Here in the UK, the growing season is in full swing with gardeners up and down the country planting out seedlings lovely coaxed from seeds, or planting ready to go plants from garden centres. You might think that gardening couldn’t possibly be bad for the environment, however many traditional methods can in fact be damaging and unsustainable.
Gardens are an increasingly important part of the natural environment, and as gardeners, we can all help tackle both the causes and effects of climate change, right on our doorsteps. Integrating sustainability into your garden has never been more important, with the loss of biodiversity and the threat of global warming this is a crucial time to act.
Luckily there is a range of ways that you can help to improve your local environment with methods such as looking after the soil, managing water, planting with the environment in mind and helping to prevent pollution by reducing harmful chemicals.
Reduce your lawn
You might look out proudly across your perfectly manicured lawn and think that all that green must be good for the environment, however, when we converted our hard to maintain wild gardens into perfect lawns we dramatically reduced the biodiversity in our gardens and started using too much water and too many chemicals to maintain it.
Lawns have now crowded out native plants and wildlife habitats, and the noise and exhaust from mowers and strimmers fill the air. With some thoughtful plant selection and placement, you can reduce your lawn by at least 25%, enjoy less maintenance and still boast a garden that is neat and well cared for while at the same time providing a more diverse habitat for birds and pollinators.
When I was gearing up for this year’s growing season last year, I decided one thing I had to include in my garden was a rainwater collection system to provide me with a free, sustainable source of water which I could use to sustain my plants.
Rain gardens, swales, French drains, and rain barrels or cisterns are inexpensive ways to harness and control rainwater. I have installed 2, 210-litre water butts which are connected to the guttering on my house. They collect and store water which I then use in the garden. For areas of your rain gutters where a spout won’t work, try attractive and decorative rain chains, combined with other control methods.
A butt gives you a ready supply of water for all your gardening needs, even when the occasional hose pipe ban is in place due to summer drought. They are an ideal source of water for your flower beds, greenhouse and hanging baskets. Don’t forget, rainwater is better for plants, lawns, flowers, fruit and vegetables than tap water as it contains wholesome nutrients, unlike tap water which is often treated with chemicals and chlorine.
Build a compost heap
Another important addition to my garden for this year was my compost heap. You would be surprised at how easy it is to start producing your own super nutritious compost that can be used to support your plants.
You can put any plant-based materials into your compost heap. Think vegetable peelings, fruit waste, teabags, plant prunings and grass cuttings. It makes more sense to put them into a compost pile than let them go to waste! Don’t include any animal products (meat, dairy, eggs), any of these in your compost will lead to unwanted pests and smells. Compost piles are easy to make, or you can buy ready-made ones. When your compost is ready you’ll have a dark brown, almost black soil-like layer at the bottom of your bin – that’s why they call it ‘black gold!’.
If you really want to go all out you could try a composting toilet. A composting toilet treats sewage onsite, recycling nutrients into fertiliser that you can use it in the garden.
Encourge native plants
Although it might be tempting to purchase exciting, exotic plants to put in your garden consider encouraging native plants. Native plants are beautiful, often giving just as much visual pleasure as exotic ones. They are lower maintenance and use less water, as they are where they’re meant to be. That means a reduced need for pesticides and artificial plant foods. That’s healthier and cheaper for people too.
Native plants are especially important because they evolved to support the ecological systems around them, including butterflies, bees, beetles, birds and other wildlife. Many native plants have edible fruit, berries, nuts, or roots. Examples include pecans, blackberries, wild blueberries, plums, crabapples, red mulberry, ground nut, and many others.
Encourage natural predators
No matter how small your garden or vegetable plot is you should encourage it to have a self-regulating ecosystem in place to control pests and keep your plants healthy. The simplest way to create this ecosystem is to plant a range of plants which attract natural predators that feed on pests.
Encouraging birds in your garden will help to reduce the number of slugs, snails, grubs, wireworms, caterpillars and insects that may chomp away on your plants. Whereas hedgehogs, frogs and toads will eat up slugs and snails, beetles and insects. Just add bird feeders and nesting boxes or have a wild area of your garden to encourage these preditors.
I recently purchased 200 native British Adalia bipunctata ladybird larvae and released them in my garden, specifically on my lemon tree which always suffers from bugs! The larvae will eat aphids such as black/whitefly, and will also help boost the local population of these lovely pest eating helpers.
Organic pest control techniques go well with sustainable gardening and are beneficial to the environment. By not using chemical pesticides, the predator and prey cycle remains unbroken. The natural predators are able to do their job and rid the garden of pests.
Eco-friendly gardening has many benefits for both people and the planet, and you can make a difference in even the smallest garden. Everyone has the opportunity to make a positive impact, so try your hand at these 5 methods to make your gardening more sustainable this growing season.