Gardening sustainably - how to create a resilient garden
Gardening in a changing climate brings new challenges, but making sustainable choices can help your garden be more resilient, as garden designer Tom Massey explains
Considering how we optimise our outside space and making sustainable choices can have a huge impact in supporting our ecosystems and increasing the sustainability of our gardens. Here are some suggestions of sustainable choices to help make your garden more resilient.
There is nearly always a suitable tree for any garden; choose species that are able to deal with local climatic conditions and will cope with the future changes to the climate, too. Mitigate the loss of any trees with at least one, preferably multiple, replacements, as they draw carbon out of the air. As it is an important habitat for many species, including rare invertebrates, dead wood is best left in the landscape – with a bit of creative thinking, it can be aesthetically pleasing, too.
Reduce hard landscaping
While gardens need hard surfaces for practical accessibility, areas of hard materials such as paving don’t need to be impermeable deserts. For example, leaving planted channels between slabs or using permeable materials such as gravel can add to the aesthetic interest of the space as well as reducing the risk of flooding.
Design seasonal planting areas
Successional planting design, where different species of plants flower throughout the year and succeed each other, can mean that cut flowers, foliage, and seedheads are available for use year-round. Cut flowers and foliage bring nature inside, and can save up to 7.9kg (17 1⁄2lb) carbon per bunch compared with buying imported or commercially produced bunches.
Every 1kg (2 1⁄4lb) of site-made compost typically saves 100g (3 1⁄2 oz) of carbon dioxide emissions, which could add up to more than 5.1kg (11 1⁄4lb) carbon saved per gardener every year. Although it doesn’t usually represent the most beautiful space, compost production is key to a sustainable, circular approach where the aim is that nothing is sent to landfill. With forethought, the composting area can be screened creatively.
More like this
There are also discreet and compact “off-the-shelf” composting units for small spaces. These take up little room and can compost at accelerated rates due to their innovative designs.
Add green roofs
Green roof systems can be incorporated into any structures – sheds, garages, bin stores – with forethought and planning. This will increase biodiversity and can sequester up to 0.375kg carbon per sq m (3⁄4lb per 1⁄4sq yd) per year.
They also insulate the internal spaces beneath them and increase the life of the roof membranes. For retro-fitting projects, ensure that the structure is capable of taking the increased weight; consult a structural engineer if you are in doubt.
- Plants for green roofs with soil depth 150mm
- Plants for green roofs with soil depth 100mm
- Plants for green roofs with soil depth of 50mm
Use renewable technologies
Reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and incorporate renewable technologies where climatic conditions allow, for example solar panels, solar lighting, wind power, and hydroelectric, ground- and air-sourced heating technologies.
Think about greening on all planes
Vertical surfaces such as fences and walls can be greened with climbing plants or green wall technologies, offering a range of benefits that include habitats, food, and shelter for animals and invertebrates. They can also provide insulation for buildings.
Include productive plants
You could opt for a formal productive area, with raised beds; a more integrated approach, with edimentals (ornamental edibles) incorporated into the wider planting; or a “food forest” approach, where interlinked species of productive plants and trees sustainably co-exist.
Planning for food production can be educational, particularly for children, and deepens our connection with nature. It is rewarding and the end result is delicious, too!
Find out more about gardening sustainably and in a changing climate:
- Gardening in a changing climate
- Key plants for a climate change garden
- Listen to Arit Anderson discussing sustainable gardening
Extract taken from RHS Resilient Garden by Tom Massey, £27, DK.