Birds, Conservation, Current Issues, Gardening, Guest Posts, Organic, Sustainable Living

In today’s fragile natural world, where we’re constantly facing the negative impact of previous and ongoing environmental damage, building and maintaining a sustainable garden simply makes sense.

Whether you’re looking to add one or two sustainable features into your small backyard, or you’re thinking of starting a large-scale project to make your garden an eco-friendly, bio-diverse habitat, there are plenty of features and elements you can incorporate into your outdoor space to make it more earth-friendly – no matter your budget or the size of your space.

In today’s post, we’re considering everything from bird feeders and vegetable patches to ‘green roofs’ and the materials you can use to create your summer decking, to help you discover different ways you can maximise the sustainability of your garden space.

sustainable garden design

Build sustainably

If you’re thinking of building your sustainable garden from scratch, then there are a whole host of things to consider before you do. Firstly, think about new, innovative and long-term ways that your outside area could help the environment and those living in it, such as by installing a ‘green roof’.

A green roof can either be built on top of your home or a shed at the bottom of your garden, or to liven up your bland and boring garage roof. Partially or completely covered with shrubbery, not only do green roofs attract an assortment of wildlife to them, but, because of their ability to absorb large amounts of rainwater, they also provide an eco-friendly insulating element to the interior they are installed on top of.

If you’re looking to build a structure from scratch, make use of innately sustainable building methods, such as modular construction – as this way, you’ll reduce the environmental impact from the offset and can benefit from in-built features like grey water recycling and renewable energy systems.

Cultivate your own vegetables

There’s nothing better than being at one with nature – and particularly within the comfort of your own home and garden. A vegetable patch makes this possible, while remaining sustainable and adding an element of fun in the process.

Growing your own food is a guaranteed way to reduce your carbon footprint, as the distance your food travels to the shop – which you then drive to to buy – is all reduced by the simple act of you stepping out your back door, and pulling out a homegrown vegetable, fruit or herb from your self-built patch. With so many different types of plant beds to choose from, regardless of the size of your space, you are sure to find a way to incorporate a vegetable patch into your garden that suits both the needs of your family and the environment you’re working with.

Create a biodiverse haven

Another vital ingredient when it comes to creating a sustainable garden is creating a space that attracts and provides resources for the wildlife that inhabits it.

Invite bugs and birds into your garden by choosing plants aimed at encouraging biodiversity, installing water baths and hanging up bird feeders from trees and sheds. Choose a range of plant climbers and shrubs that consist of a healthy mix of fruit, pollen and nectar to encourage bees and birds to feed alongside each other. In addition, consider putting up ivy either around a shed or across the corners of your outdoor area, to give a variety of wildlife – such as bugs and even small mammals – a place to shelter from the elements.

Use what you’ve got

One of the most important things to remember when creating a sustainable garden – either from scratch or when incorporating a few eco-friendly features into your space – is to make sure that the materials you’re using are as environmentally friendly as possible.

Recycled wood can allow you to create beautiful outdoor decking that lets you enjoy the wildlife in your garden – and natural resources such as collected rainwater will allow you to harvest crops from your new vegetable patch. Additionally, don’t let your food waste go to waste. Create an area in your garden where your leftover dinners can be put to good use by composting them so they can be used in the future, to fertilise your new and flourishing sustainable garden.

sustainable gardens

Complying to, and encouraging, the general practice of sustainable living isn’t a hard task. From adding small-scale features into your existing garden that encourage wildlife to thrive, to building a sustainable garden from the ground up (literally), an eco-friendly exterior will not only reduce your carbon footprint but, because of its lush greenery and abundant wildlife, will look undeniably stunning, too.

Alex Jones is a content creator for Elements Europe, an industry-leading offsite construction company specialising in sustainable modular building systems, and part of the Pickstock Group.

Current Issues, Megan, Sustainable Living, Watering

Reducing the resources that go into your garden will not only help the environment but help you save money. By taking some simple steps, you can work your way towards a zero waste garden which will be cheaper, healthier and easier on the planet!

Plants

The plants you choose to grow in your garden have a significant impact on your garden waste. Choosing appropriate plants and optimising their placement in your garden will use fewer resources, reduce waste as well as help with pest resistance.

