Photo by Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr Creative Commons

Gardens

Photo by Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr Creative Commons

Gardens can be havens for wildlife - make a difference in your garden

Together, the UK's gardens are larger than all of our national nature reserves combined, making them as important for wildlife as they are for our own wellbeing.

 

Integrating sustainability into our own gardens has never been more needed. With global warming affecting our climate, and insect populations plummeting due to intensive agricultural methods and overuse of pesticides, this is a crucial time to act and there are simple things gardeners can do to help restore biodiversity.

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Choosing mostly native plant species attracts the greatest number of bees and other pollinating insects. Native plants are already suited to the local environment so might require less watering than many imported species. You can also encourage biodiversity by mowing less, giving wild plants a chance to flower and set seed.

Longer patches of grass are a food source and habitat for many insects and small mammals.

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If you buy compost, make sure it’s peat-free as peat is a non-sustainable resource, and locks up more carbon than the world’s forests. Alternatives to peat include coir (coconut fibre) and wood fibre. Peat compost is being banned from sale in 2024.  

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Pesticides are detrimental to the health of the garden as well as the planet. An extreme decline of insects has a knock-on effect on the entire food chain: insects are pollinators, recyclers of nutrients and are themselves a source of food for other forms of wildlife.

One natural alternative to the pesticides which are so harmful to our insects is companion planting involving cultivating plants which are mutually beneficial. Companion planting can be used to repel unwanted insects as well as to add nutrients to the soil, attract pollinating insects and provide protection. For example:

  • Carrots and leeks are the perfect companions: leeks repel carrot fly while carrots discourage leek moth.

  • Plants in the pea family, such as lupins, peas and beans, fix nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots, naturally benefitting the surrounding soil. Plant these around fruit trees for maximum benefit and crop yield.

  • Plant French marigolds next to tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn: marigolds emit a strong odour which wards off greenfly and blackfly.

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Create a compost heap to recycle food and natural waste such as vegetable peelings, grass cuttings, shredded paper and cardboard. You can use it just as you would bought compost or as a mulch.

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There are many easy and waste-free ways to make plant pots. Cardboard from kitchen and toilet roll function as biodegradable seedling pots, and newspaper can be made into a seedling pot. Consider repurposing non-recyclable plastic containers into plant pots.

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Use a barrel at the base of gutters to collect rainwater. This will cut water consumption and bill. Mulching minimises water usage: spreading a biodegradable mulch such as compost, wood chippings or seaweed over the soil will provide protection, conserve moisture, enrich the soil and suppress weeds. Mulches are best applied mid- to late spring and autumn, when the soil is moist and warm.

The no-dig gardening method is one employed largely by growers of organic vegetables, though it applies to ornamental plants, too.

Rather than digging the soil to remove weeds, this process involves applying organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, to the soil surface, emulating the natural processes of decomposition, as plants die back and leaves fall. Instead of being dug in, the no-dig gardener allows plants, fungi and soil organisms to break down and incorporate the organic matter into the soil.

In doing so, the soil structure is not disrupted by being dug over. Likewise worms and other organisms are not disturbed, therefore the soil’s ecosystem remains intact. Yields of vegetables tend to be bigger when grown in no-dig soils. What’s more, it’s a great option for time-short gardeners who don’t have the hours to spend digging over beds and borders.

Click here to see it in action.

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