Sustainable Gardening Ideas

I love our planet, I love plants and nature.  I want to protect our environment.  I want to live more sustainably.  Sustainability is not a new desire for me, it is something that I have always aspired to.  Firstly though I must tell you that I am far from perfect, I make mistakes and I am always learning.  I want to improve, I want to make changes to live more sustainably and to live ethically.  I want to learn more and give more to our planet.  I want to do more to improve things and make things better for the environment and for each one of us.  As I discover more sustainable ways of living, I will gladly share these ideas with you – I will link any similar articles I write to this one, so the information is easier to find.

Gardening

When I was a child it was always my dream that when I grew up I would purchase a forest, or a meadow.  Ideally I planed to purchase both, so that I could protect as large an area of our countryside as was possible, forevermore.  I wanted to shield as large an area of land from any future building or destruction.  Sadly dreams don’t always come true, instead I am very fortunate to have a small garden.  I do as much as I can to make this tiny patch of earth be a beneficial and welcoming space for all insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, animals, and creatures of every kind.

Bees

There are so many ways you can help bees!  Firstly, avoid using any pesticides or insecticides in your garden, or at your allotment.

Secondly, to help bees to find food, you could grow plants for bees.  Choose plants that produce open centred flowers or single flowers, which tend to be less fussy, but also allow bees to access the flowers’ pollen and nectar.

A bee feeding on a winter aconite, also known by its botanical name of Eranthis hyemalis.
As Crocus flower early in the season they are a valuable food source for bees.

Bees need pollen and nectar all through the year.  In spring time bees can feed on snowdrops, crocus, dandelions, daffodils, Primroses and Primulas, Eranthis hyemalis, and wallflowers, like Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, Rhododendrons like Rhododendron ‘Orakel’, Rhododendron ‘Prinses Máxima’, Rhododendron ‘Sun Star’, willows, which are also known as Salix, Primula vialii ‘Alison Holland’, apple blossom, redcurrants, raspberries, broad bean – Broad bean ‘Robin Hood is great for containers!

Rosa ‘Royal Jubilee’ seen here at the David Austin Roses exhibit at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Rosa ‘Royal Jubilee’ is a beautiful rose with a strong, fruity fragrance, this rose has an open centre, with accessible stamens and pollen, making it ideal for bees or pollinating insects.

Summer provides a more plentiful food supply for bees.  These are just some of the plants that are popular with bees during the summer months: Wisteria, Alliums, Calendula officinalislavenders, foxgloves, Salvias like Salvia ‘Love and Wishes’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Crystal Blue’, cornflowers, also known as Centaurea cyanus, sunflowers also known by their botanical name of Helianthus annuusTithonia rotundifoliaAgastache ‘Blackadder’, spring and summer flowering Geums like Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’ or Geum ‘Prinses Juliana’, Erigeron karvinskianusNigella damascena ‘Double White’, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cupcakes Blush’, Rehmannia ‘Walberton’s Magic Dragon’, opened centred and single roses, Dahlias, like Dahlia ‘Classic Rosamunde’Dahlia ‘Pooh – Swan Island’, and Dahlia ‘April Heather’, raspberries, strawberries, redcurrants, runner beans and other fruit, herbs, and vegetables.

Rehmannia ‘Walberton’s Magic Dragon’ (‘Walremadra’)
A bumble bee feeding on Agastache ‘Black Adder’.
Tithonia rotundifolia is a tender annual, which is popular with bees.

While in autumn, Sedums, Verbena bonariensis, Solidago ‘Goldenmosa’, Mahonia, Michaelmas daisies, now known as Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, and ivies, are all a valuable source of pollen and nectar for bees.

It’s important to provide flowers for bees both early in the season, through the spring and summer, and over autumn and winter when food is scarce.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii is an autumn flowering herbaceous perennial that’s popular with bees.

In wintertime, plants such as: Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, Clematis cirrhosa, Sarcococcas, like Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’, Sarcococca confusa, Pulmonaria, Mahonia, winter flowering Heathers, and Daphnes like Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, all provide valuable nectar and pollen for bees during a time when food is scarce.

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is best grown in a sheltered spot, far away from strong winds and the worst of the weather. This winter flowering shrub resents disturbance, so plant it in a permanent location, where you can enjoy the fragrance of its beautiful flowers. It’s a lovely shrub to plant near your front door, so you can be welcomed home by it’s delicious perfume.

If you would like to grow plants for bees, please don’t forget to choose open centred flowers, like the ones you see pictured above and below, so that bees can access the flowers’ pollen and nectar.  Don’t forget that wild flowers are super plants for bees and other insects!  Fruit, vegetables, and herbs are also fantastic bee plants!

A bee feeding on an open centred Dahlia.

