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As more and more land is being swallowed up for farmland or, increasingly, to build houses I believe that is our duty to learn how to make our garden as eco-friendly as possible. Don’t click away if you don’t have a garden – I’m going to put in a few things you can do if you have no outside space.
I had no outside space for a good decade. And by none, I don’t mean a three by three-foot courtyard or balcony, I mean NONE. Even the pavement outside the front door was about a foot wide and on a busy road.
Why is it important to learn how to make your garden eco-friendly?
Mainly for the insects. Pesticides and habitat loss have caused a rapid decline in numbers for many insect species, so let’s give them a hand. If you have an abundance of insects you’ll also encourage birds, bats, and hedgehogs. Yay! If you grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers you’ll benefit from increased pollinators. If you’re interested in saving the bees, check out this post.
Here in the UK, we’ve lost all but about 3% of our wildflower meadows. That’s a shocking statistic – only 1% of the UK is considered a wildflower meadow. Those parts that remain are scattered far and wide – we no longer have the corridors of native flowering plants to sustain our pollinators.
Or do we?
But we could!
There’s been a horrible trend of paving over our gardens – especially those front gardens that we can’t be arsed to keep up with. Why mow a lawn if you can’t sit in it without the whole world getting an eyeful of your tan lines?
Can’t I just leave my garden to return to nature?
Er, yes I suppose you could, but just because you want an eco-friendly garden doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful too. It’s nice to have somewhere you can sit out and drink a cup of coffee whilst the birds sing and the bugs, er, whirr (?).
But you can leave a portion of your garden alone – don’t mow it, or add any fancy ornamental features, except maybe a birdbath or little pond.
Do I need to have green fingers to create my eco-friendly garden?
Christ, I hope not, because I have no IDEA about gardening. We’ve only lived here for 18 months.
The great thing about planting native species is that they’re literally designed to thrive in your climate.
If you have absolutely no clue about which plants will attract bees etc., there’s a super-simple way to know. When you go to the garden centre, just look for the plants that are already covered in bees. Do a quick scan of the label to ensure you don’t have to, I don’t know, dance before it by the light of the full moon to get it to flower.
Garden centres usually label plants by difficulty level, so pick whatever you’re comfortable with. If you’re after a more set-it-and-forget-it type of garden, then I’d recommend that you pick perennials.
Perennial plants will keep coming back again, unaided, year after year.
The exception to this rule is foxgloves, which self-seed, so although the same plant won’t grow again, you’ll probably get foxgloves year on year.
Is it expensive to make your garden more eco-friendly?
No. Obviously, if you want to invest in fancy-ass birdfeeders then go for it, but a simple bowl of food will help immensely.
If you have no money at all for your garden, then leave it alone, and put out a bowl of water. You will be helping our flying friends immeasurably.
If you have some money, but not loads, then ask around for garden centre recommendations. Stay away from the larger chain ones – they buy them in from other nurseries and incur more costs.
Try to find a nursery that grows a lot of their own plant – they’ll be so much cheaper, and you can probably find smaller specimens, which are cheaper.
I got 6 lavender plugs from Amazon for around £6 and they were very tiny when they came.
However, a year in and they’ve grown amazingly, and all the moths, butterflies, hoverflies, and bees love ’em.
It’s also worth checking places like Facebook Marketplace and eBay for secondhand lawnmowers, or even splitting the cost with a neighbour and sharing one. Garden tools can be picked up cheaply from bigger supermarkets, and discount stores like TK Maxx.
So, how to make your garden more eco-friendly?
1 – Put out water
We don’t have a pond and didn’t want to invest in one because we only rent. In its place, we buried a plastic box – just a small one we’d previously used to store paperwork in- and filled it with water. We put in some water plants that had been left by the old tenant. They’re doing really well, and the birds like to drink from it.
There’s also a terracotta dish for a bird bath – the blackbirds in particular LOVE it, but will only bath in the bird bath – they prefer to drink the gross water in the ‘pond’.
