What Makes a Garden Design Sustainable?

Garden designers naturally have a real interest in how their actions impact the spaces they work in. But as responsible designers, we also need to understand how these actions impact the wider world.

Like many of you, we know that our environment is at a critical point. Our natural resources are depleting rapidly. We’re in the midst of a climate emergency. We’re losing our biodiversity. And sadly, we know that the thing we’re most passionate about – garden design – can be a major contributor.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Lately, we’ve been thinking more and more about how we can all come together as part of an integrated ecosystem. A place where beautiful bespoke gardens don’t threaten our planet, but support it. The solution is much simpler than you may think: a focus on more sustainable and ecological gardening practices.

What is a sustainable garden?

You may have heard that sustainable garden design must abide by these principles. Or that a garden must do this to be considered eco-friendly. That’s nonsense. There’s no single, set-in-stone definition of what a sustainable garden looks like. Instead, a sustainable garden is simply about designing outdoor spaces that work alongside nature, rather than fighting against it.

Ultimately, it’s about creating gardens that prioritise ecology and conservation. It’s about focusing on ethical landscape design that’s practical, functional, diverse, and attractive, of course. At the same time, our designs need to minimise the negative impact on the world around us. If we do that, we can build spaces that work for everyone, and everything.

The importance of sustainability

Think about a time when you first set eyes on a truly gorgeous garden; a garden that’s given you real garden envy. At times like this, you see what’s right in front of you, don’t you? The colourful and exotic plants. The perfect artificial lawn. The spacious patio, complete with attractive concrete slabs. What you don’t see is what the environment has had to go through to make this garden a reality.

That fake grass creates a massive carbon footprint across every stage of its lifecycle, and also removes valuable living green space from a garden. That massive concrete patio may be affordable, but why not look at alternatives with a much lower carbon footprint?

Each time we take on a new project, we have two options. We can choose to focus on design alone. Or we can take a more balanced approach, considering the broader impact and consequences of our designs to ensure we’re making the best decisions not just for our clients, but for the entire planet.

When we take the balanced approach, we have more power. We can make smart and strategic choices that actively help to tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges we’re facing today.

We include plants that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of course, helping to reduce CO2 and create cleaner, healthier air. We can work to incorporate recycled materials, reducing the amount of waste going to landfills. And we can build environments that welcome wildlife and boost biodiversity.

Stunning gardens don’t have to be the problem. And we’re making them the solution.

Our approach

As we said earlier, designing with sustainability in mind is all about working with nature, not against it. So there are no hard rules. At least, not the way we do things. Instead of saying, ‘We have to do this’, we focus on engaging with the given space. We then work alongside our clients to come up with personalised solutions that best align with the situation and the desired outcome.

For some, this may mean building a garden from reclaimed materials. For others, it could mean finding ways to conserve water, or creating low-maintenance gardens that require fewer resources to keep them looking great.

However, there are some strategies that we always try to incorporate wherever we can:

    1. Use of sustainable materials
      There are so many amazing sustainable materials we can use in gardens that it’s really difficult to justify the use of materials that have a greater impact on the environment. From reclaimed stone to locally sourced timber, and even more unusual things like gravel made from recycled ceramic, there’s so much possibility and potential here. We also look at ways to make better use of nature itself. When creating distinct spaces, can we use natural elements like shrubs instead of installing fences?
    2. Sustainable planting
      When it comes to planting, we of course need to think of using native planting where we can; we’re so lucky here in Britain to call many species our own. There’s a huge variety, like hazel, elder, hawthorn, primrose, hart’s tongue ferns…However, using a mix of native and non-native plants can create a longer flowering season and add interest all year round. A diverse range of plants creates a variety of habitats and a more biodiverse landscape. We can’t rely on every plant being grown from scratch in a local nursery, but making our plant choices wisely can create a real impact on our landscape.
    3. Wildlife garden
      Butterflies and bees are excellent pollinators, while birds and hedgehogs manage pests. Great gardens can’t exist without them – yet many human spaces aren’t welcoming to local wildlife. That all changes with sustainable garden design. We can explore ways to keep a section of the garden ‘wild’ with meadows that make a home for all sorts of helpful species. Or we can look into adding bird feeders, wildlife ponds, and wildlife ‘hotels’ to encourage more animals to visit the space.The edge of a garden can be one of the most biodiverse parts, particularly if you have hedgerow and different tiers of planting. It doesn’t need to be a space that’s entirely wild; just implementing an ‘edge of a woodland’ area within your garden can enable the space to be teeming with wildlife.
    4. Less is more
      We pride ourselves on always listening to the needs and preferences of our clients. A lot of designers will say the same. What makes us different is that we find ways to turn dreams into reality using the least amount of action possible. If we can arrive at the same result by using a plant-based solution, then this will create a biodiverse garden with a positive effect on the environment around it. That’s why we begin every project with a consultation, examining ways to create the perfect outdoor space in the most efficient way.

If you’re interested in a consultation, get in touch with us. We’ll work with you to design your ideal garden, while ensuring we’re all doing our part to help create a brighter tomorrow for everyone.

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