15 Ways to garden in the climate crisis

There’s been a lot of coverage of the climate crisis over the past few months, and it’s fantastic that awareness is growing. But how can you do your bit in the garden? Here’s 15 ways you can garden more sustainably to help our planet!

How many of these do you do already?

 

Be Smart With Seeds

you can save resources and money by keeping the seeds from your flowers such as the cowslip pictured, as well as fruits and vegetables to use the following year. Be sure to dry them out before storing and then keep in a breathable container. If you end up with a surplus of seeds, look for your local seed swap event and see what you can exchange them for.

Cowslip seed head

If you collect seeds from primulas, it is a good idea to scarify them before sowing to speed up the germination process.

Ditch the Peat

Whilst peat is great for growing plants, it comes with a high environmental cost. Peat is extracted from peat bogs, destroying the unique biodiversity of this habitat. Peat bogs are also an excellent carbon store – turning decomposing plants into peat thanks to the wet, anoxic condition of the bogs. When peat is harvested, green house gasses are released into the atmosphere, and once spread onto gardens, further carbon dioxide is released. Ditch the peat for the many equally great alternatives such as the Dalefoot compost pictured, or even better, make your own compost!

Compost

Dalefoot compost is a fantastic peat-alternative, especially their wool compost.

 

Re-Wild your Lawn

Let’s face it, lawns are pretty boring. Biologically they aren’t very diverse and often require artificial nutrients and weed killers to keep them looking lush and green. Converting your lawn into a wildflower meadow not only saves you the time used for mowing but benefits the bees (and other invertebrates) too!

Dandelion and orange tip butterfly

Dandelions are an important nectar supply for early spring pollinators such as this male orange tip butterfly.

 

Garden for Pollinators

Our insects are suffering a catastrophic decline and we need them to survive. You can do your bit by planting nectar rich flowers covering as much of the flowering season as possible (primroses are great early supplies of nectar, whilst Ivy is a fantastic late supply!). Non-native plants can be great for nectar if they are simple open flowers, but the advantage of native plants is that they often support insects throughout their life cycle by providing food for different stages as well as a suitable habitat. You can also install log piles to offer shelter for other invertebrates such as beetles, and leave your garden untidy over winter as fallen leaves and dead stems are the perfect place for insects to hide out during the cold months.

Comma

Gardening for pollinators is more than planting nectar – the larvae of commas feast on nettles before emerging as adult butterflies.

 

Install a Pond

All good wildlife gardens should have a pond. Animals needs water and a pond can provide a watering hole for birds, mammals and invertebrates that visit your garden. They are also essential for breeding amphibians who will soon find your pond (don’t transfer spawn from one pond to another to prevent spreading diseases and invasive organisms). What’s more, many flying invertebrates start of life in the pond and emerge as an adult providing  a food source for bats!

Frogspawn

Monitoring when frogs spawn can tell us a lot about our changing climate. If you want to help scientists then report your spawn sightings using iRecord which you can find online or through an app for your phone.

 

 

Go Plastic-Free

If you’ve gardened for some time, chances are you have a stack of plastic pots somewhere. Where you can, re-use these as much as possible. But when buying new, or looking for containers for seed growing, seek out plastic-free alternatives. You can make your own pots from newspaper, re-use egg boxes and toilet roll tubes for growing on seeds and they best bit is you can plant them straight out in the tubes – which is excellent for root veg!

Pots

You can use almost anything as a pot, just be sure to drill some holes for drainage!

 

Garden Organically

Insects have declined more than 75% in the last 3 decades which is just astonishing. A big part to blame for this is the continued use of pesticides. Whilst you can’t control what happens outside your garden (but buying organic veg does help!) you can control what you use at home. Organic gardening doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many natural ways to deter pests if needed, although creating lots of different habitats means you are likely to attract the predators needed to control problematic species and the garden will look after itself. Another thing to consider is only growing plants which aren’t susceptible to problems such as Lilies.

Bee on chives

Pesticides don’t just target pests – other species such as bees can suffer too.

