Eco-consciousness is more rife than ever, as the effects of climate change become ever-more palpable in the UK. With more heatwaves inbound, and more global data suggesting we have reached a point of no return, the pressure is on to nudge the dial back – both for businesses and for individuals.
The Importance of Eco-Friendly Gardens
Eco-friendly gardens, also known as sustainable or green gardens, play a significant role in contributing to environmental sustainability.
Here’s a brief discussion of their importance:
- Supports Local Biodiversity: Eco-friendly gardens emphasize the use of native plants, which provide habitat and food sources for local wildlife. They help support biodiversity by attracting a variety of insects, birds, and other wildlife, thereby contributing to a healthier ecosystem.
- Reduces Water Usage: Traditional gardening often requires a lot of water, but eco-friendly gardens utilize water-saving techniques like drought-tolerant plants, rain barrels, and efficient watering systems. This not only conserves an essential resource but also reduces the costs associated with maintaining a garden.
- Promotes Soil Health: Through practices like composting and using organic mulch, eco-friendly gardens enrich the soil, improve its structure, and encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms. Healthy soil helps plants thrive and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.
- Lowers Carbon Footprint: By minimizing the use of motorized equipment, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides, eco-friendly gardens can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, plants themselves are great carbon sinks, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and helping to combat climate change.
- Reduces Waste: Composting kitchen scraps and garden waste not only enriches garden soil but also reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills, helping to create a sustainable garden and home.
- Creates Healthy Environments: Gardens that minimize or eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers promote healthier environments for both people and wildlife. They reduce our exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, leading to better overall health.
With summer approaching, many of us are tending to our green gardens, if not completely renovating them for the warmer months. Now is a better time than any to point those renovations in the direction of eco-friendliness, whether reducing the carbon cost of your growing activities or improving biodiversity in your area.
Eco Garden Ideas
What can you do to achieve these aims and be better at sustainability in the garden?
Plants and Pollinators
One of the essential ways that you can create an eco-friendly garden is by making careful planting choices. A rich and diverse garden is a wonderful thing for numerous reasons, some of which we’ll discover later, but one of the more impactful reasons to take care here relates to local bee populations.
Pollinating insects – bees in particular – are vital for local environments and ecosystems, playing a central role in the pollination of plants and acting as a primary vehicle for food growth.
Queen bees are the heart of bee colonies and are crucial for their survival and efficiency. These queens are responsible for laying eggs that become the next generation of bees. A healthy queen ensures a thriving colony, which in turn supports robust plant pollination. Maintaining the well-being of queen bees is essential not only for the sustainability of the bee population but also for the broader ecosystem that depends on these pollinators.
With bee populations declining, our food sources face systemic risk. By choosing plants that bring pollinators into your garden, you can encourage the proliferation and settlement of those pollinators – securing the strength of the wider floral ecosystem.
Native plants are also important in creating a sustainable garden. Native plants are those that have developed naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human intervention. They are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur.
These plants are a crucial part of their respective ecosystems and provide habitat and food for native wildlife species. They’re typically found growing in forests, grasslands, deserts, and wetlands, and each plant has a role in the ecosystem where it resides.
Cultivating a successful green garden, whether building up a strong bed of plants or growing your produce (more on which shortly), can be a resource-intensive undertaking.
Some of these resources are much less sustainable than others. Peat is commonly used to fertilize the soil, but harvesting it can have devastating environmental impacts; peat is an excellent natural carbon-capturer, and harvesting it re-releases that carbon back into the atmosphere.
As such, creating your own compost in your garden can be an immensely productive way to improve its sustainability. Household food waste and certain items of recycling waste can be biodegraded in a compost bin, which itself is an easy build.
A few sheets of scrap wood and a range of Milwaukee tools to fix them together are all you need and can help you avoid plumping for a wasteful plastic bin.
Compost improves soil structure and porosity, creating a better plant root environment. It increases the soil’s ability to hold onto and store water, which is particularly useful in dry areas or during hot summer months. By improving soil structure, compost also helps prevent soil erosion, keeping your garden’s valuable topsoil in place.
