A simple guide to creating an eco-friendly and sustainable garden
By Celia Topping Wednesday 14 April 2021
Warm sunshine, daffodils dancing in the breeze, and cherry blossoms floating on the air – there’s nothing like that first taste of Spring! And as the warmer weather arrives, so does the desire to be outside.
We may not all have gorgeous gardens, lush with foliage and its resident wildlife – but we can make what we have a calm, eco-friendly space of relaxation.
So come with us, into our eco garden for some potting, planting and pruning – and rewild your life...
What is an eco garden?
The idea of an eco garden might sound a bit strange. Surely every garden is environmentally friendly, with all those lovely trees, plants and shrubs? But you’d be surprised. Think about the amount of water used by sprinklers, or the pesticides leaching into the earth, and all that plastic – from plant pots to garden furniture.
An eco-friendly garden on the other hand is created with sustainability in mind. From what and where we plant, and how we tend and manage the garden, to the features and furniture we choose. Sustainable gardening is inspired by nature itself, encouraging biodiversity, organic goodness and getting rid of anything toxic or polluting.
Want to know 10 amazing facts about trees? Check out our blog.
What are the benefits of an eco garden?
Spending time in any garden or green space brings us an abundance of benefits. But an eco garden goes one step further, with environmental, health and cost advantages:
Sustainability often goes hand-in-hand with cost effectiveness. Pulling weeds by hand is cheaper than weedkiller, for example – and it’s good physical exercise, too! Win-win.
Planting trees and shrubs is a brilliant way to fight climate change and instantly improve air quality. Find out about the best ones to plant in your garden, in our useful blog.
Being aware of single-use plastic around the garden helps reduce waste and the ongoing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Reduce, re-use and recycle – the three R’s of eco-gardening, and the key to sustainable living.
Many of the methods in eco-gardening – like conserving water and composting – make use of what we have, rather than creating more waste.
Understanding proper planting practices makes a garden thrive. Not only in terms of the flora, but also the fauna it attracts.
10 ways to create an eco-friendly garden
You can create an eco-friendly garden, no matter how big or small your space. Here are a variety of tips for gardens/balconies of all shapes and sizes:
1. Understanding planting
Instead of sticking in some pretty flowers and a few tomato plants, eco-gardeners carefully consider which plants work best in the space available. Native plants are generally the easiest to grow and maintain, with the best ones offering food and shelter to our bug friends. It’s sensible to do a little research into which plants like a sunny or shady spot, and peaty or boggy soils, and plant accordingly.
For more ideas of what to plant when it comes to winter, check out our green-fingered blog.
2. Know your allies – companion planting
This is an easy concept to get your head around. It simply means growing different plants next to each other for their mutual benefit. And avoiding unwanted infestations. For example:
Courgettes grow better planted next to nasturtiums, as they repel those attacking aphids
Roses and garlic work well together, as the strong garlic smell keeps nibblers from the flowers
Growing carrots and leeks together handily repels each other’s garden pests
Growing basil next to tomatoes makes them taste better. No wonder they go so well in salad!
3. Discover interplanting
Interplanting is another way to make the most of your garden – especially if space is limited. Interplanting means growing plants together that have differing growth speeds and habits1. And knowing how much space they take up, both above and below ground, you can then maximize the amount of plants in one space.
Smaller plants that grow fast are good to plant among larger, slower growing plants. For example, onions and cabbages work well together, because the rapid growth of the cabbage leaves provides shelter for their fellow onions.
4. Get down with high-tolerance, low-water plants
Another low maintenance option is to add plants that don’t need much water, like honey bush or monterey cypress. This way you kill 2 birds with one stone by conserving water and your energy2!
5. Use peat-free compost
Peat bogs are nature’s carbon sink, and they play a crucial role in mitigating climate change. Unfortunately, peat is also great for growing plants – so much of it is dug up for compost. This is devastating for our natural environment and the precious habitats formed within it. Good alternatives to peat-based compost include coconut fibre (coir), wood fibre and other organic matter. Or better still…
6. Learn how to compost
For bigger gardens, this is a must. Composting is a classic example of eco-gardening. It costs nothing, uses up what would otherwise be wasted, and saves on buying bagged compost. The Royal Horticultural Society offer some good tips on how to get started3.
To find out more about biomass, and its role as a renewable energy resource, check out our guide.
7. Use sustainable materials
Upcycling junk can make for interesting garden planters. Everything from old tin baths, shoes, and potties, to furniture, filing cabinets and even mannequins can give your garden a quirky, eco edge.
For more traditional garden furniture, avoid the plastic variety. Try second hand stalwarts Ebay, Freegle and Freecycle instead.
If you’re determined to buy something new, go for sustainably sourced wood. Anything with an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) tag is good to go.
Where possible, buy local. This will cut the carbon footprint of your garden as well as supporting local businesses.
8. Encourage wildlife
Birds, bees, bugs, frogs, hedgehogs and butterflies are all welcome additions to your eco garden. They help control pests like aphids – a ladybird’s favourite lunch. And birds love a juicy caterpillar. Put up a few bird boxes, or simply hang a bird feeder on your balcony to attract our feathered friends. Thrushes love dried fruit, whereas sunflower seeds will bring you blue tits and chaffinches.
If you want to entice hedgehogs, don’t be too tidy! A messy pile of leaves and logs is a haven for our spiky slug-eating saviours – as they like to keep out of sight of predators like foxes. To attract bees, plant foxgloves, lavender and thyme, and butterflies like buddleja, sebum and hebe.
Bug hotels are a great natural resource for kids to learn about nature, and they help solitary bees find their own personal nesting site. And if you have room for a pond, then get digging! Ponds are incredible for attracting wildlife like frogs, and all sorts of beneficial insects.
9. Conserve water
In our climate-conscious times, saving water is key. Use a water butt to catch rainwater, to cut down on tap water waste. Sprinklers are an absolute no-no. Instead, either use a hose with an on/off trigger, or the best option is a good old-fashioned watering can.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the impact of water consumption on the environment, read our blog article about the carbon footprint of water.
10. Cut back on those chemicals
Cutting out pesticides is an easy way to start your eco garden life. Their overuse has had a devastating impact on the insect population, which affects the entire food chain. Companion planting, as described above, is a natural way to discourage garden pests. Here are a few more tips for a successful sustainable garden, free from pesticides:
A strong jet of water is enough to remove greenfly
Copper slug rings take care of the slugs not already munched by your hedgehogs
Vegetables can be covered with Environmesh netting, to keep them caterpillar-free
Garlic, elder and rhubarb in a spray will control bugs
Dill and fennel are enticing to greenfly-chomping hoverflies
You could also have a go at making your own eco-friendly bug spray from stinging nettles! Check out our blog for the recipe.
OVO plants trees for you!
Ok, so we don’t pop over to plant a tree in your garden – but our partnership with the Woodland Trust means we plant a tree every year in your name4, for every year you’re with us. And not only that – if you switch to OVO, we can assure you of:
100% renewable electricity as standard5
3-5% Interest Rewards for every year your account has a positive balance
An award-winning smart meter experience (Uswitch 2020)
A £50 gift card every time you introduce a friend to us
A 5-Star TrustPilot rating by 30,000 members
So get a quote, find out how much you could be saving and switch today, the green way!
Sources and references:
4 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.
5 The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.