 

Garden for Birds

Feeding birds using a bird feeder though winter can help them survive when food is hard to find, but you can also make your garden bird friendly by adding plants which also provide food such as a native hedging plants; hawthorn, blackthorn, holly, guelder rose, trees such as Rowan and fruit trees and Ivy which provides food late in the season. Hedges, trees and climbers all give birds somewhere to nest and roost in, and by growing plants for insects you’ll be providing food for insectivorous birds too!

Blackthorn

Birds love the sloes from blackthorns – if you’re lucky they’ll leave you some to make a batch of sloe gin in time for xmas.

 

Shop Sustainably

Where do you buy your garden supplies from? Are they making positive changes to combat climate change? Do they use peat, or pesticides? Are their plants grown locally or imported (and risking bio-security issues)? By choosing where you shop you encourage businesses to do better.

BWFP

Local nurseries by their nature of being smaller will have a much lower environmental impact than bigger companies, and they are usually much friendlier too. I love visiting British Wild Flower Plants in Norfolk!

 

Buy Local and Connect with Neighbors

Buy local where you can. Often local nurseries take more care growing the plants, and you can usually find some interesting varieties too. Buying local also reduces transportation impacts. Local selling pages are a fantastic place to offload excess plants or gardening equipment as well as picking up a few bargains yourself!

Walnut Tree Nursery

Walnut Tree Nursery in Norfolk is a great place to find some unusual varieties of more common plants.

 

Grow Your Own Food

If you can, try growing you own food. You don’t need a massive garden to do this as there are lots of patio varieties of different fruits and veg which can be grown on balconies too. If you don’t have much space, you could always consider an allotment. Not only does growing your own organic food reduce your environmental impact, it’s delicious too!

Grow you Own

I’ve started using straw as a substrate in our veg patch as so far so good! This year I’m adding compost from the chickens too.

 

Compost

Food waste has a massive impact on the environment and not all councils collect it so some still heads straight to landfill. You can prevent this by composting your own food waste and there are lots of options to do this. You can have a basic plastic bin which works well over time, an open compost bin like the one pictured (though more suited to garden waste than food) or even a wormery! There are new hot compost bins which are ideal for small gardens as they require less space and make compost much quicker than a traditional bin. Using your own compost reduces the need to buy in compost from elsewhere too.

Compost bin

This bin was made from 4 pallets, the one at the front cut into sections which can be slid into the front as needed. Perfect for garden waste or areas where you don’t have rats.

 

Get Your Own Chickens

Animal agriculture comes with a high environmental impact. If you eat eggs, having a couple of hens is a great way to produce eggs for your family and they are much nicer than mass produced eggs too. One of the issues with current farming methods is that the rainforests are being cut down for soy plantations for animal feeds – so if you do have your own hens, make sure that the feed is soy-free!

Chickens

There’s nothing quite like a fresh egg from a spoilt and happy chicken!

 

Garden for your Local Climate

Hose bans will become more frequent as water supplies dry up. It is predicted that some areas of the UK will suffer regular water shortages within the next 25 years so the idea of watering your garden will be a thing of the past. To avoid excessive water use, plant species which are adapted to our climate, or even more drought tolerant ones, and avoid planting in the dry seasons so there’s no need to regularly water.

Sedums

Sedums require little watering and can be great for ground cover or for green roofs – as well as being a good nectar supply for pollinators.

 

Green Your Roofs

Green roofs can come in many forms from a small sedum roof on your wheelie-bin cupboard to a whole garden on top of a city building. They can help reduce energy costs by absorbing heat and acts as insulation for buildings as well as cleaning the air around us. When roofs are greened in cities, they help mitigate the urban heat island effect which may be more important than ever in the next few years. They also provide a habitat to our wildlife, including birds and pollinators and like this one seen at the Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015, they look stunning too!

Green Roof

There are no limits to green roofs, except the load bearing of the structure! To find out more head to livingroofs.org

 

Thanks for reading! If you loved this content, then head over to Facebook and Instagram and follow for more.

x Larissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year of the pond

It’s been about a year since we restored our pond and I’d like to share with you just how well it has developed in such a short time. I expected it to attract wildlife, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly or for it to be so easy.