Composting is also a great way to reduce the volume of garbage you send to the landfill. You can compost things like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, grass clippings, leaves, and other yard waste.
Finally, compost provides a free source of high-quality soil amendment, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and the costs associated with buying them.
Compost can be put to excellent use turning your garden into a productive growing environment for fruit and vegetables. By building a mini-allotment in your back garden, you can limit your reliance on supermarkets and high-emissions transport chains for staple foodstuffs like potatoes.
To grow vegetables in your garden, follow these simple steps:
- Choose the right location. Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of sunlight each day and should have good soil drainage.
- Clear the area of weeds and grass and loosen the soil, adding compost to enrich the soil
- Decide on the vegetables you want to grow. Beginners often start with easy crops like lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, or bell peppers.
- Decide where each vegetable will go in your garden. Consider the size of each plant will be when fully grown to ensure it has enough space. Taller plants should be positioned so they won’t block the sun from shorter plants.
- Some vegetables can be started from seeds directly sown in the garden, while others are easier to start from young plants (seedlings) that you buy. Follow the directions on the seed packets or plant tags for how deep to plant and how far apart.
- Newly planted seeds and seedlings will need regular watering until they are established. After that, how often to water will depend on your climate, soil, and the types of plants you’re growing.
- Weeds compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients, so it’s important to remove them regularly. Mulching around your plants can help prevent weeds.
- Keep an eye out for any signs of pests or diseases. Some common vegetable garden pests include aphids, slugs, and caterpillars. Many pests can be controlled by picking them off by hand or using a natural or organic pesticide. However, be mindful of what you do with the wildlife in your garden!
Growing excess vegetables can potentially enable you to feed your community, with many people coming together and swapping surplus food. This further reduces the environmental impact of your area.
Creating Wildlife-Friendly Areas
Building a truly diverse garden environment is an excellent way to improve biodiversity in your area, and can be vital for the survival of many indigenous species. Some of these species are reliant on one another, just as we are reliant on bees, and fostering an environment in which they can thrive can be transformative for them.
Creating different areas to foster different kinds of flora and fauna is key here; consider installing a freshwater pond, as well as a ‘wilded’ area of your garden.
Here are some plant suggestions and features that can attract these creatures:
- Flowering plants: Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to plants with bright flowers. Consider plants like lavender, echinacea, and marigolds. Choose a variety of plants that bloom at different times to provide a steady supply of nectar.
- Native Plants: As previously mentioned, native plants are excellent for attracting local insects and bird species as they are adapted to the local fauna’s needs.
- Fruit and Berry Producing Plants: Plants like raspberries, strawberries, and apple trees not only provide a tasty treat for you but also birds.
- Herbs: Many herbs, like thyme, rosemary, and chives, attract bees and other pollinators.
You could also add:
- Bird Feeders: Different types of feeders can attract a variety of birds. For instance, tube feeders are good for small seed-eating birds, while suet feeders attract insect-eating birds.
- Bird Baths: These provide a source of clean, fresh water for birds to drink and bathe in.
- Bug Hotels: Also known as insect houses, these structures provide a place for insects to nest and hibernate. You can purchase them or make your own using materials like bamboo, straw, and wood.
- Ponds or Water Features: If space allows, a pond or water feature can attract a variety of wildlife including frogs, dragonflies, and birds.
- Hedgehog Houses and Bat Boxes: These provide safe places for hedgehogs and bats to hibernate and raise their young.
- Logs and Rock Piles: These can create habitats for insects, spiders, and small creatures like lizards and frogs.
Eco-friendly gardens, by employing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, serve as a crucial means to contribute positively to the environment. They not only benefit the local ecosystem but also have global implications by helping to combat climate change.
Once established, eco-friendly gardens often require less maintenance than traditional ones, as the plants are adapted to local conditions and require less watering and care. Creating an eco-friendly garden is an achievable, rewarding activity that plays a significant role in supporting local biodiversity, conserving resources, and contributing to a healthier planet.