Clare Foster looks at the ways you can hone your gardening practices for maximum environmental benefit
Going organic in your garden is the first step in the process of gardening sustainably. This means avoiding chemicals: no chemical weedkillers or pesticides and no artificial fertilisers. If you are struggling to cope with eliminating weeds by hand, then settle for a glyphosate-free, biodegradable weedkiller such as Roundup Naturally or RHS Weedkiller. Artificial, inorganic fertilisers should also be avoided as they can damage the natural microbial life of the soil, but the good news is, there are plenty of organic alternatives. Enrich your soil before planting with well-rotted compost and manure, and feed your plants as they grow with nitrogen-rich comfrey or nettle tea, or an organic seaweed liquid feed. Mulching your beds each spring with a thick layer of compost will add nutrients, suppress weeds and conserve moisture. There are always organic alternatives to chemical pesticides too, from biological controls to soap based sprays, and companion planting in vegetable gardens can often help.
Making your own compost by recycling your kitchen and garden waste is fundamental to sustainable gardening. Not only does it minimize your own household waste for potential landfill, it means that you can produce your own nutritious compost that can be dug back into the soil and used to make your own potting mixes. If you need to buy compost, make sure you choose peat-free brands. Peat bogs are amazing natural carbon-sequesters, and when they are damaged or destroyed, huge amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere.
Biodiversity is the buzz word here, even if you have the tiniest garden space. Think about planting as many different types of plant as you can, from trees and shrubs to grasses and flowers – and grow your own fruit and vegetables for the ultimate locally-sourced food. The greater the range, the greater the variety of insects and other wildlife your garden will support. Planting trees is especially important as they extract carbon from the atmosphere to store in the soil. Pollinating insects are declining at an alarming rate, so plant nectar-rich flowers to attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. Single, scented blooms are more beneficial as many highly-bred double-flowered plants are sterile. Following nurserywoman Beth Chatto’s mantra, always choose the right plant for the right place: in other words, don’t plant shade-loving plants in full sun or moisture-loving plants in a dry gravel bed. With an increasingly tricky climate to manage, go for plants that are known to be tough, wind-resilient and drought-resistant. Also think about your sources for plants and buy from local nurseries propagating their own stock.
Make a concerted effort to go plastic-free in your garden. Avoiding plastic altogether is tricky as most nurseries and garden centres are still using single-use-plastic pots, but if you end up with a stash of them, don’t just throw them away; re-use them year after year for sowing and growing your own plants, or offer them to a gardening friend. Buy wooden or metal seed trays and use coir, cardboard or plant fibre inserts for sowing seeds, or make your own seed pots from old yoghurt pots or cardboard loo rolls. Choose jute twine and netting, wooden or slate plant labels, and buy metal rather than plastic watering cans.
Saving water is fundamental to good gardening practice, and once you have a system in place you can use rainwater for all your watering needs. Fix water butts or recycled galvanized tanks to every rainwater downpipe on your house, garage, shed or greenhouse, or consider an underground water tank for capturing excess water. Use grey water from sinks or baths to water the garden in a drought, and use seep hoses rather than sprinklers for a more efficient watering system. Only water the plants that really need it: watering your lawn is not necessary even in a drought. It may go brown, but it will always recover. Finally, use drought-tolerant plants and mulch frequently (see above) to avoid having to water too often.
Hard landscaping and furniture
When creating a garden, avoid the excessive use of concrete in hard landscaping and choose local, natural materials where possible. Build dry-stone wall features or plant hedges to create boundaries (both host plenty of wildlife) and use recycled or local stone for paths. When buying wooden furniture look for FSC certification and try and find out where the timber has come from. Buy all-weather rattan that has been made from recycled polyethelene, or second hand furniture that you can restore and bring back to life.
Finally - be thoughtful
Think about the provenance of absolutely everything you put into your garden, from pots and furniture to paving and plants, and you’ll be a step closer to creating a garden that will give back to the environment as much as it gives to you.
Written by Clare Foster
This article originally appeared on House & Garden UK.