Other pollinating insects

Bumble bees, honey bees, and other bees are all important pollinators, but they are not the only pollinators that we rely on.  Many species of fly, including hover flies, are very important pollinators, butterflies and other insects also pollinate our plants.  Animals and birds also pollinate plants.  We can pollinate plants ourselves too – it’s just good for us not to have to rely on human pollination as this would massively drive up the cost of our food!

Episyrphus balteatus, commonly known as the marmalade hoverfly, is a well established species, found over a widespread area across Europe, North Asia, and North Africa.

Birds

I love to hear the birds singing, it brightens my day and fills my heart with joy when I hear a robin or a blackbird singing!  I love watching wild birds, every year I look forward to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.  Birds bring such joy to me!  I will always do everything I can to protect birds, I happily sign petitions to protect birds’ habitats, I avoid using any pesticides and insecticides in the garden, I also avoid using slug pellets to allow a natural balance in the garden and provide food for birds and other creatures.  These are all very simple actions that are easy to do – anyone can do this!

Slugs may be a pest, but they are a valuable food source for hedgehogs, birds, slow worms, frogs, toads, ground beetles, and newts.

I have a very small garden, I grow ivy, holly, and other plants to provide berries and food for birds to eat, or to provide shelter and a place to nest.  You can put up nest boxes in your garden to provide additional places for birds to nest.  Different bird species require different sized or shaped nest boxes to suit each species’ specific needs, so if you have a lot of robins frequenting your garden, then you may want to purchase a specially designed robin nest box.  Similarly, a tawny owl has an entirely different nesting requirement to a robin!  Why not make your own bird boxes?   Different bird species nest in different places.  You’re bound to have somewhere that will suit the birds in your area, even if you don’t have a garden of your own you may still be able to have a sparrow nest box installed on your home to allow house sparrows to nest. If you’d like to build your own sparrow box, here’s instructions on how to do so from the RSPB.  Sparrow boxes are best sited in or near the eaves of the roof, as this is where sparrows like to nest in colonies.

Avoid siting nest boxes near bird tables or food stations, as these areas will always be hotly contested, so birds are less likely to be able to nest successfully.  Try to find a place for a nest box that will allow the birds to nest safely, away from any cats in your neighbourhood, and in a location which will not be baked too much by the sun during the summer months.

A Mistle thrush spotted during my RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.
Ivy berries provide food for birds. Ivy is a food plant for the Holly Blue Butterfly, while ivy nectar and pollen provide sustenance for bees, butterflies, hoover flies, and other pollinating insects.

I feed the birds.  I leave the faded sunflower heads and teasels in situ to allow their seeds to develop for the birds.  As well as growing plants that produce seed for birds, I also have a bird feeder where I put out nuts and seeds.  I avoid purchasing fat balls that are wrapped in a wasteful plastic mesh, which can be harmful to birds, damaging their tongues as they try to feed.

Birds and other creatures need water, both to bathe in and to drink.  You could place a shallow bowl of water on the ground for birds, hedgehogs, and other creatures to drink from and bathe in, or you could use a raised bird bath.  Both the bowl of water on the ground and the raised bird bath benefit birds, but hedgehogs can only use ponds or bowls of water on the ground.  Sometimes it can seem like there are far too many jobs to do, I know, but try to make time to regularly clean your bird feeders and birdbaths, and don’t forget to top them up.  If you’ve not topped yours up for a while and it’s now empty, make time to give it a thorough clean before you fill up your bird feeder or bird bath.

Butterflies and moths

Here a Peacock butterfly, which is also known by its scientific name of Aglais io, is feeding on Buddleja davidii.

I love butterflies and moths.  I don’t use any pesticides or insecticides in my garden, as I have no wish to harm butterflies, moths, caterpillars, or indeed any kind of creature.  As well as growing nectar plants that are popular with butterflies and moths, like Buddleja, I grow as many food plants for caterpillars as I am able, so as to create a positive environment for butterflies, moths, and their caterpillars.  I intentionally grow nettles, which are a food plant for many butterfly species.  I also grow ivy, holly, and other plants that are food plants for the caterpillars of butterflies and moths.  I allow caterpillars to eat my plants.  I enjoy seeing caterpillars as they grow, just as I enjoy seeing butterflies when they visit the garden.  I don’t usually mind it when my plants’ leaves have been nibbled or eaten whole!

Ivy or Hedera, as is the plant’s botanical name, is a super plant to grow for wildlife – ivy flowers are popular with bees, hoover flies, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

Buying plants

I am an advocate of buying locally grown plants.  Each country has different pests and diseases that affect the plants growing in their country, therefore imported plants carry more of a risk of introducing a new pest or a disease to the country they arrive at.  We have some amazing nurseries in the UK.  I love to support specialist nurseries, so every year I create a calendar showing places to buy, sell and swap, plants, seeds, and bulbs.  Here is a link to my 2018 Calendar of Specialist Plant Fairs, Festivals, Sales, and Swaps.

