A new wave of savvy young gardeners are finding solutions to the problems of our age.
Gardening isn’t always as green as it’s cracked up to be.
We douse our plants in chemicals, waste precious water, rip carbon-locking peat out of the ground and use 500 million plastic plant pots a year, the vast majority of which end up in landfill.
We cover our gardens in paving shipped across the oceans and then we’re surprised when we get flash flooding.
We replace our lawns with plastic turf and wonder where the insects and worms have gone.
We all want to do our bit for the environment, but most of us lack the knowledge or time to make the greenest choices in our own outdoor spaces.
Thank goodness for millennial and Generation Z gardeners, who are putting pressure on the industry to adapt.
These disruptors, writers and designers are forcing changes that will soon trickle down to the mainstream, so that trip to the garden centre or online purchase will be greener for us weekend gardeners.
In the meantime, they’re prepared to have tricky conversations with clients.
Go recycled where possible
For London garden designers, the pressure to deliver a low-maintenance, neat-looking garden for busy clients can be immense and it can be hard to balance that with sustainability.
“You have to have quite tricky conversations sometimes,” says London garden designer Amelia Bouquet (ameliabouquetgardendesign.com).
“I have laid plastic lawns — but it’s challenging.
“My solution for those wanting a neat look is to use evergreen shrubs like ilex crenata and pittosporums that look nice all year round so you have that low-maintenance, neat element but that will help wildlife.”
In collaboration with window box company Living Windows (livingwindows.co.uk), based in east London, Bouquet designs perky painted planters made out of timber offcuts from lumber yards, pallets and ply.
Eco-friendly plant pots and compost
Realising how crazy it was that 99 per cent of all plastic pots are only used to transport a plant from the shop to your home before being discarded, he and his business partner David Ware devised a flatpack cardboard sleeve rather like a popcorn box into which you transfer your plant while in the garden centre.
Plastic pots are reused at the nursery and any broken ones are shredded into fibres for 3D printers.
No chemicals are used at Edibleculture and pests are kept in check with companion planting.
“It’s difficult to convince older people that we’re not loopy,’”says Williams.
Londoners wanting a bit of the green action can order plants and peat-free compost in a 50L bag for life from the nursery, which delivers by electric van.
Greener gardening can sometimes be about looking at plants in an entirely new way.
Why you should consider letting weeds run wild
For London designer and writer Jack Wallington (jackwallington.com), one group of underappreciated plants can not only fit right in with a modern city garden aesthetic, but is the most environmentally friendly of all: weeds.
“Weeds grow where they want to grow,” says Wallington in his book Wild About Weeds (published by Laurence King, £19.99).
“Most of them look good and flower for months on end. You don’t need to water them or feed them with fertiliser, and wildlife love them.”
He adores flowering wall weeds such as ivy-leaved toadflax and bellflower and suggests leaving them to colonise steps and brick walls.
Mind-your-own-business looks sensational spreading over paving and Herb-robert will fill a corner with pink flowers for months.
“I don’t want people to grow a whole garden of weeds,” says Wallington.
“Just find one that’s happy in your garden. Look at it and assess it as you would other plants. Everyone can find a weed for their design that ticks the eco-friendly boxes.”
Like most of this new wave of designers, Wallington won’t use chemicals or compost made from peat, lays minimal hard landscaping and uses permeable materials such as gravel as much as possible. He even sows plants for clients himself, a real labour of love.
Just don’t come to him if you want a plastic lawn…