Sunday, 19 February 2012

How Green are Green Fingers?

Gardening turns out to be very eco un-friendly... The Independent

According to an article in this morning's Independent, gardening is not very environmentally friendly but I think that it depends on your approach.  This is my approach to minimising the negative effects of gardening:


I keep a compost heap for garden waste and vegetable trimmings which reduces the amount of waste being carted to a landfill site and produces a compost suitable for use as a soil improver.  Personally, I find it too coarse for use as a potting compost so I use a commercial peat-free compost for potting and other general purpose uses. I have successfully grown  potatoes in bags with a mixture of the peat-free compost and earth.  


I prefer to avoid pesticides due to their general nastiness.  Slugs are one of the biggest pests in my garden but the traditional blue slug pellets are one of the worst things you can use in your garden.  They poison the slugs then get into the food chain affecting birds and hedgehogs.  They are also toxic to pets and children. I have tried yeast traps with only limited success.  The best method I have found to control slugs is nematode worms which are naturally occurring in soil. Increasing their concentration reduces slug numbers early in the season. Another regular pest is the caterpillar, especially on brassicas, but they can be limited by using netting then picking them off if they become a problem.


There is no real need for herbicides in gardening as weeds can be pulled out by hand or with a trowel if the roots are deeper.

The Lawn

Keeping the grass short and green can be energy and water intensive, especially if it is a large area and you have a ride on petrol mower. If the grass is left to grow longer it helps the soil to retain moisture therefore it can tolerate dry weather for longer without turning yellow. I never cut it on the shortest setting and allow at least two or three weeks between mowing. The weather is rarely dry long enough in the West of Scotland for it to turn yellow, but if it does it is not a problem as it will turn green again when the rain returns.


Our climate reduces the need for watering but when necessary I limit watering to the productive parts of the garden, i.e. the vegetable patch and potato sacks. If the soil below the surface is moist I will generally leave it another day. When watering, I use a can and target the water to where it is most needed, hence minimising waste.


By using part of the garden to grow food, we are reducing the environmental impact of food grown further afield then  transported which hopefully offsets some of the negative impacts of maintaining the garden. Also the fact that we will eat the produce is a good reason to avoid chemicals.

Space for Nature

We also leave some of the garden for nature, a bit overgrown with a scattering of wild flowers which is great for butterflies, spiders and bumble bees.

This is some of what we do in the garden to hopefully achieve a balance; it certainly addresses some of the issues raised in the Independent article. I don't know whether it is carbon neutral, positive or negative and it may not all be best practice from either a horticultural or ecological perspective but I don't think it is the worst.

What do you do to reduce the environmental impact of your garden? What can we do to mitigate our actions? Does the provision of habitat for birds and bees outweigh the carbon cost? Have you tried to calculate a carbon footprint for your garden? I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I received this tweet from the Royal Horticultural Society:

    "@The_RHS: @EcoWarriorMe Hi, the research found city gardens provide many positive benefits to the environment -"

    The link is a lot more positive than the Independent article.

  2. I am so used to doing things in an Eco-friendly way that the title of your post really set me back a step. Then, when I read the Independent article I could see what they were talking about. We live in an apartment and the only gardening we do is growing vegetables in containers on our patio. We do compost and that keeps up the nutrition of our soil. Most of our containers are above the ground ... we set them on tables, benches and the railing. That's helped a lot with things like slugs. Last year a caterpillar took up residence ... it adored our Parsley but we decided to let him have it and were rewarded with seeing him spin his cocoon and eventually emerge into a pretty butterfly (and he left plenty of parsley for us to enjoy). In the past when I've had larger gardens, I've used beneficial insects like ladybugs to keep aphids down ... I also plant garlic, onions and marigolds among my veggies to further deter "critters". Thanks so much for your tips and for reminding us that gardening isn't necessarily "green".

  3. Interesting article. We have found that we could greatly reduce ecological impact by practicing organic growing methods, such as introducing marigolds, beer traps (for the slugs), rain barrels, and raised beds. Though there might be a little impact, we try our hardest to keep it at a minimum. One thing I've discovered, is there is always an eco-friendly alternative to everything.

  4. I am now very curious about the article in The Independent. I think most issues are not cut and dry, and that certainly includes gardening. It sounds like you're doing a great job of making your gardening low impact. I also think gardening helps us appreciate plants, the outdoors, and natural cycles, and that has a positive impact on how we see and use the planet.

  5. Thanks for your comments. I agree that organic is the way to go but we need to keep challenging our assumptions, think through our actions and make compromises, whether in the garden or elsewhere in life. It is tempting to put a cost on everything - a carbon footprint or a price ticket - but some things have a value beyond these metrics, such as personal well being or biodiversity.

  6. Like SF, the title made me look twice. Went for a read. Came back and read your tuppence worth. Gardening, if done correctly, is eco-friendly. I have not used chemicals or water for the lawn for years and I used a push mower. There are some issues like invasive species, which are relatively minor when you consider what Monsanto is doing. But gardening is essential to our well-being, if you step back to a post about cow poo in my blog Eco-Crap you'll see why. Unfortunately the Independent article is true of many 'gardeners'.