Simon Lockyer from W & S Lockyer helping a customer at the RHS Wisley Flower Show. W & S lockyer are a lovely independent nursery, they are specialist growers of Hostas, Snowdrops and Nerines.

I love to see UK nurseries being recognised for their work.  I was thrilled when Annie from Daisy Roots Nursery was awarded her first Gold Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, here’s a link to my interview with Anne Godfrey.

Anne Godfrey from Daisy Roots Nursery, pictured with the Gold Medal she was presented with at the RHS judges, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.

There are many other award winning nurserymen and women growing all kinds of plants, here is a link to more information about some of the Specialist Nurseries that were at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017.

Snowdrops have an enchanting beauty, they make a wonderful addition to the garden.

Bulbs and plants growing in the wild, or on private estates, can be at risk of theft.  Please do not support those who steal plants and take plants from the wild.  If you’re looking to buy snowdrops in the green, here is my list of reputable snowdrop nurseries.

Compost

Peatlands are an incredible resource, which have been created via a slow, time consuming, natural process over thousands of years.  Yet these unique environments are being destroyed needlessly, simply so that gardeners can use a peat based compost that they know and trust.  For me the saddest part of all is that most plants do not grow any better in a peat based compost, so it really is rather stupid to use peat in this wasteful fashion.

I trialled these Peat Free Composts during my 2017 Peat Free Compost Trial, Growing Calendula.

If you’re interested in switching to a peat free compost, you might like to read the results of my Peat Free Compost Trials:

To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial Report: Vegetable Growing, please click here.

To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial Report: Growing Broad Beans, please click here.

To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial Report: Growing Calendula, please click here.

To read the results of my 2016 Compost Trial Report: Growing French Beans , please click here.

Composting

Gardeners often tell me that they do not have room for a compost heap or a compost bin.  I love making compost; so I always make room for at least two compost heaps or bins!  If you like the idea of creating your own compost, but you’re worried about the aesthetics of how a compost bin will look in your garden, please let me assure you that there are many ways that you can ensure that your compost bin looks good!

Firstly, you could choose an out of sight, accessible, but out of the way location to house your compost bin.  It is important to ensure that whichever location you choose to house your compost bin that you can easily access this area to add ingredients to your compost bin and to remove your compost when it’s ready.  You could grow a climber or a row of plants in front of your compost bins, to screen off your composting area and ensure that your compost bins are not a prominent feature of your garden.  If you plan to create a screen of plants, do ensure that you will still have easy access to the compost bins when your plants are fully grown, when they will take up extra space.  When you’re planning the location of your compost bin, you may want to ensure that you can get to your compost heap with your wheelbarrow to unload the compost, or at the very least that you will have room to access the compost bin with a trug, if a more gradual removal is necessary.

Home-made compost generates a lot of heat. Many creatures over winter and hibernate in garden compost heaps, so only remove your compost when the weather is warm in mid spring.

If you wish to create beautiful looking compost bins that add to the beauty of your garden and are a feature in their own right, you could make or buy wooden compost bins that are designed to look like beehives, or you could create a structure using hazel branches, woven to create an artisan style compost bin!

The brick composters in the RHS Kitchen Garden designed by Juliet Sargeant for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017.

Garden Designer Juliet Sargeant used brick built compost bins in the feature Show Garden she designed for the 2017 RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. There are so many advantages of using loose bricks like this to create a compost bin – you can build your compost bin to an exact size to fit the size of the area you have available.  You can build the compost heap up as you go, so there’s no need to spend your weekend working on creating your compost bin, just add a layer of bricks as and when you need to!  When your compost has rotted down and you want to access it, you can easily do so by removing the bricks.  Creating a compost bin in this manner is a great way to reuse and recycle spare bricks.

The brick composters in the RHS Kitchen Garden can be raised up a layer of bricks at a time as required.

I would always advise against unloading home-made compost from compost bins until the weather has truly warmed up in April (at the earliest) or May, so as to avoid accidentally injuring, or worse still killing, any hibernating hedgehogs, frogs, toads, snakes, or other creatures, as you dig the compost out to spread it on your garden or allotment.

Composting is a great thing to do!  Making compost will save you money, it reduces waste, and benefits the creatures in your garden, as well as improving your soil, and your plants.

Confetti

Why not grow your own wedding confetti or table confetti to replace the plastic sequins that are sometimes scattered over tables at parties?  Rose petals, Delphinium petals, and sweet pea petals, are just a few of the flower petals that make pretty confetti.  The petals can be used fresh or dried.  If you’re drying your petals, you can scatter them over a plate or a tray and pop them in the airing cupboard or somewhere warm and dry – avoid bathrooms or humid areas.

