Whatever time of the year, but particularly in spring and summer, it feels good to improve your outside space by clearing the weeds, cleaning up your garden furniture or planting new shrubs and plants. But like every choice we make as consumers, there’s a potential impact on the environment. The good news is that there are lots of easy ways to ensure that the choices you make do not negatively impact on insects and wildlife. Here are some of my top tips for garden improvement which don’t cost the earth…
Grow your own - By buying native bulbs and seeds (whether posted from specialist nurseries or your local garden centre) you can reduce the air miles and eco impact attached with the foliage and plants you bring into your garden and importantly avoid the dreaded black plastic pots.
Don’t use pesticides - the potential impact of these toxic chemicals (whether in a weed spray or metaldehyde slug pellets) could go far beyond the walls of your garden. If you want to save the bees and native birds which feed on insects, don’t sprays your dandelions and instead rely on old fashioned methods of removing weeds and pests by hand.
Don’t replace garden furniture (unless you really have to)… try to repair/repaint and up-cycle where possible. If you have to replace furniture, choose second hand or vintage (eg think antique metal furniture from a local salvage yard) or FSC accredited wooden furniture. Avoid plastic which is unlikely to stay looking good for long and then what…landfill.
Choose native species of plants where possible (from winter hellebores to spring blue bells and summer foxgloves and roses). Put simply, these species are more likely to live and thrive. Don’t be tempted to choose short term ‘border fillers’. Even if they’re on special offer - they’re most likely not to make it beyond a few weeks and months.
Don’t go faux - There are lots of pretty convincing faux plants now on the market, but I look at them and see the environmental cost of their production (most likely overseas) and think about where they’re likely to end up when they fade (yep you guessed it - landfill) and suddenly they are a lot less attractive. So, with that in mind, it is always better to choose a living plant which can support wildlife and if planted correctly will give years more of sustainable pleasure.
Grass care - in the spring when your lawn can look decidedly shabby, you might be tempted to opt for astro-turf….but if you can, resist the temptation. If your lawn is tired (weed-filled or sparse) consider reducing its size and turning it (or part of it) into a wildflower meadow. By planting some wildflower seeds amongst the lawn, you can leave it to grow long and let nature take its course. This is the best way of attracting bees and insects, as well as creating a beautiful and natural section fo your garden (and of course it’s very low maintenance).
Grow your fencing - like your garden furniture if you have a wooden fence, repair it as much as you can but if you have to replace it consider a living fence. Choose bamboo for a modern look or go for a traditional British hedge (made up of Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Dogwood, Field Maple and Crab Apple).
Bright lights, big city - lighting can play an important role in setting the scene and highlighting focal points your garden. The great thing with outdoor lighting is that you can rely on the sun to power up evening lighting without needing to link up to the grid.
Choose your pots and containers carefully - there’s a theme here. Always choose recycled or repurposed containers where you can (check out your local salvage yards or eBay). But if you want to buy something new, consider Ecopots which are made from recycled plastic which may even outlive traditional terracotta or clay.
Keep it green - don’t cover your garden in paving or concrete. As well as playing a practical role (absorbing water when it rains and important stuff like that), green gardens also have an important impact on our mental health and well-being (see https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/gardening-in-a-changing-world/front-garden-research )