March 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

February 2015. The marginal vegetation is low and there is little duckweed on the top

The first real signs of life were a couple of frogs we discovered on the patio in mid March. We were excited and expected to see frogspawn the following morning, however it was a few weeks before the first batch arrived. My daughter had made checking for frogspawn part of her morning routine before school, and on 2nd April she came running in screaming with excitement.

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

The first batch of spawn arrived 2nd April 2015

That same day we found another two frogs paired up on the patio, and the next morning before breakfast we discovered that our pond was teaming with amphibians all fighting to pass on their genes – some more successfully than others. In total I counted 30 individuals, although I am pretty sure there were more; the pond was so busy it was difficult to count them all. When all the activity had died down, the spawn eventually covered a third of the pond edge.

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

The second pair on the patio 2nd April

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

If you look closely at the back edge you can see many frogs paired up amongst the spawn

The spawn

The spawn

One problem we did have with this influx of frogs is that the crows which live in the trees at the end of the garden suddenly had easy dinners and unfortunately a few frogs didn’t quite make it. So in an attempt to keep the frogs safe, we built a makeshift scarecrow which seemed to work. One the 1st May we spotted our first tadpoles.

The scarecrow

The scarecrow

Many tadpoles

Many tadpoles

While the tadpoles matured and eventually left the pond, the vegetation which I had planted in August last year was beginning to grow and would eventually provide cover for the emerging froglets, as well as supplying nectar for foraging bees and other insects.

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort - Senecio aquaticus and water figwort - scrophularia auriculata

a mix of marginal pond plants including marsh ragwort – Senecio aquaticus and water figwort – scrophularia auriculata

Pendulous sedge - Carex pendula and teasel - Dipsacus fullonum

Pendulous sedge – Carex pendula and teasel – Dipsacus fullonum

I’ve been asked before what plants work well to plant around the edge of ponds, and I always respond with native species such as those below. I think we have such a beautiful range of native wetland species that there is no need for any others – but this is of course my preference, and I am sure there are many other marginal plants out there. One thing to remember though is that some aquatic plants which are introduced can become invasive if they escape into the wild such as parrot’s feather Myriophyllum aquaticum which is now banned in the UK as well as four others. If you do grow non-native aquatic plants, do not dump them into any wild waterways.

Marsh ragwort - senecio aquaticus

Marsh ragwort – senecio aquaticus

Greater bird's foot trefoil - lotus pedunculatus

Greater bird’s foot trefoil – lotus pedunculatus

Ragged robin - Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged robin – Silene flos-cuculi

Soft rush - Juncus effusus (99% sure on the DI of this but didn't get Stace until the flowers were over)

Soft rush – Juncus effusus (99% sure on the ID of this but didn’t get Stace until the flowers were over)

One problem I have had with the pond is the thick blanket of duckweed. A little duckweed is fine, and is probably a good thing, but unfortunately the nutrient levels were increased in our pond after my daughter ‘fed’ the tadpoles about 50 slugs and snails! I noticed that the tadpoles were coming up for air a lot more than they should one day so I began clearing the duckweed using a large holed tennis racket, carefully picking out any creatures such as rat-tailed larvae and water louse. I had to do this every other week or so, as and when the duckweed regrew. I also added in some oxygenating hornwort to help the tadpoles.

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

A frog poking his head through the thick covering of duckweed

One day when clearing out the duckweed I made a discovery which made my day. I had caught a newt! A very large, male smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris. Part of me had hoped he was a great crested newt, but I was still happy to have found another new resident of the pond.

Male smooth newt - Lissotriton vulgaris

Male smooth newt – Lissotriton vulgaris

Having a pond in the garden is great for curious kids. My daughter loves pond dipping with me and we have discovered large dragonfly and damselfly larvae, rotifers, may fly larvae, small diving beetles, water louse, blood worms, pond skaters and most recently, a newt eft which shows that the frogs aren’t the only ones breeding in the pond. It is worth noting that when removing duckweed, to also check for newt eggs too.

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

Another smooth newt (or possibly the same one) caught on a different occasion

A newt eft

A newt eft

The pond is also visited by different Odonata – the family to which dragonflies and damselflies belong. Last year just shortly after the pond was restored we saw dragonflies laying their eggs in the water. This year, we have seen a few different species of Odonata including the large red damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula and the southern hawker Aeshna cyanea dragonfly.

