7 Ways Your Garden Is NOT Helping The Earth

The way we garden is changing – we feel there really is a growing trend towards being kinder to the earth and we are seeing people take a much stronger interest in gardening for wildlife. Even garden centres are putting ‘bee-friendly’ symbols onto plant labels to help people choose what to grow (perhaps removing the pesticides from sale would make more of a difference, but at least baby steps are being taken in the right direction!)

There are lots of places you can find out what actions you can take in your garden in order to tread lightly on the earth – for example, here are 3 posts on Modern Mint that will give you plenty of information:

1) Rosy Bee – Plants for Bees

2) John Walker – The Earth Friendly Gardener

3) Henk Gerritsen – The Four Commandments

But what should you NOT do in order to make a difference?

Use herbicides

Herbicides are weedkillers that kill off unwanted plant growth. Glyphosate, found in Roundup, is one of the most easily recognised names of systemic herbicides. It is used extensively in agriculture as some crops have been bred to be resistant to the enzyme inhibitor present, allowing the farmer to quickly and easily get rid of weeds without ruining the crop or disturbing the soil.

It has been argued that the emergence of herbicides like Roundup have improved food production and made life easier – farmers don’t have to till or plough the soil as much, meaning the structure of the soil can improve. No more unanchored soil from deep ploughing means no more dust storms – a huge problem in the USA in the 30’s, where drought and high winds created a period known as the Dust Bowl period, which left thousands and thousands of farms abandoned as people left the countryside to find (non-existent) work elsewhere. Try some Steinbeck to get a sense of what was happening then…

There is an argument for using it then. Bu there are other ways of treating your soil that won’t destroy its structure (try Charles Dowding’s No Dig Method.) And of course, it may seem easier to spray a plant into non-existence, but… we promise you, that when you smell the stuff, it won’t make you think ‘uhmm, yes, this is one of the pleasant jobs to do in the garden.’

The smell will make you think – ‘do they really spray this onto my vegetables?’ and get you reaching for the organic vegbox.

Stay clear of the stuff, and send a signal to the people who sell it that you have a better relationship with the earth.

Use Pesticides

As above – these are chemical substances that exert control over other organisms. Exposure to them can cause adverse health effects, and of course spraying to get rid of one ‘pest’ will invariably kill off other animals that may well have been useful. Just google it and see for yourself what damage to health an exposure to pesticides can cause…

But how can you control a creature that is ruining your crop without exposing it to poison? One of our favourite alternatives is to plant a trap crop to coax the unwanted animal away. In this instance two years ago, it was a pest slightly larger than aphid – it was deer.

Deer were eating plants in a border we had designed for a client. They had jumped the fence at the end of the garden, crossed a grass meadow and treated the herbaceous border as a buffet. We planted roses into the long grass of the meadow, so that these would be the first ‘snack’ the deer came to. It worked a treat – the roses were mercilessly pruned by the hungry beasts, and being roses quickly regenerated to feed the invaders again – meaning the borders could flower as they had been designed to. Of course, it was a shame to lose the roses, but a few flowers managed to come through, singing their beautiful scent to us from amongst the swaying grass…

Wasting Water

No, water butts are not that beautiful. But get one. Use one. We have read somewhere (we have a memory of this, but cannot remember where from!) the next great war will be about the need for clean water. It may be so (as, of course you can point out, it may not be.) But it makes sense economically to capture the water the heavens send us, and store it ready for use when we need it, rather than keep paying a utilities company to take it away for us in their drains, where they can clean it, then sell it back to us to water the garden (i.e. when we need it.) Start with one water butt, and make sure it gets filled…

Being Too Tidy

It seems a contemporary idea that we must have a garden that is spotless, as well as a countryside that is the same – hedges trimmed, verges brutally mown, leaves raked up and burnt. Don’t worry about it! The leaves can stay over winter (protecting the soil from erosion) and any left in late February, that the worms haven’t taken down into the earth, can be gently raked off to give the new shoots of your plants a bit of room and a bit of light. Easier on you, easier on the planet – let nature do the hard work for you, and you just take the attitude that you can guide your garden along the right path…

Heating Your Greenhouse

You may want tomatoes in December. For this, you need to heat your greenhouse. Do that, and for ‘every kilo of tomatoes picked 2-3 kilos of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.’

Tomatoes are great, sure – and absolutely fabulous when in season. So take the attitude of the 3 star Michelin chef Alain Passard who only uses tomatoes when sun-kissed and at their freshest. For the rest of the year he waits, letting the excitement build, until he can once again ‘rendezvous with a tomato.’ We know it doesn’t satiate your desire right now, but don’t you just drool thinking about that first one straight from the vine in summer?

Buying Annuals In Pots

Here we quote nurserywoman Rosi of Rosy Bee – Plants for Bees, on how you can help encourage bees in your garden:

“If everyone with a garden took a good look at their existing planting and assessed how much value it delivers; then swap out plants that only provide colour but no other value. It’s not difficult to find plants that provide both but we need to look at our gardens with different eyes and make the space work harder to provide value for both us and the insects.

Oh, and stop buying six-pack annuals as most of them are just useless; a complete waste of money and space…”

We get what she is saying – they are a waste of money. They last one summer, if that long, and are so overbred and garish they offer no benefit to wildlife – let alone the fact they don’t improve how your garden looks, or lessen the work you have to do in it.

Stay clear of them, and the garden centres might start stocking something far more useful. We added these to our shop because we like them so much…


(And you can read an interview with the people who made them by seeing the Seedball Interview.)

No Compost Heap

A compost heap is the best thing you can do for the earth – it gives a warm place for wildlife to overwinter, gives you a great workout turning it to activate the heat, provides a ‘black gold’ that can be used to help the garden grow and best of all does this using WASTE – all your prunings, all your rotten vegetables, all your woolly socks with great big holes in that can’t be remedied can all go in there, creating a habitat that is rich and diverse in beneficial bugs.

There are tons of books on how to make it, so don’t be shy – it is the easiest way to recycle you will ever find!

7 ways NOT to help the earth then – if you do any of these, take note, and change your habits to change the planet for the better…!


Selection Of Topiary Videos To Help You Clip

Over the last two years I have been involved with a couple of projects that have ended up being recorded, then placed on Youtube or Instagram. I’m hoping they will be useful to you, so I have decided this morning to pop them together in one handy blog post so that you can bookmark the page and revisit when you need some inspiration for your topiary. See below then, a few videos about topiary I have recently been involved with… Garden Masterclass – Provocations of a Modern Topiarist Transforming Topiary Topiary Teacher Put On The Spot In the above …



Mark Zlotsky – Topiary Tango In New York

Mark Zlotsky is an artist based in New York, and today I just wanted to share his project ‘Topiary Tango’. In his introduction to the project he talks of topiary being a forgiving art, which I love and is soooooo true…..! For proof, just take a look at some projects I have made with a sharp pair of shears, a hedgetrimmer and a pruning saw. Do check out Mark Zlotsky’s project, because although his interest began by looking at topiary through the prism of architecture and the relationship of one building to another, he touches directly onto a way of …



Gardenista Interview – I Talk About Modern Topiary

Gardenista, the online magazine about gardens and design, have interviewed me about topiary. The article is called ‘Rethinking Topiary: A Garden Tradition Loosened Up’ and was published this morning. Written by the excellent garden writer Clare Coulson, I share some thoughts on using deciduous plants, how to clip (name-dropping Anne Lamott and her book on writing at one stage… oh, how I wander off subject sometimes!) and how to improve topiary by what you plant around it. Do take a look at the article in Gardenista. Or for more about my topiary work, check out the topiary page.