SUSTAINABILITY IN HORTICULTURE & GARDEN DESIGN
As keen gardeners we spend most of our time working to improve the naturalistic elements of our own personal spaces. We try to improve on nature, and thus we have a responsibility to look after, not only the small spaces we call our gardens but the also, planet earth.
So what does sustainability in horticulture mean?
‘…design, construction, operations and maintenance practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Well, that does sound serious, and it is. But there are many changes we can make to improve our own gardens and make sure future generations have the same opportunities afforded to us.
No doubt most of us will have some sort of sustainable solutions already within our gardens, weather that is a wildlife refuge for local fauna or simply a water butt to collect the, lets face it common British phenomenon we call rain. And others feel a little more forced upon us. Such as the reduction in use of 100% peat composts.
Cheap, usually imported, bags of peat do not reflect the environmental costs to society caused by peat mining and are undercutting the production and supply of peat-free materials.
Did you know that amateur gardeners use 66 per cent of the total peat consumed in the UK, most of it in growing media such as multi-purpose compost and growing bags.
Did you know that each lowland raised bog, which is the preferred type for peat extraction, holds its own unique and bio-diverse community of plant and animal species which is threatened by extraction. Over 3,000 species of insect, 800 flowering plants and hundreds of kinds of mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi.
did you know, peatlands are important water stores, holding about 10 per cent of global freshwater; peat takes so long to form - it grows by about 1mm per year - Commercial extractors typically remove up to 22cm of peat per year.
Advances in the development of peat-free horticultural products, means that the UK could establish its own long-term viable industry providing sustainable soil conditioners and growing materials for amateur and professional gardeners.
Many peat-free composts work as effectively or even better than peat. Much of the material used for peat replacement contributes to recycling, such as green compost, or use by-products including wood brash and other forestry waste. Commercially grown and harvested Sphagnum moss is also proving popular with the professional horticulture industry.
So, what can we do to ensure that these precious habitats remain part of our hugely diverse ecosystem?
When you buy a bag of multi-purpose compost or soil conditioner, look to see if it is peat based. If it is, ask if there is a reduced peat alternative or better yet, peat free!
Make your own compost! Now, I know that is not always and option for every garden and gardener but if you can, give it a try.
Composting will bring about vibrant, fortifying change to your gardens while it reduces waste.
A simple leaf mulch will improve the quality of your soil. This is as simple as raking up leaves and placing them into a bag. When the bag is almost full, sprinkle with water, shake and tie. Store in a shady spot and the following autumn the leaves will have rotted down into a rich, crumbly mixture that can be used as a mulch around the base of plants. Comfrey can be used to create a wonderful manure, not only does it perform as a splendid (although invasive) plant but it contains high levels of all the essential nutrients for plant growth: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (NPK) together with many other trace elements. Wilted leaves can be dug into the ground and give the surrounding soil an excellent feed. Or alternatively if you can’t make your own, a well-rotted farmyard manure will work wonders on your borders. For a mulch, try wood chip, shavings or bark. These will reduce the amount of weeding required and improve water retention within the beds, cutting down on another area we can improve on, watering.
Let me say this straight away, water butts are great. When they work and don’t leak!
But, what else can we do as hobby gardeners to reduce our water usage in a climate that seems to be getting more and more unpredictable each year?
first and foremost, looking after your soil.
As we have already discussed, having a well looked after soil with plenty of well-rotted manure and bark chippings will drastically reduce the amount of water your garden will require. Weather through natural means or through the hose pipe!
This should be the first port of call for every gardener, not only will the nutrients contained within the manure (or better yet homemade compost!) improve the quality of the plants but it’ll also reduce the stress upon them, thus improve the quality of your garden!
Being sustainable and making our gardens look better, what is there not to like?
So, we’ve improved our soil, we’ve reduced our need for constant watering drastically. What else can we do?
An approach that is becoming very popular amongst the horticulture community are.. RAIN GARDENS So, what is a rain garden?