Containers

I favour terracotta or ceramic containers over plastic, but I have a number of plastic containers that I use for propagation, and a quantity of larger plastic containers that I use for my Trials, which I would find it hard to be without.  I would have loved to have purchased terracotta trial containers instead of plastic, but I was without the necessary funds to be able to purchase either terracotta or ceramic pots, and so I opted for plastic instead.  If you’re looking for containers for your garden, I would advise you to purchase the loveliest of containers, avoiding plastic if you can.  Look to buy containers which will truly enhance your garden, and will be a great asset for years to come.

A lovely container display from D’Arcy & Everest, specialist growers of alpine plants from Cambridgeshire.

If you’re looking for new plastic containers, it’s worth looking to see whether you have an old container that you can re-use first.  It’s always wise to ensure that if you’re making a purchase that you’ve selected a good quality container that is suited to your needs and will be long lasting, as plastic seed trays can be rather flimsy and may seem to be almost designed to be disposable.  Many nurseries and garden centres have an area, (often within their car park) where customers can either drop off their unwanted plastic pots, or can pick up old plastic pots to be re-used without charge.

To save money on purchasing pots, or to save using plastic, you could use the cardboard inners of kitchen roll or lavatory roll as plant pots, for the taller kitchen roll, you may wish to cut the cardboard roll into a more usable size – you may be able to cut your empty kitchen roll tube into four planting containers.

You could also make your own containers using newspaper and a pre-bought wooden mould or template, or alternatively make your own by using a small pot – wrap the newspaper around the pot and fold the newspaper to secure it in place.

Cardboard or paper pots are best used on a short term basis to sow quick growing seeds, or to raise plants and then promptly plant them out.  Paper and cardboard pots cannot be used longterm, so it’s best to keep that in mind when you’re deciding what to sow and where to sow it.  I have found that packing paper pots, or cardboard pots filled with compost, onto a tray with sides will help these cardboard or paper pots remain upright.

Container gardening

Even if you only have a container garden, you can make a difference to wildlife by growing plants for birds, bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects.  If you’re looking to plant up a container, here is some advice on planting a container garden and choosing containers.

Here are some ideas of plants that are popular with insects.

Here are some lovely ideas of scented container plants.

You’ll find lots more lovely ideas for container gardens here.

Garden escapes

If you have a plant that you no longer value or appreciate, why not offer your plant to one of your friends or neighbours?  Or you could donate your plants to a local school, playgroup, or old people’s home or donate your unwanted plant to a local plant sale, or swap the plant at a local plant swap.  Please do not be tempted to dump any plants at the side or the road, in a woodland, at a beauty spot, or indeed leave plants in any area of the countryside.

Many of the plants that flourish in our gardens grow even better, in fact rather too well, when left unchecked in the wild.  Plants form a natural balance in the wild, which can be easily upset by a fast growing, invasive plant which could dominate the area.  Many plants such as Impatiens glandulifera, more commonly known as Himalayan balsam, Fallopia japonica, more commonly known as Japanese knotweed, and Rhododendron ponticum, were all introduced as decorative plants, but are now not desirable plants to have growing either in our gardens or in the wild.  In fact in the areas they have spread to these plants have out competed our native plants, they have spread far beyond any initial comprehension, and have devalued properties that they are growing near.

Green roofs

By installing a green roof you are providing an additional space for plants to grow.  In doing so, by planting the roof area you create an extra environment where insects and other creatures can find food and shelter.  With the right plants you thereby encourage more bees, butterflies, birds, and other creatures into your garden.  Green roofs can really enhance a building, planting the roof can enable a building to blend into the landscape when viewed from afar, a green roof can calm and soften the impact a new building delivers to its neighbourhood.

Community Street was inspired by the RHS Campaign, Greening Grey Britain. Community Street was designed by Nigel Dunnett and The Landscape Agency, together they recreated part of a residential street in Bristol, showing how front gardens and community areas can be beautiful and inspiring places, filled with plants and enhancing the look and feel of a community.

Green roofs have many other benefits, they can provide a natural insulation, making the building they are installed onto warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  Green roofs also capture and use rainwater, which reduces the run off of water onto the area below.

Hedgehogs

I love hedgehogs!  If you love hedgehogs too and wish to help hedgehogs or encourage them to visit your garden or allotment, you might be interested in this link to more information about hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals. Hedgehogs don’t want to be confined to a single garden, they have wide territories and need to travel long distances each evening as they look for food. If you are lucky enough to have a hedgehog that visits your garden there are lots of things you can do to both encourage and help hedgehogs.

Hedges

Hedges have so many benefits: they can really enhance your garden, are much more resilient than a fence, and provide a place for birds, hedgehogs, and other creatures to shelter, nest, and forage for food.  If you have a hedge, ensure that you only cut your hedge outside of the bird nesting time (which is usually from February to August), to avoid scaring or startling any birds.

