In celebration of National Gardening Week we are continuing our Sustainability at Home series with a beginners guide to sustainable gardening. If you're eager to enjoy the pleasures of growing your own plants while minimising your environmental impact, you've come to the right place. In this beginner-friendly guide, we'll explore the essentials of sustainable gardening, from conserving water to enriching the soil with natural techniques.
Start with the Soil
A healthy garden begins with healthy soil. To promote strong growth and biodiversity from ground up enrich your soil using organic matter, such as compost or aged manure. These materials not only provide essential nutrients but also improve soil structure, drainage, and moisture retention.
Employ a no dig routine, this ensures the soil structure remains in tact and that worms and other organisms are left undisturbed. No dig simply means that when we're adding organic matter we spread it on top of the existing soil rather than digging it in. To create new beds using this method you can use cardboard to line the base of the bed and stop weeds from growing up through and then using a combination of top soil and compost piled on top of the cardboard.
Feeling confident about soil improvement - maybe it's time to take the next step and make your own compost. Check out or blog on composting for all your options
Recycle and Re-Use
Gardening can create a lot of waste and if done without thought can use a lot of plastic however there are steps you can take to reduce your waste and have a beautiful garden.
Use plastics from the kitchen as seed trays and pots. Mushroom, grape and tomato trays all make excellent seed trays (you'll need to cut some drainage holes if the tray doesn't have holes already). Yoghurt, custard and soup pots make excellent plant pots (again cut holes!).
Once your recycled plastics have come to their useful end as pots and trays they can still be used for labels. Simply cut your plastic into strips and use a Sharpie or other permanent marker to write your plant names on.
Collect your toilet roll inners throughout the year and you'll have numerous ready made 'pots' for your sweet peas, nasturtiums and beans. Simply pop the rolls end on in a gravel tray/ice-cream tub or anything that will hold water, fill each tube with compost and plant your seeds. Once your peas and beans are ready to go out you can plant the entire tube in the soil or compost as it will quickly decompose and add additional structure to your soil.
Join a local plant swap group on Facebook. There are groups all over the country which you can join where people give away spare plants and offer swaps. This is a great way to get free plants and make sure nothing is going to waste.
Choose the Right Plants
Selecting plants that are well-suited to your local climate and soil conditions is key to sustainable gardening. Native plants, which have evolved in your region, generally require less water, fertiliser, and pesticides. They're also more likely to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, boosting the overall health of your garden ecosystem. A word of warning though as our climate is changing the plants we can grow are changing! Experiment with single plants so you don't waste too much money and resources if they fail, ask your neighbours what is growing well in their garden and look at what grows naturally near you.
A great nature attracting garden will have a range of plants from shrubs to annuals and a wide range of colours. If you can have a small pond then even a tiny basin pond is better than nothing and can sustain a diverse population of aquatic life and serve as a watering hole for bird and mammals.
Practice Water Conservation
Water is a precious resource, and sustainable gardeners should use it wisely. Consider these techniques for conserving water in your garden:
Install a rainwater collection system to harvest water for your plants.
Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to deliver water directly to plant roots, reducing evaporation.
Apply mulch around your plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Water in the early morning or late evening to minimise evaporation.
Plant appropriately - if you know you have an arid garden don't try and grow a jungle or even vegetables as you'll need to be watering constantly
Say No to Chemicals
Sustainable gardeners avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which can harmful to beneficial insects and leach into the environment. Instead, rely on natural pest control methods, such as:
Encouraging beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps by planting a wide range of plants.
Using organic pest control products like nematodes.
Practicing companion planting to deter pests and attract beneficial insects.
Disposing of infected plant material appropriately
Make the Most of Your Space
A sustainable garden makes the most of its available space, reducing the need for resource-intensive landscaping. Here are some space-saving ideas:
Grow vertically: Use trellises, cages, or stakes to support climbing plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans.
Practice square foot gardening: Divide your garden into one-foot squares and plant each with a specific crop, maximising yield per square foot.
Interplant: Plant fast-growing crops or annuals between slower-growing ones, making the most of your garden space.
Sustainable Gardening: A Benefit to You and the Environment
With these tips in mind, you'll be well on your way to creating a flourishing, eco-friendly garden. Sustainable gardening not only benefits the environment but also nurtures your connection with nature and enhances your well-being. So grab your gloves and trowel, and let's get planting!