Zero Waste Garden - UK Wild Flowers

Natives

Native plants are that occur naturally have existed for many years in a given area. They offer the most sustainable habitat for local wildlife and are perfectly equipped to live in the local climate. Plants native to the UK include:

  • Juniper
  • Strawberry tree
  • Crab apple
  • Field maple
  • Rowan
  • Field rose
  • Dwarf willow

The RHS has an extensive list of trees and shrubs native to the UK on their website.

Plant Placement

When deciding where to plant specific species, it is important to take into consideration how much sunlight and shade your garden gets and when. Planting species in appropriate places to suit their needs will allow them to thrive to the best of their ability as well as reduce waste.

Going Organic

Eliminating the use of chemicals in your garden will stop the need for you to buy expensive herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers that are often sold in plastic packaging. Going organic will encourage you to take advantage of natural plant fertilisers that are most likely already hanging around your house, some examples being banana peel, coffee grounds and egg shells. And on top of it all, your plants will thank you for it!

Water

Here in the UK we are in the midst of a drought, and with hosepipe bans coming into force across the country, it’s a great time to change you approach of how you use water in your garden. Developing suitable watering practices and conserving water where you can will help you use water more efficiently. With global climate change having a direct affect on our weather, the pressure on clean water supplies is only going to increase so reducing water waste is as important as ever.

Zero Waste Garden

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater harvesting is the collection of rainwater and runoff for reuse in the garden or in the home. You can collect rainwater in a water butt connected to a downpipe. The rainwater collected is also better for your garden than hard tap water, which may leave limescale deposits or affect the ph of your soil.

Improving Soil Structure

Putting some effort into improving your soil structure will help it retain moisture. Adding organic matter, such as compost and manure, to your soil will bind particles into aggregates and improves its water holding capacity.

Preventing Overwatering

A lot of us water our gardens too much, which wastes water. Before watering your garden, feel the soil. Only water if the soil feels damp, or if your plants are starting to show signs of lacking water.

Timings

During hot weather, it is best to water your garden in the early morning or in the early evening. This will prevent water evaporating in the heat of the sun during the hotter hours of the day, thus saving water usage.

Watering Techniques

  • Sprinklers are best used to water larger areas such as lawns and unplanted areas
  • Hoses and watering cans are great for targeting specific areas such as the plant roots
  • Seep hoses are hoses containing holes, which allow for watering underground. They are best used to water rows of plants.

Compost & Mulch

Buying plastic packets of compost and mulch comes with lots of waste in the form of plastic packaging, which isn’t biodegradable or sustainable. You can make your own compost and mulch from waste you already accumulate in your house and garden, saving you money. Read our guide on how to compost to find out more on turning your kitchen waste into compost.

Zero Waste Garden - Mulch

You can make your own mulch by collecting leaves during autumn and winter, shredding them up with a lawn mower and storing into a ventilated container. To find out more about mulch, check out our complete guide on how to mulch.

If making your own compost and mulch is not an option, opt to buy in bulk. This will also save you a considerable amount of money in the long run.

With reducing waste being all the buzz at the moment it is the perfect time to get involved by working towards a zero waste garden!

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Allotment, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Lotti, Sustainable Living, Vegetables

gardening in ww2

In WW2 Britain, times had never felt so tough. With the scream of German bombers wheeling ahead and the continued destruction of homes, businesses and lives, it was clear that the war had reached Britain’s shores. The people were afraid – and hungry: just years before, 75% of Britain’s food had been imported by ship, but the German blockade meant that these food imports had been halved by millions of tonnes.

Rationing came in small increments – first bacon, butter and sugar then meat, tea, biscuits, cereals. By August 1942 all food was being rationed apart from vegetables and bread, which were in incredibly short supply. In some places, even domestic fruit like apples were restricted to one per person, and it wasn’t unheard of for grocers to only sell oranges to children and pregnant women.