Hedges look wonderful! They are also a place of refuge for hedgehogs, birds and other animals. To offer optimum assistance to the wildlife that visit your garden grow your hedge right down to the ground.

Indoor gardening

I love indoor gardening!  Indoor plants when grown in large enough quantities can help to improve the quality of the air in your home.  I absolutely detest plug in air fresheners!  I would never use a plug in air freshener, they give me a real headache, I prefer to clean up and remove anything with an unpleasant odour and open a window.

Indoor plants can be uplifting and revitalising, brightening our day and lifting our spirits.  If you’d like to grow more house plants, but aren’t sure where to start, you can read more about house plants here.

Peace lilies, produce glossy green leaves and white and green flowers, which are known as spathes.

If you’re interested in creating a terrarium or bottle garden, you might be interested to read my planting list for terrariums and bottle gardens.

Lawns

The trend for artificial grass continues.  I must say this bewilders me, as I hate artificial flowers and lawns!  I hate to see more areas of ground covered with an artificial material that prevents birds and other animals from being able to hunt for worms.  An artificial lawn effectively seals off more of the earth from insects and wildlife.

Lawns require a lot of work to keep the grass looking in optimum condition.
Artificial grass is sometimes used instead of real grass to cover the ground, or as seen here to create animal sculptures.
A blue butterfly feeding on Scabiosa columbaria, also known as small scabious, at Pewley Down Nature Reserve in Guildford.
A close up of Sagina subulata in The Telegraph Garden, designed by Marcus Barnett and built by crocus.co.uk for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

If you dislike the work and effort involved in maintaining a neat lawn, there are many things that you can do to ensure that your grass is less labour intensive to maintain, but still keep this area of your garden as accessible to wildlife.  You could allow your grass to grow longer and cut it less often, or you may just want to mow paths through your grass to create an accessible wilderness.  You could turn your neat, manicured lawn into a meadow and cut it just a few times a year.  If you would prefer to create a more lawn like area, with low growing plants, but without the regular mowing and maintenance associated with a traditional lawn, you could create a relaxing and soothing chamomile lawn, or a thyme lawn.  If you’re not looking for scent and just want to create a green, lawn like area without the regular maintenance involved with a traditional lawn, then consider using green, low growing plants like Ajuga, Sagina, or mosses, which won’t require regular mowing.

If you want to get rid of your lawn altogether, rather than concreting the area, you could have your grass removed, and plant the area up with your favourite plants.  Ensure that you thoroughly remove the grass, as grass is typically a very strong growing and resistant plant, which will grow back if you don’t remove it entirely.  Mulch around your plants using a peat free compost, or bark chips to help to reduce weeding.

If you don’t want to have a lawn of any kind, you have no wish to plant up your garden, and you want to concrete or pave the area, rather than creating an impenertratbble barrier, it would be better to lay a permeable covering that allows water to drain through to the soil underneath.  This option has the added advantage that it will be easier to remove should you have a change of heart, or if the next resident of your home has a different garden in mind.

If you find your garden is too large for you to manage, why not hire a gardener to make things easier and ensure that your garden looks at its best?  You could hire a traditional gardener, or you could hire a company or a gardener that dedicates their time to looking after and maintaining lawns, to ensure that your lawn looks great all year round.

Brownfield – Metamorphosis was designed by Martyn Wilson and built by Keyscape Design and Construction. The RHS judges awarded this garden a Gold Medal, at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2017.

Leaves

If you want to encourage hedgehogs to hibernate in your garden, you’ll need to leave at least one pile of leaves in an out of the way location, where any hibernating hedgehogs will be safe and undisturbed.  I always recommend leaving leaves underneath the tree that they fell from, to add nutrients back into the soil.

Fallen Ginkgo biloba leaves.

Leaf blowers

I find leaf blowers quite irritating, they are far noisier than a rake and tend to be used for long periods of time, drowning out all life enriching sounds nearby, like bird song or the buzzing of bees, as they suck the joy out of an entire morning or afternoon.  A rake is less costly to purchase, it doesn’t need electricity to operate, and is peaceful and less disruptive.

Leaf blowers are so noisy! I think that a rake is often easier, cheaper, and so much quieter to use. I recommend leaving leaves where they have fallen under trees to benefit the trees, soil and the mycorrhizal fungi.

Log piles

Log piles provide a habitat for insects to live, as well as a place to shelter or hibernate for animals, including frogs, toads, and hedgehogs.  Stag beetles are an endangered species.  Stag beetle larvae take up to six years to develop before they metamorphose into an adult stag beetle, during their larval stage, stag beetles feed on rotting wood.

If you’d like to create your own wood pile, chose a semi shaded area if possible, in an out of the way location, to site your log pile.  You may want to first collect some fallen leaves and then place your log pile over the leaves, where the logs can directly make contact with the soil.  Hedgehogs love to hibernate in leaves, so by adding the leaves to your log pile you’ll create their ideal environment.

