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Planet-friendly gardening: How small changes can make a huge difference

Environmentally-friendly gardening encourages people to work with nature rather than against it

Kate Ng
Friday 17 December 2021 16:46 GMT
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has predicted that “planet-friendly gardening” will become more popular among gardeners in 2022.

As people look to lessen their impact on the environment, green-thumbed growers are expected to explore ways to reduce their carbon footprint while gardening and provide micro-habitats for wildlife.

Although gardening is often considered an environmentally-friendly hobby, certain practices can be polluting and contribute to a larger carbon footprint than some people realise.

But before you dive into a compost heap, what does planet-friendly gardening look like and what methods can you use to ensure an even greener garden?

What is planet-friendly gardening?

Planet or climate-friendly gardening is the practice of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from gardens and encouraging the absorption of carbon dioxide by soils and plants to help reduce global warming.

This means eco-conscious gardeners need to considered all aspects of gardens – from the materials used in them to the impact they have on the surrounding environment.

For example, using a synthetic fertiliser doesn’t just have a negative impact on the soil in your garden, but also on the atmosphere.

The production of fertiliser is an energy-intensive process and contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of UK industry.

Pesticides, which are usually highly toxic, can also have adverse effects on the environment by contaminating the air, ground and water when they run off from areas they’re used in.

Environmentally-friendly gardening also encourages people to work with nature rather than against it, growing the right plants that will thrive in the space you have and saving you money, time and effort in the long run, says the RHS.

You can start becoming a more planet-friendly gardener by examining each activity you do and making small changes to reduce your environmental impact.

What are the benefits of planet-friendly gardening?

The UK is a garden-loving country, which means there are plenty of benefits to be reaped by greener gardening.

The RHS says on its website that there are about 30 million gardeners in the UK, and the total area of UK gardens put together amounts to more than half a million hectares, or roughly equivalent to the size of Norfolk.

According to Gardeners’ World, gardens have the potential to store large amounts of carbon, as well as mitigate certain effects from climate changes, including flooding risk, “urban heat island effect” and the loss of biodiversity.

Plants can help with flood risks because they delay the time it takes for rainfall to reach the ground, taking pressure off public drains. They also absorb water from the soil and return it to the atmosphere, allowing the soil to absorb more rainfall.

Having a garden rather than a paved area also helps reduce “urban heat islands”, which occur when cities replace natural land with dense concentrations of pavements and buildings.

This causes heat to rise, contributing to global warming and raising the risk of extreme weather events.

Plenty of plants also provide crucial habitats for animals like birds, squirrels and hedgehogs, as well as insects that are important in keeping balance in the ecosystem.

How can I start being a planet-friendly gardener?

The RHS suggests 10 easy tasks that will help you start the journey towards being a more sustainable gardener.

1.      Plant a tree. Trees help draw down carbon from the atmosphere and can help reduce our carbon footprint.

2.      Use rainwater on your plants. Using a water butt to collect rainwater or using a watering can instead of a hosepipe can help save millions of litres of water.

3.      Go peat-free. Peatlands are the world’s largest carbon store on land and provide valuable ecosystems, so it’s important to keep peat where it is – “in bogs, not bags”.

4.      Make your own compost. Home composting can save 0.1kg of fossil carbon for every 1kg of homemade compost, which could save around 19kg of carbon per gardener, per year.

5.      Plant, don’t pave. The RHS says that if 30 million gardeners were to pull up a paver and plant one square meter of perennial plants, the amount of carbon saved would be equivalent to heating between 86,000 to more than a million homes for a year.

6.      Plant for pollinators. Grow plants that will encourage bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and other pollinators to support diversity.

7.      Grow your own flowers. Growing your own flowers instead of buying cut flowers that are imported can reduce your carbon footprint.

8.      Go electric. Swap petrol or diesel-powered garden tools for green energy electric-powered tools to reduce carbon and noise pollution.

9.      Add your garden plants to RHS My Garden online. This mapping tool helps to conserve and grow plant diversity in the UK.

10.   Grow your own produce, or buy locally-sourced produce. Eating vegetables and fruit grown in your own garden or in your local community can save significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

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