Then, in 1939, Agricultural Minister Professor John Raeburn set up the Dig For Victory campaign. Men, women and children across the country were encouraged to grow their own produce in a bid for self-sufficiency and to ensure that all families had enough food to go around. The campaign was a famous success and across the country people took to their gardens to fill the gap that was left by strict rationing.

dig for victory poster
A Popular Dig For Victory Poster

The effect the campaign had on the common allotment was electric. In 1939, when Raeburn first set up the programme, there were 815,000 allotments across the UK. By 1943, there were around 1,400,000. Gardens across the country were transformed, flower beds replaced by vegetable plots, petunias swapped for potatoes. People were even encouraged to grow their own food on top of Anderson Shelters – the corrugated steel structures designed to withstand the impact of bombs.

It wasn’t just fruit and vegetables that started to fill residential streets: people were encouraged to raise animals too – pigs were particularly popular as they could be fed with table scraps, and chickens and rabbits reproduced quickly and provided families with meat during rationing and shortages. Keeping chickens was especially encouraged by the government, and you could exchange your egg ration for chicken feed – a good trade off for chickens laying eggs virtually all year round.

The well-stocked and dug-up garden became a symbol of British resilience. Known as Victory Gardens, they were a way for those at home to feel like they were part of the war efforts. Soon, it wasn’t just home and family gardens that were dug up for produce: almost every available green space was transformed into one of these Victory Gardens. Grassy verges on the sides of roads, playing fields and cricket greens were replaced with rows of vegetables. Bombed out playgrounds were ripped up and replaced with allotments, homes that had been turned into rubble were transformed into vegetable patches. Even the moat around the Tower of London was filled with vegetables. There were demonstration patches in London Zoo, pig clubs were set up around the country and national gardening societies and competitions shut down to encourage members and contestants to turn to growing food, not flowers.

allotment crater
A mini-allotment in bomb crater in Westminster

From the smallest children to the elderly, everyone was out with their spades. Tending to fruit and vegetable patches became a part of the school day as children worked in what used to be their playgrounds. In Scotland, children volunteered picking potatoes and were encouraged to make it part of their schooling, getting teachers involved and requesting trips to local farms where they could help gather the harvest. Many people were keen to do their bit, and hundreds of young people headed to Harvest Camps where you could volunteer for a week or more working outside harvesting vegetables or flax. The work was hard going and while those attending these camps did often receive pay (1/6d per hour) no one who attended them was there to make money.

Raeburn himself said it best – “We want not only the big man with the plough but also the little man with the spade to get busy this autumn. The matter is not one that can wait. So let’s get going. Let ‘Dig for Victory’ be the motto of everyone with a garden and of every able-bodied man and woman capable of digging an allotment in their spare time.” Propaganda at the time showed a kind of duality – it aligned the British people who were putting so much effort into growing their own food with those fighting on the front line while also reminding them that they weren’t gardening because they had to but because gardening was a pleasurable and relaxing experience. Gardening wasn’t just necessary – it was fashionable.

In fact, Dig To Victory led to one of Britain’s first true gardening celebrities – Cecil Henry Middleton (popularly known as just “Mr Middleton”). Mr Middleton hosted a Sunday afternoon radio show on the BBC Home Service where he guided listeners on how to best tend their garden. By 1940, Mr Middleton had 3.5 million listeners and around 70% of people with wirelesses tuned into his show every Sunday.

To make the campaign even more appealing, two mascots were introduced – Dr. Carrot and Potato Pete. Potatoes and especially carrots were easy to grow almost anywhere, and were the vegetables which were in most plentiful supply. The characters featured heavily in posters and even had their own songs to get children and families interested. They were in surplus supply, so it looked likely that the populace would soon get sick of eating them: the government had to make sure that didn’t happen. Carrots especially were praised for their versatility – not only were they a staple vegetable, they were also sweet, so were turned into jams, spreads and even drinks. Praised for their nutritional benefits, a hugely successful propaganda campaign told families that carrots helped you see in the dark, and that the British pilot’s victories over the german Luftwaffe was thanks to their improved eyesight from eating so many. This was, of course, a myth: but one that still lives on today.

potato pete
Potato Pete and Doctor Carrot

After the war ended, allotments began to drift back out of fashion. With supply-lines reopening, growing your own food was no longer a necessity – soon, gardens that had once been full of chickens and potatoes had turned back to lawns and flowerbeds. Land which had been transformed into vegetable patches was used for building houses. The post-war climate was very different: the television saw a massive boom in popularity and how people chose to use their leisure time changed. Gardening was popular but the allotment started to seem old-fashioned and, dare I say it: uncool. By the late 50s, allotment funding was withdrawn.

