist – my degree was in performance art. As an educator, I’ve used that art to educate and to inform. I used to work with the Edinburgh International Science Festival for three years doing educational work. And now I’m the Eco-Gardener in Residence at Richmond Barracks!
You moved to Dublin at the end of 2019, what brought you here?
I’ve always liked this country when I visited here. I came to do a job for Electric Picnic – myself and my father, who I was an apprentice to making yurts, and we built a little yurt sauna and I took that over about 11 years ago. So from visiting with the traveling sauna, I really liked the culture, because I thought it was a great culture that encouraged creativity. I found that the culture was quite protected here and quite encouraged. So that’s why I moved here.
What’s your favourite thing about your work?
I quite like the infinite possibilities. The idea that you’ve got all these variables, all these individual humans including myself, and we don’t know what is going to come of that [when we work together in a class or workshop] and it’s a very rich resource. I think that’s really been apparent with young people [I’ve worked with at Richmond Barracks] because they have brilliant imaginations and unbounded imaginations. So it’s thrilling and it’s exciting to work with them.
How do you define biodiversity, and why is it important?
We, as human beings, are part of an invisible network, and we’re connected in many different ways to lots of species – plants, animals and invertebrates, by these invisible connections.
So that’s why biodiversity is important not just from the human perspective, but also because of the eco services like freshwater – these are very important key factors that we collectively need to be alive.
What can people expect on some of your courses?
They can expect time with their hands in the soil. To learn about ways to keep pests away without using harmful chemicals that might wash into water systems. They will also learn about some native species, how to attract more living creatures into the garden, and much more.
People seem to get great pleasure from working with nature, why do you think that is?
There’s so much that we don’t know but I certainly think, if you look at anecdotal information and people’s opinions, people feel better [working in nature] – it makes them feel better. And we live in very strange times where there are lots of unknowns and there are quite a lot of pressures from the external world, so I think that we should value taking pleasure from activities [that involve nature].
What’s your favourite thing about Richmond Barracks Garden?
In terms of the plants and animals in the garden, I love the bee hives. They’re very safely tucked away but it’s a little thriving, buzzing, humming area. And as you go around you’ll see those little honeybees on lots of the plants and lots of the flowers like lavender.
Meadowsweet is a beautiful frothy creamy flower and it smells delicious. But if you break the stem it almost smells a little bit like Germolene, so it’s very medicinal.
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to reminding the people who take time to attend my courses how to communicate with the natural world. I will be encouraging real communication with the natural world, particularly listening to what is going on. These have been lonely times and I think it’s exciting that we have been given the gift of spending more time locally and beginning to have healthy conversations with the non-human world. I see [a change] in peoples faces when they describe what’s happening in their gardens and local environment.
Do you have any top tips for anyone who wants to bring biodiversity into their garden?
I’d say leave areas wild. So think about ways that you can have a beautiful garden and still leave maybe areas that are grown. Could you leave a foot border around your lawn? Could you bring in some winter feed for the birds? Things like fat balls, seeds, mealworms – could you bring in some extra calories for the visiting wildlife in that way?
Also, I’d encourage people to put in ponds, if you have space, even just a little one – dig a whole, line it, and bring in a couple of plants and maybe some frogspawn. And I think I’d say try not to use pesticides. Instead, try to companion plant so put some garlic in there or something that you know might deter insects.
Huge thanks to Polly for chatting with us. We’re really looking forward to the time when we can welcome you all back to the Richmond Barracks garden. Keep an eye out for more workshops coming from Polly soon. Sign up to our newsletter if you’d like to be the first to know!
Note: This interview was condensed and edited for brevity.