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These expert top tips will help you make the most of your garden

The Victorians would endlessly discuss the nature of horticulture. Was gardening an art, a craft or a science? Botanist Frances Tophill – a favourite on BBC Gardener’s World – believes debate has never been more needed than it is today.

‘It’s time we had a debate of our own based on ecology and sustainability,’ says Frances.

‘For too long the default garden has been the square lawn, flanked by lines of plants, bought in non-recyclable, plastic pots, from who knows where and grown using who knows what methods. We have scattered chemicals and expected our gardens to be clinical, clean and neat, free from pests and fallen leaves. But many modern gardeners now feel that the outdoors should not be sanitised.

‘The new school of thought is about sensitivity, understanding, resourcefulness and some restraint using other ways to garden that are not only less harmful, but can actively improve the world around us.

Here, Frances shares some simple ideas that can help make your outdoor space greener.

Plants for wildlife

Plant choice can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our wildlife gardens. Think about choosing plants to provide fruits, seeds, leaves, spikes, pollen, nectar, twigs, nesting material, hiding places, shade and basking places for insects.

Anything with double flowers will not provide pollen, seeds or fruit, so is fairly useless for wildlife. Spiky branches offer safe nesting sites, big leaves create shade for small mammals and sunbathing for butterflies, while ground-cover plants provide spaces for beetles to hunt and hide.

Try to provide flowers: scent, pollen, seeds, fruits, colour, stems and leaves for as much of the year as possible, in as much of the garden as possible! Filling your garden with the greatest variety of plants will attract the widest range of animals, insects, fungi and bacteria.

Chemicals

The simple rule is DON’T USE THEM. Destroying even one species with chemicals – whether a plant, fungus or insect – will invariably destroy a whole swathe. There are no species-specific chemical interventions. Poisons work their way up and along the food chain.

For example, cats have been known to be poisoned by eating birds who have eaten slugs who have eaten slug pellets. Use instead biological pest controls, such as nematodes and larvae, which can be bought with ease, and target specific species.

Strong fertilizers in the ground can upset the balance of microbial life both above and below the soil. Natural sources of fertilizer like manure and compost are much less harmful

Introduce clever watering regimes

An important consideration, especially in increasingly unpredictable climates. Only one per cent of the world’s water is clean and drinkable so seems a waste to use it on plants when rain does the job just as well. Here are some ideas for reducing water wastage:

  • Choose perennial plants, plant them in the right place and establish them well to reduce future watering needs.
  • Water plants rarely, but well. This encourages them to grow strong and deep roots, making them far less likely to dry out in the increasingly hot, dry spells, as they are able to access water from deep in the ground.
  • Gather and collect storm water from flooding for use later. Boreholes, wells and reservoirs can do this, but try creating channels and ditches, even using upturned umbrellas, to funnel water into tanks as an effective water-saving solution.
  • In the event of excessive rainfall, trees and floodplain species can provide a great way of soaking up flood water to avoid flash floods.
  • Consider some of more innovative ways of harnessing water, including SUDs (sustainable urban drains), grey water recycling, reed beds and water butts.

Reduce garden maintenance

A lumpy, bumpy lawn will probably require a mechanical cut – but think about creating a perfectly flat lawn that could be cut with a push mower that requires no power other than your own arms.

Try to cut out big, motorised machinery and even reduce your maintenance to benefit wildlife. That could mean leaving twigs and leaves on the ground,
only mowing your lawn once a year, letting a few weeds slip through the net, or leaving a patch undisturbed.



Top garden additions to attract wildlife

  • A pond will bring in wildlife and offer a haven for all kinds of creatures – or drinking, bathing, spawning and feeding.
  • Trees or shrubs are the ‘lungs of the planet as well as offering nesting sites, safety and shade, reduce pollution and noise and if we choose carefully, provide fruit or nut for wildlife.
  • Tucked-away corners for wildlife to hide and nest.
  • Fruits – cherry, apple (clipped or espalier), quince, blackthorn (sloe, pictured) damson, bullace (plum).
  • Small fruits – currants, raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry, jostaberry.
  • Herbs for cooking – lavender, rosemary, thyme, South African rosemary (Eriocephalus africanus), sage, oregano, marjoram.
  • Herbs for medicine – rose, lavender, myrtle (great for hedging), aloe (in mild climates), rosemary, ginkgo, willow, echinacea (herbaceous perennial).
  • Herbs for tea – Camellia sinensis, lemon verbena, sage, raspberry leaf bergamot.
  • Plants for wildlife – ornamental currant (Ribes), hawthorn, Pyracantha, Chaenomeles, rowan (Sorbus), whitebeam.
  • Useful climbers – grape vine, kiwi, hop, passionflower, bramble, loganberry, tayberry, Akebia quinata, honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea), Japanese wineberry.

Plant provenance

Even though we consider provenance when it comes to food and clothes, I have rarely heard queries about plant provenance. This is a huge issue as it’s not unheard of for a plant to make multiple trips across the globe before it reaches our garden centres.

Supermarket fruits and vegetables carry labels stating where they were grown, so we understand their carbon footprint. There is no such transparency required with plants.

We should always ask where plants have come from and what journey they have taken so we can make informed choices about our purchases. This includes seeds, cut flowers, dried plant material and living plants.

Natural boundaries

A hedge will give the same kind of boundary as a wall or fence, but with the ability to absorb CO2, provide a home for creatures, create wildlife corridors and
provide berries and flowers for animals and pollinators.

A pergola – traditionally made from wood or metal – could instead be created with the natural canopy of trees. A pathway or patio, usually built from paving slabs, sets, bricks or decking, can instead include grass, ground-cover plants or even plants like chamomile.

This can be effective when combined with permeable hard landscaping like gravel, bricks or blocks laid on hardcore rather than concrete, and inter-planted with low-growing plants.

 


Credit: Original article published here.

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