We also put out a small ramekin of water filled with gravel so that bees can drink from it without fear of drowning.
We now have a pond. Or the Puddle, like one of Dave’s mates affectionately calls it.
It’s not very big, you see.
You can just see it, in the bottom corner. Here’s a better, those grosser, pic of when it was first born:
My boyfriend dug a hole, added a liner and filled it with water. One end is a shallow slope so that little birds and hedgehogs can have a drink without falling in. We planted a few marginal plants around the outside. The above photo is a month or so old, but the irises have since flowered and look amazing.
I don’t even think we bought these – they just came with the house but had never flowered before they weren’t in damp enough conditions.
We’re excited about getting frogs, but not prepared enough to a) research if you’re allowed to take tadpoles from the wild and b) remember to take something to put said tadpoles in.
I was a bit iffy about taking tadpoles from a lake and putting them in a pond BUT the majority of tadpoles are eaten by predatory insects and other frogs, so I’m ok with it now. Still not looked up whether it’s legal though. I shall do that now.
Ok, it’s perfectly fine to take tadpoles and frogspawn out of the wild, BUT you’re not allowed to sell them.
There goes my plan for a wholesale frog emporium.
2 – Put out food
I’ve previously bought (affiliate link alert – after this, they’ll be marked with a *) this bird seed* from Amazon, though I’m trying to buy more from our local pet shop, who are a small business and sell their seed in paper bags
We also put out cat food for our resident hedgehogs. There are a couple of regulars which is extremely exciting for me. We also feed at least three local cats, so my boyfriend built a feeding station that only the hedgehogs can access (we’ll still put food on top for the cats – I’m not a monster).
(Update – the feeding station didn’t work. The cats just squeeeezed under to get the hedgehog food).
This is just an observation, but since putting cat food out at night we’ve had fewer cat visiting during the day, which is great for the birds.
If you put out food and it doesn’t go at night, it’s worth leaving out in the morning for a bit – we’ve noticed that the blackbirds really like it, and feed it to their babies. Just make sure that you’re not attracting cats and/or rats to your garden. We’ve found that the blackbirds and crows make pretty short work of it though.
3 – Grow native species
Most garden centres sell packs of wildflower plants pretty cheaply. Just don’t do what I did and let them grow wantonly because they’ll take over and suffocate everything else. I had success with red campion (TRIM IT BACK THOUGH), but Fox-and-cubs just took over. My cornflowers grew beautifully but got straggly, so I’m going to try again this year and train them up something.
My main issue is that I know NOTHING about gardening. It’s all trial and error, plus a bit of Gardener’s World for back-up.
Campanulas grew well, and I’m hoping the Red Hot Pokers flower this year because birds and bees love ’em. I’ve planted some teasels (for the goldfinches) this year from seeds my dad harvested from his, so hopefully, we’ll have the seed heads next year.
Oh, and lavender. I know it’s technically not native but ours thrived last year – a combo of the red hot weather and the fact that the cherry tree soaks up all the water, so the lavender stays nice and dry as it likes.
The lavender is also thriving this year, which is kind of a surprise because it’s been wet as hell. If you turn our outside light on just after dusk the number of moths that are flying around is incredible.
All insects LOVE lavender except mozzies. Yesss.
If it were up to me it would be all we plant, but pollinators like a bit of variety.
Hoverflies, for example, LOVE sunflowers. Love ’em, as we found out last year when we planted them.
Word of warning – don’t plant sunflowers in the ground. They will grow absolutely enormous and overshadow everything else in your garden. If you want them, great, but I’d highly HIGHLY recommend growing them in a pot.
If money is an issue when it comes to plants, Morrisons (yes, the supermarket which is changing the game re. vegan junk food) is great. We got honeysuckle, jasmine, and an Acer and they were less than £2 each. Yes, they were tiny, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Morrisons is also great for houseplants. If you’re into houseplants I have a whole other blog devoted to them. Check it out here. Yes, I set up a whole blog to validate my addiction to buying houseplants.
