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  • Writer's pictureSarah Kay

Climate change, biodiversity and gardens - what should designers be encouraging our clients to do ?

We all know that climate change is happening and in the UK this means warmer temperatures and wetter, more erratic downpours. As well as climate change, human intervention and loss of habitat is causing a biodiversity crisis across the food chain.

Although, as garden designers we have limited ability to change government policy, we are in a key position to try to encourage our clients that there are some important things that they can do in their own gardens to improve the situation from the bottom up.

I attended a conference this weekend with the speakers offering some great advice on how this can be achieved. I will certainly try to encourage my clients to take on at least some of these key initiatives to improve sustainability and biodiversity in their gardens.

Here's some of the key things that we can try to incorporate into our designs:

  1. Forest Garden approach

The forest garden approach tries to mimic the layers and ecosystems of a forest on a smaller more manageable scale. There are 7 layers to a forest shown in the diagram below, with each layer being productive and beneficial to each other through shade cover, leaf litter etc.

Even if your clients don't want the slightly unkempt aesthetic of the Forest Garden, thinking about 'ecosystem services' or the benefits of individual plants to the ecosystem should help dictate the choice of plants that we recommend. The Woodland Trust have written a report on 'The benefits of trees outside woods' which highlights the benefits of individual tree species to the environment.

2. Lawn alternatives

A manicured lawn is a monoculture, which whilst capturing carbon, takes a lot of water to maintain and doesn't deliver the biodiversity of a wildflower meadow or lawn

If your clients still have their heart set on a manicured lawn, try to persuade them that a small patch surrounded by or next to a much wilder, diverse unmanaged area will not only bring wildlife but also colour in the garden.

3. Hard landscape materials

The key with all materials is to ask questions from suppliers about where materials come from and how they are supplied. Where possible use local or reclaimed materials. is a directory of reclaimation and architectural salvage dealers and details wood recycling services local to you. Even more radically, try to persuade your clients that a garden with minimal hard landscaping and the focus on plants is a more sustainable option.

4. Naturalistic Planting and Water Management

Choosing plants that fit with the rainfall levels in your garden makes perfect sense. Areas liable to high temperature and drought will benefit from a dry or gravel garden approach, where watering requirements are minimal.

Dry Garden - RHS Hyde Hall

Rain gardens, using plants that tolerate wet soils, and channel excess water into these areas can also help to manage gardens in the future with increased rainfall. Maybe even consider the use of land contouring to create dry and wet areas.

5. Compost

Probably the most circular thing you can do in your garden - use your old cuttings and plant material to make new compost and mulch which in turn will help your plants to grow stronger. In my experience most clients don't want a compost bin but a clever garden designer can help you to hide it behind other features. It will not only save you money it will help save the planet too!


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