How Green Is Your Garden?
It’s natural to assume that gardening is one of the most eco-friendly pastimes. As long as you don’t go crazy with pesticides, artificial fertilisers or weed killers, then surely nothing could be greener than raising a few flowers and shrubs, or perhaps some fruit and veg?
At least one study calls this assumption into question. A 2012 paper from the Universities of Sheffield and Reading, in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Society, UK, presented a surprising perspective on how some gardening habits could affect the environment. For example:
- Some lawn sprinklers use up to a 1,000 litres of water per hour – equivalent to a family’s daily water consumption.
- It takes three and ten years for a newly planted tree to become carbon-neutral.
- A paved patio of 25 square metres has an equivalent carbon foot print of around one ton.
- The digging of peat for use as compost releases nearly half a million tons of carbon dioxide in the environment each year – equivalent to the exhaust emissions of thousands of vehicles.
So is it possible to garden with minimal ecological impact? The solution could lie in the concept of ‘permaculture’ gardening. Derived from the term ‘permanent agriculture’, permaculture was first described in the 1970s by Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren as a philosophy of ‘working with, rather than against nature’. At the heart of permaculture gardening is observation. Don’t rush to plant (or pave or put down decking), but observe your garden for a time. Pay attention to where the sun falls and which areas sit in shade (over different seasons, if possible), where the wind hits and where water drains after rain.Once you understand more about the mini-ecosystem of your own garden, you can make better decisions about where to put delicate plants and where to position hardier shrubs as a protective wind break.
Permaculture is about creating a self-sustaining and low-impact ecology within the confines of your garden. It relies on non-intrusive solutions such as natural mulching and encourages the use of natural predators rather than pesticides – for example, keep frogs in your garden to deal with slugs, rather than using chemical slug repellents.
By working with your garden environment rather than trying to bend it to your will, you may find that it actually benefits the plants you grow, as well as reducing your overall ecological impact.