Mental Health UK has a section on its website about how to handle ‘Climate Anxiety’, the name given to a feeling of fear or stress about what the adverse effects of a warming planet caused by carbon dioxide emissions will be. Even with news of depleting glaciers, heatwaves, floods and droughts on the increase, beating the bills is foremost on many people’s minds. Every one of the suggestions below will show how reducing costs can go hand in hand with reducing our carbon footprint and having an altogether gentler presence on the Earth.
Fortunately, as gardeners, there are easy ways to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to adapt your garden to the changes in climate that have already begun. The new buzz word is ‘Regenerative’. It’s time to work with Earth’s natural systems to heal and regenerate what we can. The main concerns that can be addressed in a garden are water reserves, wildlife habitats and pollutants. With small changes to our gardening habits, we can support local ecosystems and provide resilience to more extreme weather in future years, for plants, for wildlife and for our buildings.
The dry spell this summer and subsequent hose pipe bans in some parts of the country remind us that water can be a scarce resource, one that we need most when availability is at its lowest. Gardeners can do plenty to prepare for periods of drought, such as collecting rain water, mulching beds and borders and using drought tolerant plants such as those that may usually be native to drier Mediterranean regions like lavender or rosemary – which can double up for cooking and other uses around the house.
Using water butts to store water for use in drier months is a very effective method to divert excess water away from the ground, reduce water bills and conserve precious water reserves. Reinforce soils by encouraging deeper roots, for example, allow grass to grow long and keep clippings aside to break down for re-use in flower beds. Reduce the amount of hard standing in your garden and instead create soft landscaping that water can run into, and where plants can be located, as slowing down and reducing surface water drainage avoids flooding. Just lifting a few paviours would really make a positive difference.
Don’t allow taps and hoses to leak – fix them straightaway to avoid wasting water. Better still, fill a watering can to reduce the amount of water used, saving you money and providing a healthy exercise option! It is more efficient to water plants in the evening as less water will evaporate allowing plants to retain more essential nutrients, and of course, only water plants if the soil around them feels dry. You can even fill your watering can with unused drinking water from flasks that you would otherwise pour away. It all helps.
A greater investment would be to add a sedum roof to flat roofs, or if budget allows, then replace the flat roof altogether with an intensive green roof that can be used for deeper rooted plants like vegetables or even trees! My blog post from April introduces green roofs for you. Similarly replacing concrete slabs with permeable surfaces like gravel helps with drainage.
Switch to Peat-Free Compost
The planet’s largest store of carbon on land is in the peatlands, which also absorb water and provide valuable wetland ecosystems for plants and animals. Peatlands are created from decaying plant matter and take thousands of years to form. According to the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, peatlands cover about 3 per cent of the planet’s surface and 12 per cent of UK land area, approximately 3 million hectares mostly in bogs and fens. Carbon is released into the atmosphere when peatlands dry out or when peat is extracted for use in horticulture, and damaging the wetlands through extraction or drainage is responsible for almost 5 per cent of man-made Co2 emissions, according to sciencefocus.com (link below). To avoid contributing to this problem, look out for compost that has a certified ‘no-peat’ label on it.
A money, travel and waste saving alternative is to make your own compost, which is possible even in a small container. Below is a link to Annabel Bridge’s tips and tricks for composting for beginners. The main rules are: No cooked material, meat or fat as that attracts rodents. Incorporate green leafy substances full of nitrogen and brown woody and cardboard matter full of carbon in equal measure. Also ensure there is enough oxygen and water by turning it with a fork and include fully assembled cardboard like whole loo roll centres and egg cartons to aerate the heap. Your compost heap will begin to warm up as millions of creatures digest it!