Our front garden is shady and a bit damp. No problem at all. We planted hostas and hydrangeas and they’ve done really well. I mean, the hostas are a bit slug damaged, but aren’t all hostas? They’ve flowered beautifully and the bees love them.
We’ve also got some foxgloves and poppies growing that just sort of appeared, but we’ve kept them because the pollinators love them.
Fruit trees are great for pollinators too because their blossom is one of the first sources of nectar in the spring. Our house came with a gorgeous cherry tree, but you can pick them up from garden centres for a reasonable price. You could grow hostas, ferns, and other shade loving plants at their base, or even grow a climber, like a honeysuckle, up one.
4 – Don’t use pesticides
I just my slugs get on with it (rip, delphiniums) but if you’re plagued with them I two ideas:
- Copper tape*. They can’t go on it because it gives them a mild shock or something. Put it around your flowerbeds (or skirting boards, if they come in the house).
- Creep out at night with a torch and catch the buggers in the act. Pick them off your plants and put them in a container (or hoy them over the fence into next doors) and take them to your nearest river or duck pond. Release them. Not into the river, because that’s just mean, but ducks love them. That’s not mean, it’s just nature.
- Ooo, a third idea, and my fave: get a duck. Get two! Or even a goose!
5 – Houses
We have 2 nest boxes and a hedgehog house.
There are blue tits in one of the nest boxes which is awesome. No idea if anyone lives in the hedgehog house. We made it out of turf and sticks that we had remaining after making a new flower bed.
***UPDATE*** the hedgehog house was bulldozed to make way for the Puddle. In its place, my boyfriend built a proper little hedgehog house from wood. Again, no idea if anyone uses it, but it’s there if it’s needed.
When putting up nest boxes be sure to check the position – ideally they should be facing northeast, but if that’s not possible make sure they’re not too exposed. If the box gets too hot the parents will abandon it and the chicks will cook.
6 – Compost
I bought this one* from Amazon (you can see it chilling in the corner of the photo of the Puddle. I find composting strangely pleasing. It’s worth researching yourself how to compost properly, but in general, you can compost fruit and veg trimmings, tea bags, coffee grounds, and cardboard.
Don’t put in cooked food because you could attract rats. We put in lawn trimmings too, as well as the litter contents of our rabbit. You can’t compost cat or dog poo, I’m afraid.
I stab it thoroughly with a garden fork every so often to give it a bit of extra oxygen, and to break up the clumps of potatoes that are growing in there.
I keep meaning to get some red worms to put in the compost heap, because they eat decaying matter and make the composting process a bit faster.
If you’re not massive on flies and woodlice, then it may be an idea to leave the composting to someone else. Mine is a haven for creepy crawlies and they all swarm out to greet me when I empty my little compost tub.
7 – Collect rainwater
I’ve not done this yet, because last year we watered the garden with our old fish tank water. There’s also decking where the water barrel would go, but I suppose there’s nothing stopping me setting up a water collecting system on the shed.
Apparently, rainwater is best for washing cars and windows because it doesn’t leave streaks. However, I’ll only use it for watering the garden and houseplants because I don’t wash cars or windows.
Rainwater is also preferable over tap water for watering houseplants. Carnivorous plants and Calathea, in particular, don’t like tap water at all.
We have started collecting rainwater now, albeit in a slightly amateur way – we just have a few big tubs and buckets on the decking and next to the shed. I also keep my watering can full of water for my houseplants so that bit of the chlorine can evaporate off. I bring it into the house the night before I plan on watering them, so the water can come up to room temperature.
I have recently turned into a big ol’ plant nerd, and I couldn’t be happier.
8 – Gravel over concrete
Permeable surfaces are the way to go, in order to protect against flooding. Bark chipping is another option. In some areas, you actually have to apply for planning permission if you want to concrete your drive, because of the threat of flooding.
9 – Hedges over walls
I suppose a nice dry stone wall could potentially provide the homes for a lot of critters, but in general, hedges provide more food, homes, and shelter for wildlife. If that’s not an option for you, maybe grow some climbing plants up the wall (check they won’t damage the brickwork).