‘In its simplest form, a rain garden is a shallow depression, with absorbent, yet free draining soil and planted with vegetation that can withstand occasional temporary flooding’
This has become a popular technique used on large public or private developments where flash flooding has become an ever-prominent risk. But we can use this to reduce our artificial watering required in our own gardens.
The idea is simple, build a rill leading from the down-pipe of your house, lead this to a lower section of the garden where we build our rain garden. This can be made into an attractive feature whilst being a huge benefit to your garden’s ecosystem.
When It comes to planting your rain garden, we need to look for plants that will tolerate both wet and dry conditions. Some personal favourites of mine are Iris sibirica, Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ and crocosmia even Gerainium rozanne will work! General rule of thumb, if it already grows well in your garden, it should work in your new rain garden.
RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE
Choosing the right plants for your garden makes a huge difference to the overall quality and health of your garden. We are all aware of the saying ‘Right plant, right place’. We plant Shade-loving plants in the shadow of tall sun-loving plants, sun-loving plants are planted in places with the best exposure to light. Water-loving plants are grown where moisture collects, trailing plants are grown over terraces and so on. Not only does this create good planting design but it allows the space to thrive.
Companion planting is an organic method of maintaining a natural balance in your garden, aiding pollination and keeping pest numbers down.
Companion planting is something I first came upon whilst working on Langhams Vineyard in Dorset. Where we used to plant roses at the end of each row of vines. The roses act as a type of early warning system to the presence of these fungal infections. Then action can be taken to prevent the disease from damaging the grape crop. Roses are more susceptible to Powdery mildew and downy mildew and will show signs of disease first. allowing time to treat the grape vines and save the crop.
It has since become an integral plant of my planting design and the benefits to your garden can be immeasurable.
So, what are some plant combinations you can implement to help improve the health of your garden?
Artemisia absinthium, is a strongly scented herb that can deter aphids and flea beetles from attacking neighbouring plants. Its yellow flowers attract hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds, which all prey on aphids.
Thymus vulgaris makes a good companion plant for roses, as its strong scent deters blackfly and if you’re interested in protecting your precious veg, A tea made from soaking thyme leaves, sprayed on to cabbages can prevent whitefly.
Although companion planting is more common on the grow your own side of horticulture, having a diverse array of specimens within your garden will attract a plethora of beneficial wildlife which will only improve your local ecosystem and subsequently your garden.
Our last practice involves, once again the plants you choose for your garden. DROUGHT-RESISTANT PLANTS
2018 was the joint hottest summer on record for the UK as a whole, and the hottest ever for England. I’m sure we can all remember the stress of our lawns turning brown, watering our pots morning and evening and still struggling to keep our precious plants alive.
Companies I use to construct my designs stopped all planting for nearly two months during the summer, they were finding that the root balls of these plants were actually shrinking in their planting holes before they could become established. This is a trend which is set to continue as we discover more about our ever-evolving climate change.
As our climate evolves, we as gardeners need to evolve with it.
so, what characteristics do drought tolerant plants have?
Many drought tolerant plants have silver or grey-green leaves, their light leaf colour reflecting the harsh rays of the sun.
Some have a coating of fine hairs on their leaves or stems, helping to trap moisture around the plant tissues.
Aromatic leaves contain volatile scented compounds that are thought to cool foliage as they evaporate, reducing water loss.
Fleshy, succulent leaves store moisture for dry spells.
Leathery foliage loses less water than soft leaves.
Long, narrow leaves are very good at shedding heat without losing water.
Spikes act as ‘fins’ that cool the plant.
If you spot any of these characteristics on plants in your local nursery then it’s a fair bet they will be suitable for a summer like last year, but here are a few of my must haves! For the front of borders I would suggest Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ or Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’. For the middle of your borders I would suggest Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ or Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’. And for the back I would suggest something like Verbena bonariensis or stipa gigantea!
So we have spoken about the principles of sustainable horticulture and some practical ideas for your gardens, but how do garden designers go about creating sustainable, future proof gardens? DESIGN PRINCIPLES For this section I would like to show you examples of my work, particularly images of show gardens I have produced. All of which have elements of sustainability within them. The first show garden I produced was for RHS Malvern spring show. ‘The Low Line’ was an interpretation of the now world-famous High Line in Manhattan, New York.
