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Plan for the Long Term With a Sustainable Garden

Do what's best for the earth and your yard at the same time, with sustainable gardening. Here, we share tips and tricks for "green"ing your green space.

Excerpted from Garden Design

Sustainability may be a lifestyle buzzword these days, but in gardening it's more of a philosophy than a style. Sustainable gardening centers around recycling and using renewable resources, accommodating biodiversity and conservation and adopting an organic approach to gardening.

In a sustainable garden, planting is key, and a healthy variety of wildlife habitats essential. Choose plants that thrive in existing conditions and complement each other, which in turn will help to reduce the likelihood of pests and diseases. Sustainable gardeners improve soil quality by using matter from their own compost heap and organic manures.

Extensive planting of prairie and meadow species is often used in larger sustainable gardens. Wilder areas can be planted in smaller gardens, too, aiming of providing a range of different habitats within a limited space, without creating an overly complex design solution.

There is a popular idea that sustainable gardens are rustic in character, but this need not be the case. Many sharp and elegant designs - for example, the benches and wall which repurpose glass bottles into a chic design - include renewable materials, such as wood from certified plantations, and sophisticated planting designs. Local materials are used where possible, reducing the garden's carbon footprint and creating a greater sense of regional identity.

The materials used in a sustainable garden need to be assessed against a series of criteria. Recycled products are a good idea because they reduce the exploitation of new resources, but sometimes they have a large carbon trail in their movement from processing to production. On the other hand, sourcing new wood from managed, renewable and, preferably, local producers may be a better option.

Other factors to consider include the permeability or drainage of hard-landscaped surfaces. These should be either porous, in order to top up groundwater, or designed to allow water to run off into a collection unit, thereby reducing the strain on supplies.

Habitats that support local species and help to increase biodiversity are incorporated into sustainable designs. However, this does not mean that gardens only include native species; exotic plants that attract beneficial insects and wildlife are also appropriate, as long as they are not invasive. Pests and diseases are kept at bay through natural controls and balanced ecosystems, rather than chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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