As a landscape gardener I always aim towards creating the most eco-friendly gardens as possible. Last week I wrote about how to buy and care for plants in the most environmentally friendly way. This week I’m focusing on what decisions to take when making structural changes to your garden, looking at materials and design alterations.
Timber: timber is a great material to use in the garden, as it is such a natural product. New and reclaimed railway sleepers look great as edging for beds or low level terracing. When selecting timber always look for the FSC or Rainforest Alliance Certification to ensure that it has been responsibly sourced.
Paving: so much paving is imported or manufactured using high levels of CO2 so if you’re considering laying some new paving then a good option would be to choose a UK sourced natural paving slab. Yorkstone or pennant stone are both manufactured in the UK and provide excellent quality slabs that will last several lifetimes.
If you aren’t looking to make major changes to the structure of your garden there are plenty of small changes that you can make to improve your eco credentials. The plants you choose and the addition of bird boxes and bee houses are important (and a whole other subject to be written about). But what else can you do?
Don’t be too tidy: your garden doesn’t have to look a mess but if you leave some of your dead flower stems and fallen leaves on the borders you will provide a natural habitat for insects that will then help keep harmful bugs at bay.
Capturing and reusing water: not only is this eco-friendly but if you’re on metered water it can save you money. Water butts come in all shapes and sizes and if you shop around you can find ones to suit every style and budget. Many of these are made of plastic (plastic again!) so why not repurpose your old rubbish bin, which has been made redundant by wheelie bins.
Remember little steps make big gains so by incorporating some of these changes into your garden you can be helping the environment.
If you live in Bath you will have recently taken delivery of a new wheelie bin which must now be used for your council rubbish collection. This got me thinking about the many old bins that are now redundant and what uses they can be put to in the garden. Here are some suggestions.
Grow some spuds. Plastic bins are an easy way to grow potatoes in a small space. Simply drill some holes in the bottom of your bin (3 holes of roughly 2cm diameter should do it but it doesn’t have to be precise), place a crock over each hole and fill to 30cm with compost (a general peat free compost will be fine). In January/February buy some first early seed potatoes from the garden centre and chit them at home. This means putting them somewhere indoors with lots of daylight so that they start to grow shoots. I tend to put mine in an empty egg box (stops them rolling around) on a windowsill. In March place 3 seed potatoes on the compost, shoots pointing up, and cover to about 3cm with compost. Leave outside in a bright but not direct sunlit place and keep an eye on progress and once leaves form add more compost so that only the tops of the leaves are showing and keep doing this until the compost is nearly at the top of the bin. What you’re trying to do is create a very long stem as this is where the potatoes will form. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged. To harvest tip the bin out in early June and you should have a lovely crop of salad potatoes. I promise you they will taste better than any you can buy at the supermarket and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you grew them.
Create a flower pot. This is perfect for any aluminium/galvanised steel bins you might have. Again form some holes in the bottom for drainage. I then use old packing polystyrene to build up the height and place some polythene over the top with some holes punctured in it. This is cheaper than filling with compost and the polythene prevents the compost that you place at the top filtering down into the polystyrene. Then fill with 20cm of compost, place your tulip or daffodil bulbs on top and cover with another 10cm of compost. Keep the soil moist and sit back and wait for your spring flowers to bloom.
Use as a water butt. Place under a downpipe from the roof to collect rainwater which is perfect for watering the garden. You can either use a bucket to get the water out or fit a plastic tap. Make sure you keep the lid on to keep leaves out and make it safe for children.
Store compost. Cut the bottom off your plastic bin and place on level ground. Fill with garden cuttings and fruit and veg peelings. Keep mixing it up as you add new waste. In a couple of months lift the bin and the oldest waste will have formed into a homemade compost for your garden.
Use it as a rhubarb forcer. Every year I get an early crop from my rhubarb by forcing it. In January put horse manure or compost around your rhubarb plant and place your upturned bin over the top of the plant and weigh it down so it doesn’t blow over in the wind. The lack of light blanches the stems to make the rhubarb sweeter and more tender. Check it weekly and, depending on the variety, from February onwards the stems will be of an edible size and ready to harvest. The plant needs to be at least 3 years old for this to work successfully and not damage it.
Use as a root barrier. Some plants are very vigorous and will rapidly spread so if you fancy some bamboo in your garden an old bin will form a great root barrier to keep it confined to one area. Cut the bottom off the bin and place in the hole that you’ve created in the ground for your bamboo so that the top rim of the bin is about 5cm above the soil level. Then plant your bamboo within the bin. The bin will prevent the roots from spreading.
Create a pond. Cut the bin down to the depth you want and place in a hole in the ground. Place in a few dwarf pond plants and to speed things along add a jug of water from a friend’s pond. Make sure you create a shallow area or ramp for wildlife to get out.
I hope I’ve given you some inspiration here. Remember to take care when making any holes or cutting the bins.