‘The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. Saved from demolition by neighbourhood residents and the City of New York, the High Line opened in 2009 as a hybrid public space where visitors experience nature, art, and design.’
Personally, I find this image stunning. The juxtaposition between the hard lines of New York’s high rises verses the ability for nature to thrive against all odds has always fascinated me.
When I started to research the High Line for our show garden, I then realised how important the project really was. Not only to the thousands to traverse it every day but to the future of green spaces within our ever-expanding cities.
Environmental sustainability is a core value of the High Line. The park is an inherently green structure, as it re-purposes a piece of industrial infrastructure into a uniquely designed public space.
The masterful planting of this revolutionary idea was of course carried out by Piet Oudolf. And it encompasses many of the core sustainable principles we have already discussed, including native, drought-tolerant, and low-maintenance species, which cuts down on the resources that go into the landscape.
Not only is the planting forward thinking and sustainable, but the hard landscaping is too.
The signature paving is an innovative technology in as much as it is a walking surface; built from individual concrete planks with open joints and specially tapered edges and seams that integrate planting and rail tracks, permit the free flow of water between the paving and directs water to planting beds to minimise irrigation requirements.
I knew then, that I had to recreate the core values of the high line. And whilst our budget was significantly smaller, I started looking at new exciting ways to landscape the garden.
We used composite decking as our main path, a decking material made from recycled plastics and timber saved from landfill sites. We used permeable paving and gravel solutions to increase our water efficacy. All Materials were sourced from local suppliers and planting was naturalistic, low maintenance and drought tolerant.
Part of my responsibility as a garden designer, is to create spaces that will stand the test of time. That are aimed at improving not only the clients lives but also the local ecology.
THE CLIC-SARGENT GARDEN
My next show garden was produced for the APL avenue at BBC gardener’s world Live. We were working in conjunction with the children’s charity CLIC Sargent and wanted to produce a garden that was based on a memory of my grandfather’s garden. Moving from cutting edge to a more classic garden is a large step, but the design principles always remained the same.
Firstly, we wanted to reuse as many materials as possible.
Often when building show gardens, especially larger ones. There is a lot of wastage, concrete, paving, decking etc but I wanted to try and correct this. I wanted to show that you can create an authentic believable space whilst using materials that may not strictly be ‘Brand new.’ The main feature within the garden was an enchanted folly. We wanted this to look like it had been a part of the garden for many years. Integral to this was the use of reclaimed materials. So, we set about finding old fence panels, borrowed scaffold boards. Scoured reclaim yards begged friends and family and started to see ‘junk’ in a whole new way!
This was such a refreshing change and greatly impacted me as a designer and re-purposing materials has become a staple of my designs.
The paving we used to create the ‘Crazy paving’ (a trend that is currently being touted as ‘must have’ for 2019 by the society of garden designers and one I 100% believe, brought back!) was constructed from paving that had broken in transit or during construction on other domestic jobs.
The fence that lined the perimeter of the garden was found on a local farm with wire and ropes still attached from its prior use and a large proportion of the planting was grown on in the nursery. The planting itself was a classic mix of cottage plants. We wanted to do something we thought the public would respond to. A lot of the gardens that I am asked to create are your classic Cotswold gardens. Lavender, Lupins, Geraniums, Alchemilla. So, we took that forward and tried to create a space that would evoke memories of the visitor’s childhoods as well as my own.
Cottage planting with it vibrate colours and hefty scents attract thousands of insects to your garden, the impact of having a diverse array of wildlife within your garden greatly improves the overall health of your garden and the biodiversity of the local ecology. But as we are all now avid sustainable gardeners, I don’t need to tell you that again!
We were lucky enough to win a Silver merit for the garden and we also won the overall peoples choice award! Once again, proving that with a little imagination and some helpful friends (and farmers!) you can create a sustainable show garden. Now for a bit of a plug!
