Cheat Sheet

Sustainable Gardening For Dummies

Gardening sustainably just makes sense in this fragile world of climate change and environmental damage. Actually doing it in your own backyard takes a little effort, but in Australia and New Zealand more and more gardeners are finding that every step is worth it to create a sustainable garden that not only looks after your plants, and you, but also helps the whole planet.

Reducing Your Environmental Footprint in the Garden

Switching over to sustainable gardening practices goes a long way to building a garden that you can enjoy, admire and even eat. At the same time, you reduce your environmental footprint, by increasing carbon storage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing to plant and animal biodiversity. Here are a few tips to create your sustainable garden:

  • Plant trees. Planting trees helps to store carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. Trees can also cool your home in summer and let in the winter sun. If you don’t have room for trees at your place, volunteer with a local landcare group.

  • Grow your own organic food. Not only does this help to reduce the distance your food travels before it hits your plate, but it also helps to save water and fossil fuels.

  • Compost your waste. The less green garden waste and food scraps going into landfill the better, and you get to use the compost in your sustainable garden.

  • Take responsibility for your gardening practices. Think very carefully before you reach for the bug spray or synthetic fertiliser! So many good, sustainable alternatives exist — use your compost to help feed your plants, and get worms and insects working for you.

  • Help stop the spread of environmental weeds. Find out what plants have become weeds in your area and, if you have them or they pop up, either get rid of them safely or contain them.

  • Minimise your use of powered tools. Mowers, blowers and brush-cutters can make life easier, but think about their environmental impact. Buy an energy-efficient mower, mow less often and keep the grass height to about 4 to 5 centimetres — it’s better for your sustainable lawn as well.

  • Start a list of groups of like-minded people you can join or learn from. Local knowledge goes a long way in establishing sustainable practices.

  • Get the kids into sustainable gardening. At home, at school or in the community, if kids learn the right way from the beginning, they’re sure to keep gardening sustainably into the future.

  • Only use renewable resources in the garden. Check the source of gardening materials, and make sure you reuse, recycle and renew. Think about where your pavers, sleepers and mulch come from and how they’re manufactured.

  • Create a haven with a diverse range of plants. Not only do you help increase plant biodiversity, but you also provide a habitat for animals, beneficial insects and birds.

  • Build your garden for the future, not for fashion. Make your garden climate-friendly and water-wise. Understand your environment, weather patterns and the plants that thrive where you live, not what the magazines dictate.

A Few Essential Tools for Your Sustainable Garden

To create your sustainable garden, some things are just too good to pass up. Compost, mulch and worms all help to condition your soil and retain moisture, and you can get beneficial insects to work with you to keep your plants healthy, sustainably.

  • A compost heap or bin: Choose whatever type suits your garden — a three-bay heap for a large property, a classic upside-down-bin style to place in an average garden, a tumble-type bin that neatly sits on a paved area or a bokashi bucket to keep in your kitchen. Mature compost ends up as a delightful humus to use as a soil conditioner in your sustainable garden, or, for the bokashi method, a delicious pickle your plants love.

  • An insectary: A garden plot, or even a series of pots on a balcony, with at least seven different plant species of varying heights attracts various beneficial bugs to your sustainable garden. Good candidates to plant include amaranthus, coriander, cosmos, dill, lemon balm, parsley, tansy and yarrow.

  • Mulch: To help keep in precious moisture, cover the soil around your plants with the finished humus from your compost or an organic mulch, such as matured manure, pea straw, pine bark, seaweed or sugar cane. Inorganic mulch, such as pebbles or granitic sand, should be use sparingly in a sustainable garden.

  • Worms: You can buy or build a worm farm or simply attract earthworms to your soil. Either way, worms produce a fantastic by-product, commonly known as worm castings, or vermicasts, that attracts microorganisms, such as good bacteria and fungi, to your soil so your plants thrive. If you have a worm farm, the worm wee, actually the liquid that accumulates at the bottom, is an added bonus for your garden.

Some Sustainable Plants for a Coastal Temperate Climate

These plants are climate-friendly (that is, sustainable) in a Victorian seaside garden in the temperate climate of Australia’s southern coast. Some are indigenous to that region, some are native to Australia and some come from elsewhere.

  • Blue fescue (Festuca glauca): These small, blue, tufted grass plants provide a nice contrast in the garden and lizards love to hang around them.

  • Common correa (Correa reflexa): This lovely little shrub grows wild in the region, with little hanging bell flowers all over it, some red and others a dusty pink.

  • Common heath (Epacris impressa): The dark green, short pointy leaves and clusters of narrow little bell flowers along the stem, which are sometimes pink, sometimes white, are a Victorian classic.

  • Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum): This magnificent Western Australian shrub, with its masses of pale pink, waxy flowers in spring also suit this region of Victoria.

  • Grampians thryptomene (Thryptomene calycina): Tiny, tiny aromatic leaves and weeny white flowers packed on the stem in spring make this a favourite in many gardens in the area.

  • Hebe, particularly the ‘Icing Sugar’ variety: This shrub is tough as old boots and grows all over the place, and the tough green leaves and pink and white flowers make it stand out in any sustainable garden.

  • Liriope (Liriope muscari): A clumping, strappy plant with shiny green leaves that always deserves a spot in the garden; the flower spikes in blue or white are an added bonus.

  • New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa): A New Zealand favourite, this great tough tree, with bright red flowers in summer, is just right for a garden near the sea.

  • Sage, or salvia: All kinds of salvia in all kinds of colours, some tougher than others, are terrific in just about any sustainable garden — you can find at least one, if not six or seven, for your garden.

  • Toothed lancewood (Pseudopanax ferox): Another Kiwi plant, this one starts off with long-toothed narrow leaves pointing downward, and then matures into a large, rounded, spectacular tree — often loved for its weirdness.

Top Tips for Small Sustainable Gardens

Modern urban living poses many challenges, not the least being how to create and maintain a sustainable garden in a small space. If you’re a gardener at heart and only have a small backyard or even just a balcony, here are a few tips to get you growing, sustainably.

  • Grow beans, peas or cucumbers on a trellis or tripod in large decorative pots.

  • Plant dwarf fruit trees.

  • Espalier your trees along a fence or a wall.

  • Grow herbs and cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets.

  • Pay attention to detail; it’s easy to make a small garden look cluttered.

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