Leaving a log pile in a quiet area of your garden, will create a habitat for many invertebrates, insects, frogs, toads, hedgehogs and other creatures. Many of us have small areas to garden in, but it’s easy to create a woodpile in a quiet corner and leave a pile of autumn leaves for hedgehogs to safely nest in.

Managing to garden

It’s not always as easy to do everything we wish to in the garden, we may be restricted due to disability, injury, old age, or any number of problems.  It’s important to take care of yourself, while you’re gardening.  If you’re interested, you can find some tips on staying healthy while you garden here.

If you’re wondering how you could make your garden more manageable, you may wish to read about The Garden for Every Retiree, which was designed by Tracy Foster for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Mulching

I think mulching is so important!  I recommend regularly mulching the soil, covering your soil with a layer of garden compost or peat free compost, to improve the growing conditions and add nutrients to the soil.  If you apply a mulch after you have weeded, the mulch will help to suppress seed growth.  Mulching can improve the texture of a soil and has so many positive effects!

Compost is easy to make, it’s a great resource, compost makes a wonderful mulch.

National Plant Collections

Plant Heritage are a charitable organisation set up to encourage plant diversity, to help to protect and conserve a wide range of plants through raising awareness of plants that have become threatened, spreading knowledge about plants and supporting National Collection holders.  National Collection holders grow a select group of plants to ensure the future of that particular plant group.  Jackie Currie holds a National Collection of Alliums, Jonathan Hogarth holds a National Collection of small and miniature Hostas.  I hold two National Collections, a National Collection of miniature Phalaenopsis species and a National Collection of miniature Aerangis and Angraecum species.  You can find out more about Plant Heritage and National Plant Collections in this article.

Aerangis hyaloides.

Plant Guardians

Plant Guardians look after rare plants, by growing, propagating, and sharing information about a plant, to ensure the plant’s future survival.  Looking after one rare plant species can help to save that plant from extinction, this is very valuable work!  The Plant Guardian scheme is run by Plant Heritage, here’s some information about the ethos behind this venture.

Even if you have no wish to become a National Plant Collection Holder and don’t want to become a Plant Guardian, you can support Plant Heritage and the charitable organisation’s conservation work by becoming a member of Plant Heritage, or donating financial support.  Plant Heritage members enjoy a wide variety of talks, events, workshops and visits, it’s a great charitable organisation to join, members enjoy many benefits!

Pesticides and insecticides

There are noticeably fewer insects now.   When I was a child, any car journey in summer, however short, would leave the car windscreen coated with splattered insects, which had united in death, to block our view in a poorly timed, but not far off unison.  Each insect undistinguishable, both from each another, and from what they once were just moments before our silent collision had rendered them into a lifeless pulp.

Episyrphus balteatus, commonly known as the marmalade hoverfly, pictured resting on a Lathyrus odoratus ‘Grandma Butt’ flower, during my 2017 Sweet Pea Trial.

I don’t use any insecticides or pesticides in the garden.  I don’t recommend any pesticides or insecticides for use outside, whatever the circumstances.  In nature we are all part of a food chain, when you take out any part of the food chain you create imbalance.  To have lost such a high proportion of our insects means that the creatures that ate those insects, including other insects, birds, frogs, toads, and fish will have lost a high proportion of their diet, and the plants that relied on these insects for pollination will suffer.

Ponds and water features

By creating a pond or a water feature in your garden you will encourage all manner of wildlife to use and visit your garden.  To create the best pond for wildlife and nature, ensure that you have a gradually sloping entrance to your pond, to allow frogs, toads, hedgehogs, newts, and other creatures to easily enter and exit your pond.

Frogs and toads eat flies, mosquitos, slugs, snails, dragonflies, moths, grasshoppers and crickets, and worms.

Recycling

Try to ensure that you reuse any products as much as you can, or to offer them to others before you consider taking them to a recycling centre, as energy will be used to recycle the item.  If you cannot use your plastic pots, perhaps your friends or family would appreciate them?  Failing this many garden centres have drop off points, often within their car parks, where old plastic pots can be deposited, and gardeners can collect old plastic pots for free.  The Freecycle Network enables people to give away their unwanted items freely, search online to find your local group.  You could also offer to donate any of your unwanted gardening items, or plants for local charitable organisations, horticultural societies, schools, or play groups, to use, upcycle, or to sell on at fetes, plant sales, or open days.

Recycling is great fun, it can bring out your inner entrepreneur!  If you don’t fancy donating your unwanted items or recycling them in the usual manner, why not repurpose them?  You could use your old jumper to line the inside of your hanging basket, or create a greenhouse or cold frame using old windows.

School gardening

The RHS Campaign For School Gardening is an initiative to encourage schools to develop and actively use a school garden.  It’s free for schools to register and each school receives a free start up kit too, there’s information and resources for teachers and more.  For more details, please click here.