Large red damselflies copulating

Large red damselflies copulating

Southern hawker

Southern hawker

I am sure that this is just a fraction of the wildlife which has benefitted from our pond. The foxes come and drink from it each night and the bats feast on the emerging midges above the water. The pond provides nourishment, a home, and a place to breed for creatures large and small and I look forward to seeing what the next surprise will be.

If you have a pond in your garden, I’d love to hear what wildlife it has attracted. Comment below or get in touch through twitter or facebook.

The Pond – Part 1: Creating a home for the frogs

I’m going to kick this blog off with a post about my favourite part of the garden; the pond. It’s my favourite for many reasons but the main two are that it didn’t cost us anything to install and it attracts so much wildlife to the garden. I really think that having a pond, no matter how small makes such a difference if you are aiming to attract wildlife.

When we viewed the house last year we were sold when we saw the garden and was told that we were free to do as we like with it (within reason of course!). It was a blank canvas – an overgrown large patch of grass with the woodland behind our house encroaching into the back part of the garden. Perfect.

A blank canvas

We moved in and I was eager to get going. It was June, it was hot and I was pregnant so progress was slow. It took us a while to get around to mowing the lawn as we had to purchase a petrol brushcutter. The grass was so long the flymo couldn’t handle it. Standing by the edge of the garden I noticed that the ground below my feet was springy and squelched. It looked like the rest of the lawn, but something felt different. After a bit of investigating, we found a small pre-formed pond which had been filled with rocks and bricks with grass growing over the top. It had been abandoned and we decided to bring it back to life.

I emptied the pond of bricks, rocks and some of the mud, piling up the soil on the bank for the marginal plants. There was water in the pond still so I left a lot of the mud there thinking that perhaps some of the creatures had survived, especially as i found so many frogs and toads hiding out under the rocks. Also, by leaving in some mud it added an instant pond bed. I wondered whether it would be too rich in nutrients which could cause problems later on and ideally I should have carried out a nutrient test, but I took a chance and left it in (mainly because pulling all the bricks out had worn me out and I was eager to see it finished!).

Unfortunately I had to stop anyway because I managed to put a hole in the side of the pond with my spade. Tip – be careful when using tools to dig or clear a pond, especially if it is made using pond liner – seems obvious doesn’t it! I ordered some pond putty and left the pond alone for a few days.

With the hole fixed, it was time to add some structures for all the frogs and toads to get in and out and to hide in. I used the rocks to build up one side of the pond and added a couple of logs. Ideally a wildlife pond should have a shallow end or a gradual transition from the bank to the pond. This is achievable with a pond-liner but not as easy with a preformed pond. It’s also about working with what you have too when renting.

We were lucky to have a beautiful large fern growing next to the pond. My partner has a good eye for aesthetics and so to compliment the fern he suggested we piled up more rocks around the edge of the pond and under the fern. By this point, we already had a resident living in the pond. A large fat frog had moved in and every now and then popped his head above the water to check out his new digs.

Finally, the last stage was to add the plants. I planted lesser spearwort Ranunculus flammula, soft rush Juncus effusus, and purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria in the pond itself in basket planters, and ivy-leaved duckweed Lemna trisulca and a water soldier Stratoites aloides in the middle.

Around the edge I planted a few garden plants I brought with us from our old house including purple toadflax Linaria purpurea and the following native marginal plants:

  • silverweed Argentina anserina
  • ragged robin Silene flos-cuculi
  • water figwort Scrophularia auriculata
  • teasel Dipsacus fillonum
  • marsh ragwort Senecio aquaticus
  • marsh woundwort Stachys palustris
  • rosebay willowherb Chamerion angustifolium – seeds
  • great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum – seeds
  • hemp agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum – seeds
  • Common fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica – seeds.

One the plants were in, it was just a case of letting nature take over. We were surprised just how quickly the wildlife found it. The foxes would come to drink from it each evening, dragonflies laid their eggs in it and bats came to feed on the midges emerging from it. By Autumn, the pond had established and we couldn’t wait to see what arrived in spring, but that’s a whole other blog post.

Autumnal pond