Grow Your Own
Another great way to reduce travel emissions and support the mini eco-system in your garden is to grow your own fruit, vegetables and flowers. I find few things more satisfying that eating what I have grown myself! It isn’t always easy – the slug ridden downpours of 2021 and drought of 2022 both destroyed my tomato crop, but a small blackberry bush, fresh oregano, bay, rosemary, sage and thyme, lavender and beautiful colourful dahlias and roses all thrived. In my small north facing garden, I keep an area of grass long to establish deeper roots and scatter wildflowers, which completely avoids it drying out.
Experiment with vegetable crops in raised beds and pots, but you can also set aside an area of your garden for them and surround them with wood chippings to keep out slugs and snails, if you have space. Potatoes can be grown in their own grow-bag, as can tomatoes, which avoids the hit and miss nature of growing your own somewhat. It is very surprising just how many plants can be grown from seed from your veg waste too, for example plant peas, tomato seeds and sweet pepper seeds into pots and keep on your window sills to see what takes. Plant outside when seedlings are large and strong and place a cut up bottle or yogurt pot around it to keep slugs out while it establishes. Plants like chives, echinacea, pyrethrum daisy, borage, basil, nasturtium and garlic are all both resilient and natural pest deterrents, so plant these among your vegetables rather than relying on chemical based pesticides. I also use coffee grains and ash from my fireplaces around the base of my plants to deter slugs.
n my tiny south facing front garden I have crab apple and hazel trees in pots to absorb carbon and pollutants, provide shade, fruit and nuts and create oxygen. Plus as the weather turns colder, my ever reliable dahlias have unfurled into bursts of welcoming colour. It is possible to find dwarf apple, pear and plum trees to create mini orchards, and I have created a little edible oasis for a charity client with small fruit trees like these placed in planters in their car park. Finally, to nurture soil and help it absorb carbon dioxide, I do not remove any clippings or plants from my garden – everything is squashed down and hidden under my lavender bushes to break down and replenish the soil over time.
There are a diverse range of natural habitats for wildlife in our gardens, both those that we can introduce or those we can simply let nature create. Even in the smallest space, we can enable good microhabitats for many creatures, particularly pollinators, who have been in decline in recent years.
Flowering plants are a haven for butterflies and bees and also provide seeds and berries for birds. Trees and hedges provide valuable shelter for roosting and nesting, and make excellent hiding places from possible predators. Introducing ponds and water features provides habitats for amphibians and invertebrates and garden birds will enjoy them too. Insects and mini-beasts enjoy areas of long, uncut grass, and birds in turn feast on those! Climbing plants create shelter for wildlife as well as shade for us, and can have both a cooling effect on walls facing direct sunlight and provide some protection from extreme weather for softer wall finishes like limestone or lime render.
Even leftover spaces with log piles, compost and cuttings in them will be vibrant places for animals, so leaving areas like this creates more diversity in your garden. A diverse range of habitats is particularly important to allow creatures to adapt to much wetter or much drier conditions as the climate changes, and to create a well connected green infrastructure for species as they migrate to cooler climes further north.
We can help stimulate new habitats by introducing bird boxes, bat boxes and leaving small gaps in the base of solid fences for hedgehogs to pass as well. Of course there are some creatures that are not so welcome! Some natural deterrents for slugs and snails that have worked in my garden have been placing prickly holly leaves or the aforementioned coffee grains around the base of vulnerable plants like sweet peas and tomatoes – or putting out some vegetable peelings for them to eat to distract them away from my seedlings!
Make greener choices
Some very simple ways of making further regenerative choices are to look out for FSC accredited garden furniture, timber decking or charcoal, and to use reclaimed materials for structures like raised borders and stone or gravel. I found using an old scaffold board propped up with bamboo canes worked very well to separate out a narrow bed from my grassed area.
Create space for a washing line so clothes can dry naturally and for free, rather than use energy to be tumble dried.
Finally, an easy switch is to replace petrol powered tools with green electricity powered tools, and reduce your use of plastics.
All of these ideas are transferable to communal gardens or even just green spaces in your communities. I hope you are able to use a few of them to create a happy, healthy, regenerative haven to enjoy yourself.
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