How does your garden grow? A guide to sustainable gardening

The concept of sustainability is no longer just a nice idea to aspire to but rather a necessity if we want the next generations to continue to enjoy and thrive on our beautiful planet like we do. The word sustain means to perpetuate existence and to provide sustenance and nourishment. While our culture often encourages us to be fixated on ourselves, the idea of sustainability is outward-focused; it looks ahead with thought and care for those to come.

I think all of us have a responsibility to live in a way that will leave the earth better than we found it. The path of sustainability invites us to tread lightly, to protect and preserve the earth’s precious resources and to nurture the planet and people around us. This need not be daunting – it can be as simple as feeding your family organically-grown produce, or making the choice to start a compost heap instead of throwing compostable waste into the rubbish bin to become landfill.

Sustainable gardening goes a step beyond organic and considers the conservation of resources. It involves working in harmony with nature and utilising what nature gives us. For example, catching rainwater from the roof and using it to irrigate your garden, or saving seeds from existing crops to use the following year. If supplementing the natural process is needed then it is done with as little impact as possible.

Simple ways to create a more sustainable garden:

Plant more drought-tolerant species such as succulents, cacti, cabbage trees, as well as natives. These will require less water and nutrients.

Plant green cover crops such as mustard, lupin, rye, oats, or phacelia in autumn in areas of your garden you don’t plan on using during the winter months. The planting of green manure cover crops adds nitrogen and other nutrients and also helps prevent erosion during spring and autumn runoff.

Rotate your crops. This idea involves not planting the same crop in the same place continually, ideally try to change it up so that one particular crop is only ever planted in a place once every three years. This will prevent your soil from becoming depleted of nutrients and avoid the build up of diseases in the soil.

Mulch. Mulch consists of natural materials that decompose over time, such as wood chips, bark, leaves, grass clippings, compost mixes, newspaper and cardboard. Mulch helps with evaporation loss in your garden by up to 75 per cent. It also prevents run-off and keeps the soil cool.

Compost. Composting is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make a big difference in terms of a sustainable garden. Almost all food scraps as well as lawn clippings, paper, cardboard, and garden waste can be composted. Compost can be applied to all garden beds and is an excellent way to not only improve the soil but increase its moisture holding capacity.

Save seeds. By letting your favourite plants go to seed and choosing the strongest ones to collect seeds from, you can save them to use again. This is not only good economy but you will get plants that you know will thrive in and are adapted to your conditions.

Companion planting. By planting a combination of edible and flowering plants the garden will look more colourful and ward off pests more effectively, as well as produce stronger, healthier plants. This technique also encourages pollinator insects.

Grow less lawn, more garden. By doing this you will be putting your energy into something that is going to give back to you. Mow what lawn you do have less often and allow the grass to grow a little taller in summer to keep it greener. This also encourage more bees to your garden because of the flowering weeds.

Bottle, preserve, freeze, or dry any extra crops you may have so that you can enjoy them at a later date. There’s nothing quite like bottled peaches for dessert in the middle of winter. This ensures the least amount of food waste too.

Eat it while it’s there. Keep a close eye on your plants so that you don’t miss the harvesting season. Many plants will go to seed quicker if they’re not being picked or used.

If possible, use rainwater or greywater from the bath or washing machine to water your garden. Rather than watering every day try watering every third or fourth day but giving it a decent soak. This will encourage deep root growth and stronger plants.

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