After a long period of disinterest in the grow your own movement, the trend appears to be slipping back in. A 2011 survey of around two thousand people showed that one in six adults had started to grow their own food, and half saying that they would consider doing so if food prices continue to rise. On the whole, however, gardens still seem to be dominated by immaculate lawns, flower beds and the odd trampoline. With the threat of increased food prices on the horizon and the need for more sustainable living practices, perhaps it’s time we took a leaf out of our great-grandparents’ books and returned to the spade to dig for victory once more.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Conservation, Current Issues, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Organic, Sustainable Living, Wildlife

Eco friendly product swaps

Introducing environmental values to your lifestyle is something that is becoming near-essential in the modern age. With eco-friendly homewares and low-energy appliances dominating the interior of the home, what can homeowners do in their gardens to remain eco-conscious?

Turns out, there are plenty of ways green-thumbed folks can attune their garden to the environment, and this post will run through some product swaps that can be done easily and without much impact on your garden’s bloom.

Feed your plants sustainably

The first consideration you should make in terms of keeping your garden eco-friendly is your plants’ diet. While some big brand fertilisers and plant foods may promise incredible growth in your plants, they tend to be based on chemicals which are bad for the environment.

Chemicals used in these fertilisers include nitrates and urea, which may improve your garden’s bloom in the short term, but long-term use of these products can contaminate the local area’s groundwater. Nitrogen pollution in groundwater is known to cause illnesses amongst humans and animals, as well as affecting water-borne life by creating an influx of plant life that deoxygenates ponds and lakes. When writ large across our rural areas, this is both a public health risk and an environmental hazard.

While this problem is largely down to industrial farming methods, doing the right thing in your garden by opting for organic fertilisers such as compost or manure will have a positive impact – however small it may be.

Avoid needless plastic

Both an aesthetic and environmentally practical choice, swapping out plastic pots for hard-wearing ceramic or terracotta will make your garden look far more stylish – all while reducing your reliance on an unnatural material. Once you’ve finished with your plastic pots, seek out ways to recycle or upcycle them into something new – don’t just opt for the landfill!

Just remember to replant your potted plants at the earliest possible opportunity, before they’ve put down firm roots, in order to make this as easy as possible.

Use renewable lighting

Picture the scene. It’s late summer, the nights are creeping in earlier and you need a bit of light in your garden. There might be a temptation to invest in conventionally-powered lighting, but this can negatively impact on your energy bills and electricity usage.

Solar-powered outdoor lights, on the other hand, require no mains wiring or batteries and slowly charge throughout the day – giving you pretty festival-style evening lighting. This alternative will effortlessly provide a gorgeous background to the later stages of your summer soirées.

Be bee-conscious

You may have heard of the crisis facing the world’s bee population. These prolific pollinators face a range of threats, from insecticides that harm their sense of navigation to the increase in colony collapse disorder – whereupon the worker bees abscond from the hive, leaving the queen to die.

A family of chemicals called neonicotinoids contribute to this global problem and are present in several commercial insecticides. Avoiding these and instead opting for natural alternatives (such as garlic or chilli sprays), all while planting plenty of pollen-rich, bee-friendly flowers in your garden, means you can do your part to allay the advance of this crisis.

Swap the supermarket for the garden

Growing your own doesn’t require an allotment, nor does it necessitate giving over your lawn to row upon row of crops. A small section of your garden can produce vegetables galore, and the only outlay that’s required is the purchase of seeds and a few home-grow essentials.

Soon, your natural harvest will come in, and you’ll be decreasingly reliant on the carbon-heavy supermarket supply chains – all while basking in the satisfaction of eating ingredients you grew yourself.

Bee in garden

An eco-friendly garden is a healthy garden, so we hope this post has proven that you needn’t sacrifice the lush greenery of your outside space by attuning it to the environment.

Paul RichardsPaul Richards is a long-time botanist and founder of Herbfarmacy – an online retailer selling organic, natural skin care products for all skin types that are packed with herbs grown on their farm in Herefordshire.

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