Sustainable Garden Ideas
Creating a sustainable garden
Ironically, although we create green spaces in the landscaping industry, it takes effort and motivation to create a truly sustainable garden. Over the last ten years, I’ve witnessed an increasing demand from clients to create a sustainable garden and gleaned a few ideas along the way. If you’re interested in having a more sustainable garden here are my top ten tips for achieving one:
1. Make your own Compost.
It’s not hard to do and very rewarding! You can create as many bins as space allows. Even in a small garden you can buy composting bins for a small space. Fill the bins with a mix of green and brown waste. Lawn clippings, annual weeds, plant trimmings and other soft material that rots down. Cardboard, old woollen jumpers, kitchen waste (but not food to attract rats) I even add the contents of my hoover! Get the right balance and you will be rewarded with a crumbly compost that will improve the quality of your soil for free!
2. Make your own Leafmould for a sustainable garden
I was talking recently to a gardening friend of mine in Boston, Massachusetts who was telling me about the community waste disposal service. They have a lot of trees in Boston and in the autumn collect the leaves for re-cycling into leaf mould, which can be used for free by gardeners in the area. Leafmould is formed from decaying leaves and produces an invaluable soil conditioner. Obviously you’ll need to have trees in your garden to do this one, but if you have it’s very easy to make. It does not require any special conditions, just collect all the leaves you can gather and put in a wire cage and leave for at least a year. Alternatively, gather the leaves together in black bin bags (I use old compost bags) and leave in a corner to rot down. After about year you will be rewarded with the most excellent, friable, leaf mould full of beneficial nutrients to add to your soil.
3. Re-using fire wood for a sustainable garden resource.
Re-use the contents of your BBQ, bonfire or ashes from your home in the compost. Make sure the wood burned in the fire was untreated/unpainted then the ashes can be composted. It can also be used as a fertiliser, great for spreading round the roots of soft fruits such as raspberries.
4. Re-using coffee grounds.
Another thing to add to the compost heap and let the compost bin do its job. Composting is taking off in the coffee industry as well. Many pods are now designed with the view of being compost-friendly. Adding coffee grounds directly to the soil as a fertiliser can be a good option. Coffee grounds are rich in nutrients, especially nitrogen. They also have some amount of other nutrients like potassium and phosphorous. Overall, this means that adding coffee grounds to your garden can work fairly well as a fertiliser.
Coffee should be spread in a thin layer, rather than being clumped in one place. Spreading it as a thin layer not only spreads out the nutrients, it also reduces the chances of caffeine affecting one particular spot of the garden. An added bonus is that coffee grounds spread round plants you want to protect deter the gardener’s enemy number one -slugs and snails.
5. Garden organically.
Make a deliberate effort not to use any herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. It takes a few years, but once you get the balance right between plants, pests and predators it is very easy to maintain. I have used no chemicals in my garden for over ten years and although there are no doubt some challenges, have found that once you get the biodiversity right in the garden, it is an easy place for plants to thrive rather than being a battleground. As much as possible work with nature by putting the right plants in the right place and getting the soil quality as good as possible.
6. Reduce the amount of plastic in the garden.
Once you start thinking, it’s amazing how much plastic is used to produce plants. To reduce it, think wood instead. Look for wooden or bamboo seed trays and labels. My mother taught me to save ice lolly sticks to use to label plants, it’s a tradition I’ve maintained to this day. Once used I re-cycle them in the compost bin. If you grow your own plants from seed, instead of using plastic pots, try a soil blocker instead or, for growing seeds with a long root system, such as sweet peas, use the cardboard centre of loo rolls. A gardening friend of mine in Norway tells me they give away a perennial plant for every 10 plastic containers returned to her garden centre. What a great idea to copy!
7. Grow your own Herbs.
Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow and even if you just have a windowsill to grow them on. If you grow tender herbs in the garden, pot a few up before the first frosts to grow indoors over winter and freeze others for use all year.
8 Grow your own veg and fruit.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about growing your own food, even if you don’t have a big garden there are ways of doing it. The trend for edible gardening is gathering pace and growers are meeting the increased demand by introducing varieties of fruit trees specially grown for smaller gardens. Trees can be trained as espaliers or fan-shapes against a fence or wall, or, for really small spaces, step-over trees. As the name suggests, the step-over is a low-growing, horizontally-trained tree that can literally be ‘stepped over’ and are surprisingly productive for their size.
9. Save water for a sustainable garden.
If possible, use water gathered in a water butt in the garden. It’s better for the plants and you can save money on the water bill. There are a variety of designs and shapes to suit all gardens and positions and if you want to be super star of sustainability you could try making your own by re-using an old wooden barrel. Use the water sparingly and only when essential. There is usually no need to water an established lawn, after a drought lawns will usually recover.
10. Plant a Tree – the best way to create a sustainable garden!
Without doubt the best thing you can do for a truly sustainable garden is to plant a tree. Even if you only have a small garden, it’s possible to find a suitable tree to fill a little space. The tree that you choose depends on your own taste of course, but if you want a flowering tree, look for one that has been grafted onto a smaller tree, this is quite common with ornamental trees.