It’s that time of year again – you wake up to the sound of your neighbour’s lawnmower (your only complaint that it’s a little early to start landscaping). You shout ‘hello’ to them (now busy weed-whacking) on your way out the door. You catch a whiff of freshly cut grass as you walk down the street.
But what if we told that you that these cheerful signs of summer are actually much more insidious than they seem?
The Wildlife Trust estimates there are 24 million gardens in the UK, which, according to Buglife.org, adds up to at least 2 million acres of lovingly tended greenery. However, the way these gardens are maintained can be the difference between environmental celebration and climate devastation.
But how can gardens be bad for the environment?
With global warming and climate change dominating the headlines, we live in a time when green spaces are becoming sacred – so you’d be forgiven for wondering why we’re pointing to your garden as one of Mother Earth’s many enemies.
To clarify, it’s not all gardens that are the problem – just ones that have been manicured to Jane Austen-novel levels of perfection.
Lawns are one of the biggest offenders, so if you’re looking for an excuse to park your mower, read on.
Maintenance can be evil
The routine that goes into maintaining a pristine-looking lawn could be having a killer impact on the environment. Products like artificial fertilizers and insecticides contain chemicals that not only destroy natural species and pollute the soil, but also infiltrate groundwater and contribute to chemical runoff.
The tools we use can also cause our carbon footprint to be the thing that’s growing the fastest – petrol-powered machines like mowers, rotovators, and string trimmers contribute to emissions.
There’s also the issue of constant hydration – having the sprinkler or hose running for an hour can use up to 1,000 litres of water, so think twice when gearing up to fight off those yellow patches.
Fuelling the bug apocalypse
If you haven’t already heard about the insect apocalypse, it’s time to get up to speed before you’re left wondering where all the bugs have gone.
A recent study published in the Biological Conservation journal states that 40% of insect species across the globe are in decline, 1/3 are endangered, and we’re currently at a staggering annual loss rate of 2.5%.
In the United States, the Monarch butterfly population has fallen by 90% over the last 20 years. The rusty-patched bumblebee is close behind, having suffered an 87% decline.
What’s increasing is landscaping activity – it’s a $100 billion a year industry in America. Here in the UK, artificial lawns are becoming increasingly popular, with people choosing to trade the real stuff for a habitat-quenching, maintenance-free alternative.
This ultra-tidy approach to gardening is detrimental to the creepy crawlers that keep these ecosystems cycling along healthily. Bugs provide a food source for other animals. They pollinate plants. They facilitate the process of decay. Without them, everything falls apart.
Using your garden for good
Some gardens may be causing more harm than good – but, with the right approach, your lawn and the area around it can also be a valuable resource in the fight against global warming.
Gardens that are allowed to grow naturally can provide a protected habitat for birds, animals, and the almighty insects. Native plants support biodiversity as well as contribute towards cooling residential areas and cities, combatting climate change.
Lawns aren’t necessarily always evil, either – a recent US study found that lawns and soil in gardens can be an incredibly effective place for capturing and storing carbon.
How to bring the wild back into your garden
To get these positive results, we need to adopt an eco-minded strategy for our landscaping. We must flip our impressions and see the neat-and-tidy British manor house garden for what is really is – an outdated design that’s destroying the natural wonders of the world.
It’s time to trade Mansfield Park for The Secret Garden and embrace the beauty in the chaos.
Bringing an organic feel to your garden can yield results that are morally satisfying and beautifully unique. We’ve listed a few tips below, but there are plenty of resources online that can coach your wild gardening strategy from start to finish – check out the Wildlife Trust and RSPB for more insight.
1. Start with the soil
Give the life that grows in your garden the royal foundation it deserves by nurturing the ground with organic soil and mulch. If you want to go one step further, create your own compost pile (the bugs will love it).
2. Save the bugs
Make sure your garden is a haven for insects. Beyond treating your soil and plants right (by avoiding artificial fertilizers and other nasty products), create a bug-friendly habitat by incorporating plenty of places where they can nestle in and thrive.
You can do this by including dedicated spaces that have depth and layers to them, such as a rock pile or a few thick shrubs.
3. Add water (the right kind)
Having a water source in your garden such as a pond, fountain, or flowing feature will attract wildlife and add a peaceful ambience that you’re sure to enjoy.
On those inevitable occasions when your plants need a bit of hydration, try to use natural or recycles sources of water whenever possible. There are plenty of simple ways to change your routine for the better – capture water when rinsing the dishes, use whatever’s left in the kettle, and install a water butt to make the most of those rainy seasons.
4. Embrace diversity
Variety is key in making your wild garden feel special. Incorporate a range of your favourite local trees, shrubs, flowers, and other native plants. Just make sure some of them are colourful, nectar-rich species that will appeal to butterflies and bees.
Don’t worry – you don’t need to grow a jungle. In fact, it’s important to leave some open space where birds and squirrels can land and hop around.
Of course, a gentle trim of the lawn is fine (and necessary) every now and then. But, for goodness sake, let the grass grow. Learn to see your untamed garden for what it really is – a magical resource that’s nurturing life on a vital, microscopic level.
For tips on making the inside of your home just as sustainable as the outside, check out our post on vegan interior design.