To find out about the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘I Can Grow’ campaign and find out about how to request a free inspirational pack, please click here.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew also run school garden visits and lessons, you’ll find all the details here.

Wakehurst Place in Sussex also offer school visits, you’ll find all the details here.

Sharing garden space

If you are unable to afford a gardener, yet would like to see your garden cultivated, you could opt to share your garden with a local person who doesn’t have a garden, or is looking for extra space to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs, or flowers.  If you choose to go down this route, it’s work taking time to consider what you would be happy with longterm, before you advertise, so as to maximise the chances of you finding a successful union.  For example, you may prefer to find an organic gardener to share your garden, and you may wish to offer a set, designated area of your garden, which is clear to your new tenant when they come to view the garden.  You might want to let the ground on a trial basis for a year, which you could increase on a yearly basis if you want to.  This way you won’t need to feel uncomfortable if the arrangement doesn’t suit your needs in the way that you had hoped, and you don’t wish to renew your offer.  You are also being fair to a gardener who has dedicated time, energy and money to their growing, and you’re giving them the opportunity to grow their plants to fruition.  You may want to consider any rules for your arrangement, for example, you might want to limit the use of portable radios, you may not want to admit dogs, or you may wish to be upfront about the hours that your happy for your tenant to visit.  It helps to be clear on what suits you and what doesn’t, to help you to find an applicant who is shares your ideals.

If you’re in the reverse situation – you’re looking for someone who has a garden that they would like to share with you.  Have you considered putting a notice up on the noticeboard inside your local shop?  Or you could try posting on your village, town, or city’s community website, or on a Facebook group dedicated to your area.  Include a little bit about yourself, and perhaps mention what you’re looking for, or what plants you’d like to grow.  If you’d be happy to mow the garden owner’s lawn in return, or walk their dog once a week, or similar, for use of their garden mention this on your notice, but try to make sure that you don’t promise more than you can successfully deliver.

Slugs and Snails

I don’t use any slug pellets, I would never even use the organic kind of slug pellets.  I have no wish to harm hedgehogs, birds, and other animals.  On the odd occasion that I do wish to protect a new plant or some seedlings from slugs or snails, I will use natural materials to protect my plants.  After receiving many questions from readers asking about how to protect their plants from slugs and snails, I set up a Slug and Snail Trial.  Here is a link to more information about my Slug and Snail Trial and the natural ingredients, which provided 100% protection from slugs and snails.

A pretty Cepaea hortensis, or white lipped snail.

Soil

With so much of our planet being built on as human population expands, there are many more areas of soil covered by buildings, tarmac, concrete, and the like.  In these developed areas birds cannot get to the soil to feed on worms and other creatures, plants have less space to grow, and animals of every kind have less space to find food and shelter.  With a greater area of development across our planet we are more prone to flooding, as there is less areas of earth for rainwater to fall onto.

We might each think that there is nothing we can do about that, but for many of us there is something we can do – perhaps we might avoid the temptation of laying artificial lawn and instead plant a meadow, or a chamomile lawn, or even a regular lawn, or avoid covering our allotment indefinitely with either carpet or plastic, and instead plant a green manure, cultivate the soil and sow seeds, or leave the area as a wild flower area, or if we cannot do these we could share our allotment with another.  We can avoid concreting our driveway or garden and instead use gravel or a permeable ground covering, so that water can drain into the soil.

Worms feed on decomposing plant matter. Worms have a fantastic ability to unlock nutrients in the soil making them available to plants. Once worms have eaten and their food has been digested and has passed through their bodies, phosphorus and nitrogen become available to plants. The tunnel action that Worms have also benefits plants as worms open up the soil, their tunnels increase the air spaces in the soil, this helps rainwater to pass through the soil to reach the plant’s roots.

With gardens in decline, so many people do not have a garden, those of us that are lucky enough to have a garden, now have a much smaller area of garden than was common just a generation or two ago, so it’s even more important to make the most of every inch of space that we have.

Tools

I’d really recommend buying good quality tools that last.  I have found older, second hand garden tools to often be of excellent quality.

Goodness knows how many pairs of secateurs I got through until I bought my Felco secateurs ten years ago.  You can read my review of my Felco secateurs here, where I explain more about why I would recommend them.

I have also been impressed with my Burgon and Ball Weed Slice: I have both the full size Weed Slice and the smaller, Short Handled Weed Slice – I would recommend them both.  You can find out more about these tools, which are perfect for hoeing weeds, wherever they are growing.  These tools are very effective on weeds that are growing at your allotment, in gravel, or in your beds and borders, find out more in my review here.

Don’t forget that broken gardening tools can often be repaired as well as repurposed, you may be able to find a new handle for your favourite fork or spade, so there’s often no need for your favourite tools to languish in the shed.