We’re growing jasmine and honeysuckle in pots atm (that we got from Morrisons for £1.76), so fingers crossed I don’t kill them. We’re thinking we’re going to grow them up the shed wall.
(We keep a lot of things in pots because we want to take them with us when we move house – hopefully, it won’t be in like a decade when they’re all enormous).
10 – Observe your inhabitants
Watch what the animals in your garden do, and help them to do it better.
For example, we have a little family of sparrows that live in the guttering of our house. Most mornings, they swoop down, en mass, and have a dust bath in the corner of our flowerbed. We don’t water the front of it because that’s where the lavender is, and lavender appreciates drier conditions.
When we noticed what the sparrows were doing, we left them a little area of soil free so that they could have a bigger bath. They love it.
The hedgehogs like to creep along the back fence to get to the pond for a drink, so we don’t strim that area so that they have a bit of cover.
The bees seem to love purple flowers, so along with the lavender, we also have a buddleja (yes, apparently that is how it’s spelt) and I got a couple more campanula and some lupins.
Occasionally we’ll be home to an injured pigeon for a few days, so we have a little log pile next to the feeding station so that they can hobble up to it. After a few days r & r they fly off.
I have also taken it upon myself to break up arguments. Sometimes we’ll get a boisterous crow or bullying pigeon, so I open the patio doors and stand on the decking.
Sometimes I shout.
I don’t like to, but needs must.
Our OG birds aren’t frightened of me, but the bully will leave and then return when I close the door. I’ve found that after opening the door about five times the bully will learn that they can only stay if they play nice.
Apart from magpies. If mr magpie is eating, everyone else fucks right off. Can you blame them?
As I write this, I realise how mental it sounds.
We’ve had baby crows this year. They’re unbelievably cute. There’s also a baby blackbird that’s perfectly capable of eating by himself, but as soon as his dad swoops down onto the bird feeder the little sod will demand that his dad feeds him. It’s hilarious.
Tips for having an eco-friendly apartment
Feed the birds
You can get kits specifically for feeding birds in apartments, but these stick-on feeders* work well too. Bear in mind, it can take a while for birds to trust you, so don’t give up if you have any birds for a few weeks – if you’re worried about wasting bird seed (you do have to change it quite often), take the old stuff to feed the ducks. There are ducks everywhere, yes?
Ducks also really, really, love defrosted frozen peas.
A second tray for water stuck to the window would be nice too. If you’re lucky, they may have a bath in it, which is the cutest thing in the whole world.
They’re good for insects and they purify the air.
You can grow lavender indoors, and place it by an open window.
A lot of houseplants have the potential to flower, but they are PICKY regarding the right conditions. Actually, one of the few of my plants I’ve actually got to flower is my carnivorous one. I won’t let the bees near him, but he’s great for sorting out fungus gnats (I know that’s not very vegan of me, but its the circle of life, I’m afraid).
If you’re a killer of houseplants, then remember the two golden rules:
- Don’t neglect them. Check on them once a week.
- Don’t overwater them. You’re drowning them. Get moisture meter (they’re like 8 quid on Amazon) if you’re unsure.
Don’t kill bugs
Open the window and wait for them to leave. A bit of shooing is acceptable. Don’t kill. Not even wasps. They’re just doing their best
Get an allotment
If you’re desperate to grow stuff, get yourself on the list for an allotment. Watch Gardener’s World for inspo (with wine). Francis has got her own allotment this year and it’s going to be MENTAL.
Wow, getting old really creeps up on you.
Summing up how to make your garden eco-friendly
At the very least, put out fresh water for wildlife. Food is usually available somewhere, but fresh water can be more scarce, especially in built-up areas.
I hope this was helpful to those of you that want to learn how to make your garden more eco-friendly, but haven’t the skills or funds to completely re-landscape their garden.
Please leave any tips in the comments below.
Until next time, adieu.