Every day we read about the changes that we can make in our everyday lives to help the fight against climate change. From taking fewer flights to eating less meat, from the lightbulbs we use to how we get to work, there seems to be a million suggestions about how we can help the planet by ‘going green’. But have you ever thought about how the design of your garden can help the environment?
For many of us our gardens or the green spaces around where we work are one of the ways that we can get close to nature on a daily basis. But could the decisions individuals or companies make about how these areas look, and what goes into them, be damaging the environment? And can we make better choices that won’t only eliminate damage but will also actually improve the world around us.
Looking at how a professional landscape designer deals with green landscaping can give us an insight into how we can replicate these steps in our own gardens, or ask our employers to take these steps when they are ready to redesign the space outside our places of work.
1. Think about materials
Whether you’re integrating a new path into your landscape design or thinking of building a wood pergola, the materials you use can be chosen with an eye to their impact on their environment.
Where materials are damaging to the environment, much of this happens at the production or sourcing stage. It’s estimated, for example, that concrete production is responsible for around 6 % of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is only part of the story however, as use of concrete can also contribute to water run-off as well as loss of habitat. Avoiding concrete is probably the most environmentally friendly option, but if you do need to use it ensure that you use a more environmentally friendly option that replaces cement – the most damaging element of the concrete – with renewable materials such as blast furnace slag.
You may think that using wood is the green option. However when you do use wood within a landscape design, you should think both about where it is sourced and how it is treated. Look for responsibly sourced timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and avoid wood which has been treated with toxic chemicals. Instead opt for non-toxic wood or wood that has been heat treated.
Other materials you might want to avoid are rubber mulch and stone that is quarried from near water – which can affect water sources. Another way of reducing the environmental impact of the materials you or your landscape gardener uses, is by maximising the amount or reused or recycled materials that you use.
2. Collect rainwater…
Collect rainwater by installing rain barrels, or butts, to the downpipes on your home or garage. This method can also be used by businesses, who can find they can collect large quantities of otherwise wasted water from offices or warehouses.
Collecting rainwater for use around your garden doesn’t just help the environment by reducing the amount of water you draw form the mains supply. As most homes and companies now have water meters, collecting water in this way can also help to save money. And of course in the event of a drought, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to having the resource to keep you plants well-watered.
3. Then use it wisely
Collecting rainwater is only the half the story. You also need to make sure that once you have the water stored you don’t waste it.
Installing efficient irrigation systems, which can be linked directly to your rain barrels, is one way to use water as effectively possible.
Smart water irrigation systems move water to where it is needed using pipes installed around your garden. Often these systems, which include mini sprinklers and drippers that release water slowly, are controlled by timers. As water is often wasted due to over-watering, using these systems can help you to control the water that is used. In addition, many systems will use soil moisture sensors to make sure that watering only occurs when it is really needed.
4. Use eco-friendly lighting
When we talk about eco-friendly lighting, we’re really thinking about energy efficiency. Solar-powered lights are a much greener option than traditional mains-powered lights, and now come in a range of sizes and designs to suit any site. Whether you want to light the edges of a path for safety or illuminate a terrace for evening entertaining, there will be a lighting system for you.
That’s not all though. Solar lights also have the advantage of not needing the extensive work, for example fitting outdoor sockets or laying cable, that mains electric lights require. This can save you both time and money when it comes to creating your dream outdoor space.
5. Use trees instead of thermostats
Trees look beautiful in any green space. They soften the lines of an area and can be used to mask ugly feature. But they can also be used to help cut your energy costs.
Clever placing of deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the autumn, can help to cool homes or offices in the summer by shading them from the glare of the sun. This reduces the need to switch on energy hungry fans or air conditioning. Come the winter though the trees shed their leaves allowing what sun there is to enter buildings, increase warmth, and let you turn the heating down a notch.
6. Cut the lawn
We’re not talking about keeping the grass short here, we’re talking about reducing the amount of any landscape design that you give over to lawn. Lawns use a lot of water, and so limiting their size is the quickest way to cut water consumption.
In addition, the less lawn you have, the more space you leave to give over to establishing wildlife-friendly areas, for example sowing a wildflower meadow to attract pollinators.
7. Cut back on chemicals
As your plants and shrubs become established, thoughts will turn to maintaining the look of your garden. This can mean fighting against pests or using fertilisers to encourage growth. Whatever action you need to take employing more eco-friendly methods, such as biological pest control methods like nematodes, can help reduce your impact on the world around you.
8. Reduce emissions
Selecting electric machinery, whether at the construction or maintenance stage, over petrol-driven tools can drastically reduce the emissions produced. Reducing emissions will not only improve the air quality locally, they are also generally quieter and so have the added advantage of reducing noise pollution.
However big your landscaping project then, there are many ways that you can ensure that it is as green as possible. In every sense of the word