Now, more than ever, our gardens are facing the challenge of rapidly-changing climactic conditions and a decline in biodiversity. Find out how to help tackle the problem with this guide to creating an eco friendly garden by Kristina Clode.
At this year’s SGD Awards, Kristina was awarded both the prestigious Judges’ Award and the Design for the Environment Award for her sensory garden at Sedlescombe Primary School in East Sussex. Built almost entirely by volunteers, the garden includes a range of wildlife-friendly plants to increase biodiversity and drought-tolerant plants to reduce the need for watering.
The judges praised the garden for being “sustainable in its widest senses, not only in terms of the use of materials and well-chosen planting, but in terms of its longevity. [It provides] an exceptional learning environment to teach children about the environment and a great example of what garden design is all about.”
Create mixed borders with trees and shrubs to provide a sheltered habitat for birds and add height and structure to your borders. Underplant these with perennials, grasses and bulbs to increase biodiversity, extend the season of interest and provide ground-cover for small mammals and insects.
Top tip: It is beneficial to grow self-seeding biennials in your borders such as evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and verbascum, as they produce lots of seed for birds and their woody stems provide the perfect winter habitat.
Don’t be too tidy. Hold off cutting back perennials and grasses until late winter or early spring and allow fallen leaves to decompose on your borders. This will give precious nutrients back to the soil with help from worms.
Seedheads and stems of plants such as Phlomis russeliana are enhanced by frost and add structure and interest in winter. Meanwhile, stems and leaf litter provide hibernation opportunities for insects and cover for small mammals over winter.
Top tip: Leave a few piles of deadwood around the garden to decompose naturally as this is great for insects and fungi.
Replace your lawn, or even part of it, with a perennial wildflower meadow or species-rich turf. It doesn’t need to be a huge area and the benefits for wildlife are huge.
Top tip: Even mowing your lawn less regularly and not treating it with mow & grow will allow some wildflowers to flower.
Include a wildlife pond in your garden, even if it is only small. Plant the edges with aquatic and marginal plants to help oxygenate the pond and keep it naturally clear. If you don’t add fish, the pond should reach a natural equilibrium.
Ponds bring gardens to life. Wildlife such as pond skaters, dragonflies, newts, frogs and toads will simply appear after quite a short period of time. In turn, this will encourage predators such as bats and you may even be lucky enough to spot a grass snake!
Top tip: Make sure you feature a sloped area inside your pond to allow wildlife to climb out. You could even attach a bog garden in which to grow Jurassic-looking perennials.
Plant a mixed native hedge at your boundary. Birds will nest in it and smaller mammals will take cover at its base. If you allow the hedge to flower, berries will follow in the autumn and provide food for wildlife.
Top tip: Allow weeds to grow at the hedge’s base. Even the odd nettle offers fantastic food for butterflies and seeds for birds.
Don’t over-light your garden at night. Nocturnal animals such as bats, owls, hedgehogs and moths are greatly affected by artificial light. It affects their body clocks as well as the proximity of prey available to them.
Top tip: It is unnecessary to turn any garden lights on at all unless you are actually in it.
Do not use any form of pesticide, herbicide or insecticide in your garden. These chemicals are harmful to every living organism, including humans. Insects are suffering a massive and catastrophic decline on account of chemicals, while birds and other animals feed on insects and sprayed vegetation, thus spreading the decline of all living things.
Top tip: No home gardener needs to use these products. There are alternative, organic ways of gardening that we can adopt to transform our green spaces into safe havens.
Compost your garden waste. The compost bin itself will be home to huge numbers of insects and the resulting compost will be rich in nutrients.
Additionally, if you need to buy compost then make sure it is peat-free. Peat bogs are disappearing at an alarming rate. These irreplaceable ecosystems hold huge scientific importance and store large amounts of carbon in the ground.
Top tip: We don’t need peat in our compost!
Opt for natural and locally-sourced hard landscaping materials. These will be easy to recycle when you do eventually replace them and buying locally will cut down your carbon footprint.
Top tip: Where possible, choose permeable materials such as gravel, paving stones or clay pavers laid with permeable joints. This allows rainwater to return to the ground rather than fill up already-overburdened drains.
Plant the right plant in the right place. Use drought tolerant plants in dry soil so you don’t have to irrigate them once they are established. Mulch the ground around your plants with gravel, bark chips or even peat free compost – this will help to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.
Attach water butts to your downpipes so you can spot water where needed using your own collected rain water. Plants prefer this to tap water.
Top tip: Make a rain garden by diverting your down-pipes to a bog garden and pond. Keep groundwater on site to minimise the amount of water that goes to processing plants.
The SGD Awards is an annual awards programme organised by the Society of Garden Designers to reward outstanding achievement in the garden design profession. It covers all aspects of design from private gardens to public spaces.
The SGD is the UK’s professional organisation for garden designers – find a garden designer for your project at sgd.org.uk