What is an eco-friendly product? I’m not always sure! I call myself an eco-friendly gardener, so I want to be clear about what I’m doing to justify that name.
My approach focuses on four key areas: materials, ongoing inputs, eco-systems, and soil.
Gardening sustainably is a work in progress: there’s lots more to be done. I’ve noted some areas for improvement at the bottom. I also love talking about this stuff! Please do ask me about how we can make your garden as green as possible.
If you’re a professional gardener and you’d like to work together on improving our industry, I organise a monthly meeting of like-minded horticulturalists in the Macclesfield area to discuss greener gardening.
Materials – landscaping materials are one of the most damaging elements of gardening – they are often sourced in far-flung places; following questionable extraction practices; packaged to the nines and then shipped thousands of miles. For me, the easiest way to reduce use is to design gardens that minimise hard landscaping. Instead, I use plants, locally produced mulches and reclaimed materials as far as possible. A patio demands quantities of concrete, stone, sand to create a sterile zone with high water run-off. Conversely, a good planting predominately uses renewable materials (like plants and compost), creating a carbon sink, a soak-away, and a home for lots of living things.
Ongoing Inputs – I seek to create planting that need the minimum of inputs. I carefully design stable communities of plants that suit their location, and are tough enough to withstand cold, damp winters and hot summers too. I plant schemes that don’t need spraying, staking, feeding, too much weeding, pesticides, fungicides, slug pellets or leaf-blowers! This means less stuff, but also less of your time and energy.
Eco-systems – I’m interested in gardens that can support a rich eco-system. This is done through creating a mixture of habitats, from open plantings to shade, water, and scrubby areas. I also try and create spatially complex, nectar-rich plantings to provide the maximum number of insects food and cover for the longest time.
Soil – We know so little about soil, yet it is the keystone of our existence. Everything we eat derives from it. 40% of the carbon that plants create during photosynthesis is sequestered in it. And yet globally, it’s disappearing at a terrifying speed. I take soil seriously. My plantings follow a no-dig philosophy to minimise soil damage and maximise its health.
Where could I do better?
My major concerns on the operational front are the peat composts used to grow the plants I use, the pots themselves, and the dumpy bags that landscaping materials arrive in.
I can source plants in peat-free compost, but they have to travel considerably further (in a diesel lorry…) than locally part peat-grown plants. It’s hard to know which is the lesser evil.
On pots and dumpy bags, because of the small scale of my operation I’m able to reuse or re-home almost all the pots and dumpy bags I use. Even so, they have short lives and aren’t biodegradable. Some still get skipped.
I feel pressure to keep costs low and create gardens that look good quickly. Maybe I need to be braver about talking about how long it takes to grow green, and what the real costs are.
Fortunately, these are issues that are shared across the industry, and there’s lots of work being done in the sector pushing for change. The Society of Gardener Designers (of which I have am a pre-registered member) have good, regularly updated guidance.
Lastly, whilst I focus a lot on what is an eco-friendly garden, I could do better on the carbon footprint of my underlying business. My tools are all electric, but I still drive a diesel van. I’ve also not sorted things like green hosting for my website, and green banking for my finances.
Again, I’m committed to doing more, so please ask me about what you aspire to in your garden, or feel free to suggest things you think I might have missed.
If you’re hearing the call of the wild, give me a ring.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
– William Shakespeare