Bring your backyard into balance with our top tips for environmentally conscious gardening
Your beginner’s guide to eco-friendly gardening at home
Less than 100 years ago, the way people gardened was very much in tune with nature, and composting, companion planting and growing your own food were the norm. Modern gardening brought harmful chemicals and wasteful practices into the mainstream, but recently these methods are being rejected in favour of traditional techniques which are kinder to the environment. Follow these 10 steps and you’ll be well on your way to a more eco-friendly garden.
Grow your own
The satisfaction of growing your own food beats supermarket shopping hands down, even if you’re just cultivating one planter box of salad greens and herbs. If you can avoid using harmful sprays, the health benefits are enormous, too. To maximise space, plant any spare spots in your garden with fruit trees that will crop at different times of year (eg pip fruit in summer, feijoas in autumn, citrus in winter).
Bees love blue and yellow flowers and big groups of these are easier for them to spot from above. Herbs such as borage, rosemary, lavender, sage and thyme are also favourite bee fodder, along with fruit trees and flowering annuals and perennials such as alyssum, catmint, cosmos, marigold and phlox. Water is essential for the survival of bees so leave shallow bowls of water in the garden for them in summer.
Feed the pollinators
We all know that honey bees are under threat and this is partly due to the degradation of their habitats. Cultivating plants rich in pollen and nectar is something we can all do to fill the gap. Native plants such as hebe, manuka and rengarenga lily are important sources of food for native and exotic bees.
Be wise with water
Rather than waste valuable rainwater by allowing it to flow into the often overstretched stormwater system, harvest it in rainwater tanks. Add filters to trap contaminants and use the water for garden irrigation. Grey water is another good water resource to utilise in the garden. Consider how you can reduce your garden’s irrigation needs as well.
Water lawns less often or install a watering system that doesn’t waste water through evaporation. Think about using gravel instead of concrete for paths so the water sinks into the ground rather than running off into the stormwater system.
Use fewer chemicals
Eliminating or reducing chemical sprays is key to the survival of our bees. Even organic sprays such as pyrethrum are toxic to bees and should be sprayed at night while they are not active. Use traps or barriers to deter slugs and snails instead of bait, and choose plant-based weed sprays rather than chemical pesticides. Spraying compost, seaweed and other plant-based teas onto the foliage of plants is also a great way to help reduce pests and diseases.
Provide habitat for wildlife
Rather than reverting to chemicals to get rid of garden pests, go for nature’s remedy – wildlife. Birds love to devour the slugs, snails and caterpillars that ravage your veges. There are also many insect predators happy to munch on aphids and other pests.
Install bird feeders and grow plants that produce the berries and nectar birds love. Consider building an insect hotel to provide a secure refuge for beneficial insects such as solitary bees, ladybirds and lacewings. Visit greenurbanliving.co.nz/encouraging-beneficial-insects for instructions.
Plant for your conditions
Plants grown in unsuitable conditions will struggle and often need lots of cosseting to survive, which usually involves pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers. Planting drought-tolerant species in hot areas, shade-lovers under trees and moisture-hungry species in damp parts of the garden will give you much happier plants. Native plants have adapted to our conditions better than exotic species so use these wherever you can in the garden.
Pile on the organic matter
Why buy man-made fertilisers when it’s so easy to make your own compost? The homemade stuff contains high quantities of nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms that help reduce plant diseases, meaning healthier food crops. Two more positives for making compost: you’ll save money by not buying it and will reduce your impact on the local landfill. Seaweed, leaf mould, poultry and animal manure are other forms of organic matter that will improve the quality and health of your soil and won’t cost the earth. Worm farms and bokashi bins are good options for smaller properties.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
In permaculture, nothing is thrown away in the garden – a use is found for everything. This may not be feasible for all of us but it is possible to follow this principle in many ways: shred cardboard to add a carbon layer to composts, buy a mulching machine so you can turn tree prunings into mulch, reuse plastic bottles as cloches to protect seedlings or to make watering devices, grow seeds in recycled egg cartons, convert old concrete into pavers or an old dressing table into a potting bench.
Buy sustainable materials
Choose carefully when selecting materials for decking and other structures in the garden. Make sure timber is plantation grown, not sourced from rainforests, and go for permeable paving systems which allow water to seep into the ground.
Try companion planting
This ancient practice is based on the idea of growing certain plants together to improve cropping, deter insects and attract pollinators. For instance, rather than spraying chemicals on aphids, grow flowering plants such as sunflowers and marigolds that attract ladybirds, lacewings and other beneficial insects that feed on the aphids.
Chives are also an aphid deterrent, onions repel carrot fly, and borage helps draw black fly away from other plants. To deter green shield bug and other pests plant geranium, petunia, marjoram, coriander or chamomile nearby. There are many other companion plants that are useful in deterring pests both above and below the ground.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: One Shot.