Environment Friendly Gardening

Minimize your impact on the environment  Help the environment to help you to garden.


The second point needs a little explanation - A garden is an artificial construct in what should be a wild place. Any plants you put in it, particularly those that are not natives are invaders and will be seen as competition or food by the native plants, animals and fungi. If you destroy the natives too effectively, then biodiversity will fall, this is the variety of life that lives in your garden - despite the sound of this it is not a good idea as it makes it more likely that a pest or disease will run away with and destroy your favourite plant than if there are natural checks and balances to keep it under control. Green gardening maintains biodiversity which enhances stability and so becomes self-enhancing.

  Grow insect and bird friendly plants

Now you could go the whole hog and have a wild flower area or wild flower lawn, though unless you have a very large garden with an area you can put aside to do this in I suggest you don't. Why not? Because they look great in late spring, but then they go-over when they've flowered, often literally falling over and becoming something not very pretty at all. You have to keep it at this stage if you want the full benefit from it, then later on when you mow it down, it's all yellow and takes ages to recover - fine for a meadow out in the countryside, but not terribly attractive in your garden. I have tried this in my not-that-large garden and I know several other people who have tried it too, no-one I know has bothered to repeat it.

Instead, I find it's more successful for me as a gardener, to grow some appropriate plants mixed in with the rest of the garden, particularly as I'm likely to keep it going year after year rather than the one-off my wildflower meadow area was.

There are many such plants and they don't have to be wild ones to have value for wildlife, here are some I grow that are good garden plants and beloved by wildlife too:

Herbaceous

  • Verbascum - Mullein, (picture right) great big leaves, 12" x 6" with a wonderful soft furry texture in spring, flower spikes to 6ft that are dotted with individual flowers, long lasting - a real magnet for hoverflies. Biennial
  • Digitalis - Foxglove, old cottage garden favourite, good for bees. Biennial
  • Lilies, wonderful large often scented flowers that produce pollen to drive hoverflies barmy. Perennial
  • Lavender, another magnet for pollinating insects. Perennial
  • Fennel, especially bronze fennel. A stately and attractive plant with wispy foliage is that is like mist from a distance (well I think it is anyway), flowers attract insects and seeds in the winter attract birds. Self-seeds, but less of a problem than growing them from seed, just pull up the ones you don't want. Perennial


Climbers

  • Lonicera - honeysuckle (picture right) beloved cottage garden climber, grow up an arbour, through a mature tree or an infrequently trimmed hedge. Flowers are loved by many insects, berries in the autumn are favoured by birds
  • Rosa felipes kiftsgate,  great big rose that in my garden is about 15ft wide and 12ft high up a large conifer hedge. Flowers visited by bees and loads of pollinating beetles, hips in the winter for the birds.
  • Ivy, wild is best, if you can, leave it to do its own thing up and old tree, fence or wall. Bees go mad for the flowers which are produced usually long after any others in the garden and so are especially valuable, birds then love the berries which are also late. Not the prettiest plant, but often the only plant that will grow in a dark or difficult place in the garden.


Shrubs

  • Pyracantha, an often underestimated plant, burglar proof (your house with it - that is), grow as a wall shrub or bush, not too fussy about soil and grows in the shade, flowers popular with many pollinating insects and blackbirds in particular love the autumn berries.
  • CotoneasterMany wild and cultivated varieties, almost doesn't matter which you have as they are all wildlife-friendly. Flowers are an absolute favourite for bees, birds love the berries.


Trees

  • Fruit - Almost any fruit tree is wildlife friendly, the blossom in spring and the fruit in late summer and autumn. There will always be windfall fruit to leave for the birds, if you don't want it littering the lawn up, then kick the bruised windfall fruit into the nearest border. You won't see it as the plant leaves will hide it, but the birds will find it easily and what they miss will rot down and add to the humous content of the border soil.
    Crab Apple - Plum- Pears- Apple- All fruit trees


Advantages of growing wildlife friendly plants:

  • Increases biodiversity
  • Many attractive plants in their own right
  • Plants with life around them always seem more "planty" to me than something that wildlife wouldn't consider approaching

  Make your own compost - and use it too

Composting organic waste is one of the oldest, easiest and most effective forms of recycling that you can do.

All plant material that comes from your garden can and should go onto a compost heap, likewise any potato peelings, carrot scrapings, cabbage outer leaves and so on. A compost bucket just outside the back door is better than one in the kitchen, doesn't take up kitchen space and prevents any smell and fruit flies in the summer. Tip it on the compost heap every few days.

Cooked food shouldn't be added as it can attract rats and mice, but this doesn't need to go to landfill as a bird-table is an ideal way of dealing with this, see below.

Ideally compost should be shredded and mixed on addition to the heap, but this is rarely possible especially for the usual piecemeal additions. I find the ideal is to have a commercial plastic compost bin (that the council gave away for free years ago, check with your council, they may cheap or subsidized ones) with lid that I add everything to initially and then mix it up, this is where the rotting starts and reduces the volume by about 3 or 4 fold. When this is full I move the contents to one of two larger long-term heaps. 3 or 4 initial bins full fill the main heap. When this is full and I need more room, I turn it upside down to a second long-term heap, this is then distributed when space is needed for more plant material.

