On the face of it, gardening seems like one of the most environmentally friendly things you can do – it doesn’t come much ‘greener’ than growing your own at home. But, if you garden using plastic, pesticides and peat, you could be doing more harm than good.
In this blog, members of the Pure Planet team share their favourite ways to garden sustainably.
Choose a peat-free compost
Peat-based compost comes with a high cost to the environment. That’s because peat is mostly sourced from lowland raised bogs, a rare natural resource and important carbon sink. Peatlands take thousands of years to form, but in the UK we’re using 2.96 million cubic metres of it each year, much of which ends up in our gardens.
The good news is that peat-free composts are available in garden centres, but it’s important you check the bag carefully before you buy. Look out for a peat percentage or dial on the back of the bag – it’s often higher than what you might expect.
And of course, you can make your own compost by mixing rotted, home-made compost with leaf mould and inorganic materials like loam and sand. Peat-free and with a lower carbon footprint – what’s not to love?
Up to half a billion plastic pots end up in landfill in the UK each year. Invest in terracotta pots instead, or choose biodegradable ones. And if you’re buying plants online, try to choose a retailer that’s plastic free.
Consider plastic free alternatives for watering cans, tools, seed trays, labels and string too. They may cost a little more to buy, but they’ll look great in the garden and won’t have as negative an impact on the environment.
Encouraging wildlife into your garden has a myriad of benefits; it’s great for pest control, pollination and your local area’s biodiversity, and birds, butterflies and bees are all pretty to look at too. Wild bees and other pollinators are in decline – every square kilometre in the UK has lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly between 1980 and 2013 – so it’s more important than ever to do everything we can to support them.
Here’s just a handful of ways to attract wildlife to your garden:
- Create a wildlife hotel Install nest boxes for birds, bug hotels, frog pots and hedgehog houses, or create your own natural habitat by piling up logs for small animals to nest in
- Sow for pollinators Lavender, honeysuckle, verbena, wildflowers – there are so many nectar-rich plants to choose from, and they’ll make your garden look glorious while helping to save the bees. If you’ve got the space, leave an area of your lawn unmown too to attract small mammals
- Create a water source If you haven’t got space for a pond, just a small dish with plenty of drinking and bathing water will be a welcome addition for birds. Just remember to keep it clean and topped up.
Save rainwater in water-butts, and take things to the next level by following our Head of Technical Design & Delivery Helen’s lead, by adding a sloping pond liner to the back to capture even more water.
And for potted plants, Krishnan recommends recycling old water bottles for bottle drip irrigation.
Using chemicals in your garden should always be a last resort – they’re harmful to some wildlife, expensive and can sometimes even worsen problems. To repel insects naturally, try natural oils. Solution Architect Krishnan recommends neem and peppermint oils – just remember to spray before flowers bloom to avoid hurting bees and other pollinators.
Discourage pests naturally
Grow plants that’ll attract beneficial insects, or attract pests away from the ones you want to protect. Krishnan suggests companion planting for natural pest control; ‘Still trial and error going on but one thing that did work was planting nasturtiums to attract blacklies and aphids which otherwise would pest away on other plants. This also attracts hoverflies whose larvae apparently feast on aphids!’
And for unwelcome cats, Service Guv’nor Belle recommends lemon peel; ‘It helped enormously to encourage finding another spot.’
If you’re a keen gardener with your own tips for gardening sustainably, why not share them in the Pure Planet Community Gardening Club.