Sustainable Gardens Through Design by Nicki Jackson

The climate crisis is worsening, UK species are declining at an alarming rate, plastics appear to be taking over the world, less than a fifth of English rivers are healthy, the intensification of agriculture and the increasing use of harmful pesticides are all having a detrimental impact on our natural environment. The scale of the problem can feel overwhelming to the point of inertia but here at Blue Daisy we are passionate about trying to do the best we can for our clients and for our environment – the two are not mutually exclusive, we really can make choices in our garden designs that has sustainability at its heart.

At its simplest level sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – generally speaking it isn’t limited to environmental issues; economic and social impacts are also considered but because of the nature of our business, the environmental impacts of our work are often the most obvious when it comes to the garden design process.

At its most basic level this process usually boils down to things being taken out of a garden and then things being brought into a garden and arranged in a way that creates a garden that a client loves – the challenge for us as garden designers is to try to achieve the goal in the most sustainable way possible; something that is much easier to achieve if the people directly involved in the process – clients, designer and landscaper – are all bought into the sustainability challenge too.

At point of design, we try to ‘design in’ sustainable practices just as we try to design in health and safety principles so where we can we’ll aim to include permeable surfaces over non-permeable, for instance, and include a good proportion of planting with a diverse range of plant types and varieties, including trees.

In terms of things being taken out of a garden, we try to reduce the amount of waste leaving a property to landfill. Old patios for instance, can often be reassigned to out of sight utility areas or might be able to be crushed and reused as hard core; plant waste can be reused as compost or chippings. We try to accommodate mature trees within a design where possible, because the ability of a mature tree to sequester carbon, reduce stormwater run-off, save energy and improve air quality is exceptional. If a tree is to be felled, we look at ways of reusing it whether that’s as wildlife habitat, furniture or mulch as examples. Unless there is a serious problem, we will never take topsoil out of a garden – it’s like gold dust – and lifted turf will give you a return of fine topsoil in a year or so if you can keep it stacked in your garden.

When it comes to bringing things into your garden, we try to specify products that we can ‘trace’ (in terms of manufacture/sourcing/delivery methods, etc) or come with reputable standard mark approval (such as FSC timber). Good suppliers of paving for example are starting to calculate the carbon value of their products. Where we can, we will source locally and/or recycled materials. We also try to consider the onward impact of materials too, for instance, artificial grass is disastrous for wildlife, is primarily made with plastic and doesn’t biodegrade whereas species rich turf is fantastic for wildlife, is a natural product that beneficially breaks down after use and requires much less maintenance (and therefore energy use) than lawn turf.

We can produce environmental impact assessment reports for a garden design as well as an idea of how many years it will take for a newly designed and built garden to become carbon neutral but, when all is said and done, it is our clients that have to want such things. It is our clients that are the drivers of change; if the demand exists the industry is sure to follow. Of course, we’ve only just scratched the surface of this huge issue but we do want to design as sustainably as we can; we can and do advise clients about more sustainable choices available to them but often sustainable products and processes come with a price tag that is higher than their non-sustainable alternatives. Whilst we think the benefits of the investment are worth the spend, we appreciate that not everyone can afford to make the sustainable choice. We hope that will change soon and that the sustainable choice starts becoming the only choice we’re all interested in.

© Nicki Jackson, Blue Daisy Gardens 2021