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Greening your garden
We think gardens are a major way individuals can help the environment. Having a properly varied garden, rather than putting decking out all over it or turning it into a car port, helps reduce CO2 emissions, as well as increasing biodiversity and reducing flooding.
It is also better for your mental health!
As undeveloped land has become scarcer in England, especially the South East, gardens have been developed with summer houses, giant sheds, and now actual houses, causing serious flooding problems. The former London Ecology Unit carried out an analysis of aerial photographs taken in 1981 and found that private gardens comprise about 20% of Greater London, or about 30,000 hectares. The mosaic of different sized gardens across London or any city is now recognised as providing valuable habitat for a large and important number of our common animals.
The Labour Government as spent 2 million GBP on an investigation by planners and academics into 'urban densification'. This report (2006) has called for a doubling of the current density of developments in suburban areas.
The report has also declared 'considerable potential' for back garden development, recommended that back gardens of more than 30 metres should be sold off for building.
It is estimated that two-thirds of all brownfield housing development is now taking place on former gardens. This is due to a change in planning advice on gardens provided by central Government.
This will have a major effect on biodiversity and also flooding and sewage systems.
These ideas about greening your garden are suitable for all sizes of gardens. The location of nearby wild areas or parks will have a big effect on visiting wildlife, but no garden is too small - even on a balcony or in a window box!
Mention them if you are using a landscape gardener or company as they may not be aware of your concerns. Any good landscape gardener should conduct an extensive design consultation in which you can explore these ideas.
What to do in your garden
Types of plants
Some plants are better than others in helping a variety of creatures co-exist.
Ivy is a seasonally important source of nectar and berries, and provides nesting and roosting habitats for birds. It is also the caterpillar food plant for the holly blue butterfly.
Pyracantha, hawthorn and female holly provide autumn and winter berries for thrushes.
Some plants are actively bad thought, such as any double-flowered varieties which produce no nectar, making them useless to insects except as cover.
Some may be harmful to wildlife, such as non-native problem species such as parrot's feather, and the Spanish bluebell, which hybridises with the UK's native bluebell.
Otherwise any shrubby plant is good, the larger the better. We prefer those without long tropical waxy leaves as they provide more habitat.
One of the causes of the decline of some species, such as birds and hedgehogs, is the use of pesticides. These are now used liberally on most gardens, whereas 20 years ago their domestic garden use was rare.
Pesticides reduce available food, such as snails and slugs which are eaten by song thrushes and hedgehogs, amongst others.
They also have more direct effects as insecticides will kill beneficial insects as well as the target species.
Organic gardening is better all round and much more fun to do.
Gardening, especially the natural variety, is a great way to introduce children to the joys of nature, in a safe relaxed way. This is another reason to not deck over your garden for the 'barbecue and the kids', since children are losing a major life influence when you do so.
Why not have a special area set aside for children, their own patch, perhaps in an old Belfast sink? They will take great pleasure and learn a lot from tending and observing the growth and creatures.
See our other page on how to make it.
Once you have made your compost, it's time to use it in your new eco-friendly garden. Just dig it in as soil mix to add vitality.
This is very popular as it is low maintenance and is good for garden furniture, parties, childrens' tricycles, etc. However keep to a bare minimum as it is very bad for any green effect you might be after. It has to be varnished and cleaned, and takes up space which could be natural. It also contributes to excess rain becoming flood water.
If you have a little decking:
Disease and pest control
Newer products are becoming more eco-friendly as consumer demand increases. So it is worth asking for it at the store.
Slugs and snails
Disliked by gardeners everywhere, even eco ones. Slugs can be very attractive though when colourful. To another slug, that is!
The natural way is to bring in some of their predators. Ladybird larvae are available by mail order. Encourage ladybirds into your garden by providing them with a safe environment to breed and hibernate, such as bug boxes, or wooden clutter.
One brick wall we built in a garden one summer attracted literally hundreds of pupae, scattered all over. The pupae soon hatched and the ladybirds emerged to fly off and eat those aphids.
This can be helpful in keeping pests away from your food crops. It is when two or more plants are grown in closely together so that they provide some benefit to one or all. Some plants exude protective chemicals called allelochemicals from their roots or foliage which deter or act as a decoy for pests and diseases.
Keep your plants healthy and avoid disease
Mulches are coverings put on the surface of garden or field soil. Simple and very effective for many reasons:
Organic mulches include:
How to mulch Apply the mulch around plants, leaving a some space between the mulch and plant for air circulation, and over bare earth in beds and pots.
Mulch vegetable gardens once the soil has warmed in the spring.
Don't apply mulch to cold and wet soil.
To protect against frost, mulch with straw or hay in winter.
This is an important topic and should be dealt with professionally or you might end up with floods.
Water soakaways - ground sinks for excess water with packed with gravel to assist drainage and slow release of water - need to be designed when you change your garden.
You probably do not know the existing soakaway system which would have been designed in and left buried. Builders will be able to find where they are.
Front gardens - there is a big increase in local flooding in cities due to non-absorbant concreted or asphalted parking areas, which increase run-off during heavy rain into the sewerage system. New incentives are being brought in to make sure all front gardens are porous. Planning permission will be needed for non-permeable paving very shortly.
Various other changes are also coming in such as removing phosphates from washing powders as these cause a lot of water pollution.
Use recycled slabs. Slabs should be laid on beds of recycled stone chips or bark chips so that water can drain away and not flood.
There are many types of plantable surfaces for parking, such as Grasscrete, a grassed cellular paving in both concrete and plastic. These are much better than just concreting over the front garden for a car.
Even stones are better than straight concrete or asphalt.
Use a water butt or tank to collect run-off water from the roof of your house.
This is much cheaper than installing a full greywater system and works well for a garden.
An average sized garden butt will fill very rapidly in rainy weather so make sure it can overflow safely.
Also use greywater from boiling eggs, fishtanks, anything to hand. Plants like this as it has some nutrients.
Xeriscape - a landscape for water saving, or landscaping in ways that do not require supplemental irrigation, by using plants that require less water. You can also use objects for decoration such as rocks, bricks, benches and gravel, which retain moisture underneath, and provide shade.
This is an good idea in the south of England, where the climate increasingly suits Mediterranean plants.
Garden ponds and water features
These are a good idea as they attract frogs etc. and also provide water to other small animals.
Be careful of standing water as this can be a breeding area for mosqitoes. Any pumps should be solar powered, which are also easier to run as low maintenance.
Buy used (recycled) tools and furniture
When you are buying tools, pots, planters, glass items, and other accessories, buy second-hand or recycled.
Buy tools with wooden handles not plastic - they are more sustainable and look nicer too.
Both water features such as pumps for waterfalls and outdoor lighting which use small solar photovoltaic (PV) cells for power are readily available from garden suppliers.
Grow your own food
Growing fruit and vegetables is great fun and also:
This is a system combining home, garden and lifestyle into an eco-system that makes use of its own waste products. To quote Bill Mollison, the founder of permaculture:
'Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. The design principles are equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers.'