This article will focus on how garden designers can anticipate and mitigate whatever appetite for resources gardens might have, should their availability change over time. We will also discuss how to improve your soil naturally, so that a space might be re-cultivated without causing lasting damage to surrounding nutrient levels. Finally, a word on the great enemy of sustainable gardening, one that sits under most garden designers’ feet – a relic of the era of formality when mere aesthetic was the only aim concern of the horticulturalist – the lawn.
Sunlight, nutrients and water are the primary needs of any garden and, while the first is largely beyond our control, production and use of the latter pair can be both managed and optimized by intelligent planning.
Composting is a wonderfully rewarding practice that, I think, gives the clearest analogy of our relationship to the planet and the cyclic mechanism of our biosphere. The beauty of a compost bin lies in its simplicity and the passive nature of the labour it provides. Aside from being able to supply your garden with biologically based nutrient – rather than chemical fertillizers – you can literally convert waste into food while you sleep! This practice not only provides free, rich fertillizer, it cultivates a frugal mentality that questions what else might be recycled for a use greater than the sum of its parts. By recognizing this essential tenet of biological conversion, it becomes less daunting to explore the creative possibilities of other things we regard as ‘rubbish’. A common and simple practice among garden designers is simply to connect five timber pallettes to create an open-topped box for their composting needs. The slatted design of the pallettes allows sufficient ventilation and subsequently heat regulation, since compost bins can give off a lot of heat. It is important to note that meat, whether raw or cooked, should never be added to a compost bin since it will fester, produce harmful bacteria and also smell terrible!
Rain barrels, or water butts, are a simple and yet extremely effective method of water conservation and similarly to a compost heap, their work is passive. Their size and complexity can be scaled to your needs and they are a one-time investment that will help preserve both your wallet and the planet’s water systems indefinitely. Drip-feed irrigation systems are an ancient practice, whose origins can be found in the agriculture of 1st century China, but which are popular among contemporary garden designers for their efficiency. They are a labour-saving and economical method of watering large areas such as flower beds, while you might use the water you harvest in barrels for hand watered areas of the garden, like potted plants and hanging baskets.
Let’s talk about lawns – perpetually thirsty and monocultural, pretty to look at when water is in abundance but an ugly dry brown patch when it is not. They are a remnant of the formal era whose best surviving examples lie at the gardens of the Palace of Versailles and other great houses. Their geometric precision and diverse applications made them the ballroom of formal gardening and now they are a mainstay for families-providing a cushioned play space for children. Faced with this overwhelming popularity I don’t wish to condemn lawns outright, and I rarely endorse the artificial over the organic, but merely suggest a more sustainable alternative. There are now so many varieties of artificial grass which both look and feel realistic, but which also require no watering, no energy-hungry maintenance (and perhaps most importantly won’t stain school shirts!), that garden designers have started to recognize the desire for a more considered green space.
Here ends our segment on sustainable garden design, however, our hope is that your own story is only just beginning and that somewhere within its genesis Floral and Hardy may have played a part.