The Conservation Foundation‘s tool recycling project Tools Shed collects broken and unused hand tools.  The collected tools are refurbished and repaired by prisoners in HM Prisons.  Once mended and given a new lease of life the tools are then given to schools and gardening projects.  For more information about Tools Shed visit their website here.

If you have garden tools that you haven’t used for a while, why not donate them?  UK charity WorkAid accept a wide range of tools and equipment, including gardening, carpentry, welding tools, milling machines, typewriters, sewing machines, knitting machines and haberdashery.  Work Aid refurbish unwanted or donated tools, and then distribute the tools to participants of vocational training courses in the UK and Africa.  Work Aid are a charity based in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, they have a network of collection points across the UK.  For more information, here is a link to WorkAid’s website.

Tools with a Mission are a Christian charity, based in Ipswich in the UK.  Their mission is to collect unwanted tools, refurbish the tools, sorting them into valuable kits for different trades.  The charity donate their tool kits to the needy across the world, to provide those in need with the tools required to be able to work and provide an income to support themselves and their families.  Tools with a Mission have a network of volunteers across the UK who collect donated tools, they are looking for leather workers’ tools, mechanics’ tools, plumbers’ tools, power tools, garage tools, carpentry tools, builders’ tools, electricians’ tools, ground workers’ tools, gardening tools, welding machines, computer equipment, educational books, sewing machines, haberdashery, and more.  For more information, here is a link to Tools with a Mission’s website.

Trees

Planting a tree is such a wonderful thing to do!  If you have the opportunity to plant a tree then you are very fortunate indeed.  Choose a tree that will grow well in the space you have available, which will flourish in your soil type.  Why not consider planting a native tree, which will benefit insects and wildlife?

Bare root trees and other bare root plants are available from December to March and are available to pre-order for the next season outside of these times.  Bare root trees have many benefits, they are usually more economical to purchase than container grown trees, and there are also a wider range of bare root trees to choose from, so you have the chance to plant something really special!

Planting a tree and then having the privilege to watch the tree grow and develop is an amazing thing to be able to do! The right tree, in the right place, and planted properly is a gift to the world.

Urban Gardening

We aren’t all able to live in the beautiful and picturesque countryside.  Many of us may hanker for the country, but are resigned to living in more compact and bijou quarters in towns or cities.  If you’re in need of inspiration on how to improve and green up your urban home, then you might be interested in this link to my interview with Kate Gould and Keith Chapman, where you can discover the Gold Medal winning City Living Garden that Kate Gould designed, which was awarded the prestigious title of Best Fresh Garden, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017.  It’s sure to inspire you!

The City Living Fresh Garden, designed by Kate Gould, for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017, featured urban gardens on three different levels, each level replicated planting for different growing conditions.

Using water wisely in the garden

I have water butts and a plethora of containers that I use to collect rainwater to use in the garden.  I also collect rainwater to use to water my orchids, house plants, and terrarium plants.  I use many of the ideas mentioned in an absolutely brilliant book called Gardening With Less Water by David A. Bainbridge.  If you’re looking to conserve water I would absolutely recommend this book, it is full of great ideas, which are suitable for any situation, for any gardener, gardening in every country!

Gardening With Less Water by David A. Bainbridge, is published by Storey Publishing.

Wild flowers

Please don’t be tempted to buy packets of wild flower seeds, like poppies or other wild flowers from commercial seed suppliers and then sow these seeds at your local nature reserve.  Please leave wild flowers, which are growing in their own native environment alone, these plants will be perfectly adapted, and indeed have evolved to be expertly suited to growing exactly where they are.  Sowing seed of wild flowers, which have been grown commercially in optimum growing conditions in a different location with a different climate, I believe, may negatively impact the wild flowers.  If these commercially grown plants breed with the wild flowers which have evolved to grow in this area, then their offspring’s inbuilt resistance to natural climatic conditions, their compatibility to the local area’s particular soil conditions, to localised fungi and other plants may be compromised.

Wild flowers are the most beautiful, so I understand the temptation to pick them and take the flowers home, but please resist any temptations you may have.  If you leave the flowers where they are, everyone can enjoy the blooms, which is lovely in itself.  Wild flowers will provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and pollinating insects, and when pollinated, flowers left to age on the plant will produce seed, which will create a new generation of plants for future years!  How marvellous!

Wild flowers like these Primroses provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Unpicked flowers produce seeds, which will develop a new generation of plants.

Other articles that may interest you…………..

To read about the ways that I try to reduce my use of plastic and live more sustainably, please click here.

If you’re looking for ideas as to how to celebrate a person’s life or to celebrate a special event with plants, please click here.

For information on how to protect your plants from slugs and snails, please click here.

To read the results of my 2017 Compost Trial: Growing Calendula, please click here.

Other articles you might like:

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