garden, wildlife, insects, wildflowers, gardens, design

Sustainable garden designs – 5 ideas

Whist this subject has waxed and waned in popularity over the last couple of decades, I like to think that we are all now strongly concerned to ensure that our gardens are as eco-friendly as possible and/or, at least, incorporate some aspects of sustainable or green approaches to design.  Since the construction of a garden can have as much impact on the environment as house- construction, it is important to consider these aspects throughout the process.  Sometimes, being eco-friendly can present money savings, too, something that should be of interest to anyone embarking on a serious investment in their garden.  I have drawn up a simple list of five things that you can do to contribute towards the sustainability or greenness of your garden design project:

Use native plant species.  What precisely this means can vary according to your view on what are considered native species and to what time period you are referring, too.  In Ireland this can mean, plant species that have existed and have reproduced naturally in Ireland since the last ice age. Others might also take the view that plants that have been introduced by humans but have naturalised in the Irish landscape (without negatively impacting other species) are acceptable.  Many of these plants support Irish insects and bird species and help to support Ireland’s overall biodiversity.  You can decide where you sit on this spectrum and select plants accordingly.  There are certainly many beautiful native plant species and enough to create a really interesting garden without any exotics at all.  My view is that it is good to treat a good portion of the garden as a natural garden using predominantly native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, especially in a large garden, but then to leave some parts, perhaps nearer the house, in which you can indulge some more exotic varieties.  Many exotic species will be fabulous for native birds and insects too…just think how much bees love Lavender a non-native plant to Ireland!

nuttery, orchard, edible gardens

A nuttery formed from coppiced Hazel trees, a native Irish plant species , photo by Tim Austen

Install an eco-friendly drainage system or SUDS – sounds like bubbly bath water – but actually stands for Sustainable Urban Drainage System. This involves installing permeable hard landscape surfaces for your patio and driveway to ensure that water runs into the groundwater on site, instead of flowing away into the municipal drainage system.  The drainage system will include a filter layer that reduces the amount of chemicals and dirt that might be flowing into the wastewater system.  Another aspect of this is to install a bio-swale into your garden. These are essentially soil depressions within the overall garden design into which water will move and in which it will be slowed down or spread out, thereby, helping it to percolate naturally into the groundwater system.  The swale will have a natural filter system made up of the permeable soil/gravel substrate and the plants growing with it.  It may also contain or be associated with what are known as rain gardens.  These are parts of a garden that allow water to collect (pond) and slowly filter away into the groundwater.  They may consist of water tolerant plants, like pond marginals that don’t mind having their feet wet but are prepared to dry out a bit, too. Rain gardens can take water from adjoining hard landscape areas in the garden or be integrated with the overall planting design.  These methods for water management need to be considered as part of the garden design.


natural planting, wildflower meadows, olympic park, native plants

Wildflowers areas in a garden can immediately improve the biodiversity value of your plot.  These are rich sources of nectar for pollinating insects

Compost on site.  If you can install your own compost system and compost your garden waste this is one of the best eco-friendly methods that you can employ in a garden.  Whether you make your own compost units using recycled pallets or purchase a special composter, recycling your green waste back into your own garden is a great way of ensuring that the nutrients created in your garden are put back into your own garden rather than going elsewhere to be composted.  This helps retain energy at your own site, thus reducing your carbon footprint also.  There are many types of compost systems, and if you search online you will find a system that suits you.



Raised vegetable beds, planters, garden design, irish

Timber raised vegetable bed designed by Tim Austen garden designs

Grow your own vegetables.  If you allocate as much of your garden as possible to growing fruit and vegetables this is a very sustainable approach.  You will not only be producing your own food, but you will be reducing your carbon footprint as well.  And you will have your own food, know exactly how it is grown and what has been added to get it from the ground to your table.  There is an extraordinary list of reasons for growing vegetable including well-being, health benefits, nutritional benefits and saving the planet, so definitely a subject for me to tackle in another blog post. 

Use locally sourced building material – this takes a bit of effort and homework but if you can find materials for your project in the local area, you will he reducing the carbon footprint of your project and hopefully keeping money in the local economy also.  Even better, recycle existing materials, such as old paving, which you already have on site and reincorporate these materials into your design.  With this, you will be significantly reducing your carbon footprint and the amount of material waste produced by your garden project.


Using reclaimed paving stone to create steps in one of Tim Austen garden studios projects

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