I have been asked to produce a show garden for this years Blenheim Flower show in June. RE:CLAIM
After being asked to produce a garden for the past two years and after two years off the ‘show circuit’ I decided it was time to deal with the stress, worry, work and eventually (hopefully!) jubilation again.
Here is an exert of this years show brief.
‘For 2019, the Show Gardens will follow the theme of ‘Regeneration’, urban, country or futuristic; designers are asked to let their imagination go wild. Each completed garden should fit within a 5m x 5m space, contain no less than 60% of planting, these gardens aim to show that even the everyday and the low cost can be used to create inspirational interventions that can make significant and lasting changes to gardens, the outdoors and natural areas, it should include some hard landscaping and show a creative use of the space in line with the show garden theme.’
well, as you can imagine, this really got the cogs whirring for me. Right up my ally!
Sustainability is a buzz word at the moment. Not only within horticulture itself but in the wider world. Every company is striving to become greener, reduce emissions and work sustainably.
This makes the task of designing something original, bespoke and interesting for visitors tricky. But us designers do love a good challenge!
I started as I do with all gardens I design, looking at the client and how they will to use the space. Now, with show gardens unless you have a sponsor who is dictating the brief of the garden, you’re normally free to design the space for any type of client you wish. This time I decided I wanted to design something for first time buyers. 20’s and 30’s somethings who have an interest in gardening but may not yet have the knowledge to fully submerse themselves in potting compost and seed collection. But somewhere their interest can…..blossom?
A great way to get started in the exciting world of horticulture is grow your own. Relatively simple, doesn’t require a large space and seeing the results of your tireless tilling often leaves you wanting more. OK So, we need a space for that I thought. Check.
What else? Alcohol! Well more precisely, outdoor entertainment. The inside/out, outside/in revolution is huge business. And quite rightly. Being able to entertain your friends and family within your garden has been a staple of garden design for an eternity but now we see more and more interior trends making their way into our gardens and visa-versa. OK So, we need a bar I thought Check.
One of the most requested features I get asked for by my clients is a Fire pit. Often amazing focal points. Work well in almost any style of design. They Prolong the use of the garden into the evening. What is there not to love. So, we’ve got to have a fire pit I thought.
Once again, I wanted to really push the reuse/recycle ethos. And show visitors what you can do with every day, readily available materials.
So, I settled down in the studio and started to come up with a concept design.
I wanted to implement shelving into the garden. One to add some much-needed height to the space but also, as this is a relativity small garden, to add storage. I settled on shelving made from old scaffolding. This I knew I could procure easily and that would otherwise be thrown away after it has become unfit for use. Health and safety and all! This worked out rather well and I’m looking forward to seeing in the garden come June.
We needed seating around the Fire pit and I was lucky enough to have a cheap supply of old pallets available to me. So, we will be constructing two arm chairs from pallets and some home-made cushions. These are super easy to make and made from an essentially a throw away commodity, and look great!
Lastly the fire pit itself. A few years ago, my father told me of friend who loved creating new things out of old bits and bobs. He told me that his latest creation was a fire pit made from an old washing machine drum and that was that. The perfect combination of recycling and sustainability.
All of the wood used to create the remaining sections of the garden is recycled, the decorations adoring the shelves will be second hand or my own property and the raised veg beds will contain self-grown vegetables such as Pak-choi, Kale and salad leaves. (Hopefully!)
This garden will be the first I have created whilst owning my own company and has been a huge challenge for me. But I hope that the public will be able to understand the message conveyed and leave with some ideas for their own space. Its very easy these days to pop down to the local B&Q or Homebase and pick up the cheapest, biggest, rapid action solution for our gardening needs. But we as gardeners have the ability to make a change. A change that will force larger companies to stop seeing numbers and start seeing the benefits. We have the ability to improve our gardens without ruining the natural wonders that surround them. And we have the duty to ensure that future generations are afforded the same luxury as we have been fortunate enough to have. Gardening is wonderful, and sometimes all you need to do is see it from a different point of view.