Advantages of making your own compost:

  • No transport requirement, no taking it down the skip or getting the bin men to collect it
  • Makes valuable organic material to make your garden grow wonderfully
  • Keeps nutrients in the garden, less need for additional fertilisers
  • Cheaper than buying compost in bags and doesn't come from possibly endangered peat bogs

More on composting

For larger branches and tree trunks, I cut them as long as I can and try to use them in the garden to make frames for climbers or border edging for beds, they don't last forever, but at least as long as wooden edging you can buy and are much more sympathetic to the garden situation.

They will rot down, but provide a habitat and food for countless animals and fungi in your garden as they do so. I hold them in place with pegs cut from any scrap wood I have about 8" long and 2" wide cut to a point and bashed into the ground with a lump hammer, a single 2" nail fixes the peg to the branch, one every 3 feet or thereabouts is enough. As they age, they become covered in moss and become even more sympathetic to the garden environment.

  Get a bird table

Almost all food you can't compost can go on the bird table, there is some bird that will eat just about everything from bread to burnt pizza, hummus, browned avocados, unwanted dried cheese, shredded wheat and excess cooked rice to name just a few things that have gone on ours recently. The trick is to cut everything up reasonably small, about the size of a sultana or thereabouts if you can manage it, as long as it's ok to eat, but not mouldy or rotten it's usually fine. Meat, fat and skin all go too, trimmings from bacon, ham, roasts etc.

Forget those twee bird tables with little thatched roofs, the most effective type I've come across are open topped, we have two, one shown to the right that fits on the corner rails of our wooden decking and another similar platform that hangs from a tree using a piece of branch about 2" wide and 12" long to make it stable that we have used for about the last 10 years. They are very  simple to make, about 12" by 18" (30 x 45cm) with a lip nailed around the edge to stop stuff falling off. There should be a gap at each corner of the lip however to help with cleaning the table which you should do every couple of weeks - I use a scrubbing brush and water from a watering can.

Ours hangs from an old apple tree positioned in front of the kitchen window, I used a branch as the vertical hanger to look more rustic. The birds seem to like the fact that it swings like a natural branch when they land on it, it also gives a good clear view all around of any predators so making them feel safer. It's useful to put some food on the ground too as some species prefer to feed there while others will prefer the table.

Advantages

  • Recycles left-overs into bird-song
  • Helps wild bird populations
  • Brings birds into your garden
  • Avoids smells from the bin and saves putting material into landfill

 

  Pesticides and other chemicals

Best avoided, though I have to admit that I am partial to the occasional spray with a systemic insecticide when aphids start to take over my favourite plants - I'm not expecting forgiveness or understanding, it's just the way it is.

There are natural ways of fighting pests with soap solutions and arcane mixtures brewed from plants though I find that they don't really work - the odd smart-missile chemical spray is far more effective.

How to avoid chemicals in the garden (I do all these things too):

  • If you get pests or diseases on a small part of a plant, then consider just cutting that part off and burning it or putting it in the "green/brown bin" or similar - if your council provides one.
     
  • If you can't really cut the part off, then you have your hands, rub aphids off or pull them off up the stem, a rub on the lawn gets you clean again. Caterpillars can be put on the bird table.
     
  • Hygiene especially in the autumn is important, don't leave dropped leaves on the ground, pick them up and compost them. If the plants has shown signs of disease, burn the leaves or dispose of them outside the garden.
     
  • Make and use garden compost (above) as your fertiliser. Wee on your compost heap on a regular basis, it adds nitrogen and gets the whole rotting process going.
     
  • Bury old leather near large trees and shrubs, remove plastic and metal bits from shoes and handbags first, leather is high in nitrogen and rots slowly releasing its goodies over a long time. I cut the leather into smallish pieces 6" x 3" ish, make a slit with a spade, open it up, slide the leather in and close the slit up again.
     
  • If you add extra fertiliser, make sure it is organic and not man-made. I favour the slow acting blood, fish and bone which as it has a N:P:K ratio of  of 6:6:6 and considering it's origins I call it the "Fertiliser of Beelzebub" - you may of course make up your own amusing names.
     
  • You can also make fertiliser from steeping fresh horse manure, nettles or comfrey in water.
     
  • Don't bother spraying your fence with preservative like the ads say you should, it just sells preservative which preserves the wrong bits anyway. Fences fail at the posts, so brace the verticals and you'll do more than all those chemicals ever could. Instead place wires and grow climbers up your fences or plant shrubs in front of them to hide them and appreciate the rustic way in which the wood ages.

  Get a water butt or two or three

Catch the rain from the sky in a water butt before it disappears down the drain. We all know how important this is, and many of us are on a water meter.

Advantages

  • Reduce water bills
  • Reduce the need for reservoirs and lower water take-up from bore-holes
  • Better for plants than tap water
  • Beat hosepipe bans

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