GREEN GARDEN CHECKLIST

With the number of Airbnb listings in the UK having quadrupled over the last six years, the desire for low-maintenance gardens is leading to a rise in the use of environmentally-damaging materials such as plastic grass, as well as the inclusion of large expanses of patio at the expense of greenery.

As the holiday season looms, the Society of Garden Designers has created a Green & Easy Garden Checklist to help holiday hosts and landlords create low-maintenance gardens that can still benefit wildlife and the environment.

Airbnb already offers advice to hosts on how to make their homes more sustainable, including ways to improve energy, heating and water usage efficiency indoors, but gardens are currently overlooked.

With rental gardens also increasingly featuring ‘resort style’ features such as hot tubs, firepits and outdoor kitchens, the SGD believes that the need for guidance on how to reduce the carbon footprint in your outdoor space is crucial.   Here are their tips for creating a sustainable, easy-to-maintain garden:

BALANCE PAVING WITH PLANTS

While hard surfaces are often seen as a good low-maintenance option for garden furniture and BBQs, by balancing these with plants you can still help biodiversity and create a garden that is both sustainable and nicer to spend time in.   Helen Elks-Smith FSGD, a garden designer based in the New Forest National Park, explains that offsetting hard surfaces with plants, trees and shrubs not only helps to nuture soils and provides habitats for wildlife but it can also make us feel better. ‘The green stuff is what makes a garden a garden’ she says. ‘That’s why having a cup of tea outside feels better than having that same cup of tea inside.’

Sue Townsend MSGD, who designs coastal gardens in Suffolk, agrees ‘Do not pave over the entire garden and think that a couple of plants in pots will do the trick’ she says. ‘It’s soulless and the plants will dry out without regular watering.’  She suggests creating seating areas with a mix of stone paving and gravel which can be planted through and will allow the soil to continue to breath.   London-based designer George Cullis MSGD recommends using waste material from local quarries or re-using existing paving with permeable joints to provide opportunities for self-seeding plants to take hold.

THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT OUTDOOR AMENITIES

With the trend for outdoor amenities such as hot tubs, saunas, BBQ areas and outdoor kitchens continuing, you can reduce your carbon footprint without compromising your hospitality by thinking about the materials you choose and the features you offer. Dorset-based garden designer Alice Meacham MSGD recommends keeping outdoor fires above ground as sunken pits require drainage and are often constructed with concrete and hard landscaping materials, which increases their carbon footprint. She also recommends installing a natural swimming pond as an alternative to a hot tub. ‘These can be a real draw for holidaymakers’ she says ‘and as well as providing a fun and healthy novelty element to a letting, they are also great for attracting wildlife.’

Timber-clad saunas are also a good alternative which, she says, ‘can be designed and incorporated into gardens in a more low-key way and are more environmentally sound than a large plastic hot tub requiring electronics and chemicals.’

Mitigating the carbon footprint of any outdoor features with plants is also a good idea says Sue Townsend, as well as opting for the greenest form of energy to fuel them.

Helen Elks-Smith also recommends carefully considering what you actually need when planning a feature such as an outdoor kitchen, so that only what you or your guests need to enjoy the experience is included.  ‘People don’t tend to leave cutlery and crockery outside so outdoor cupboards are minimally used as are sinks and fridges’ she says. ‘ Less is more especially as they need to be well built and hard wearing to withstand the pressures of being outside.’

CHOOSE LOW-MAINTENANCE, YEAR-ROUND PLANTS

Planting can make a huge difference to a garden and everyone in it, whether that’s homeowners, holidaymakers or the local wildlife. By choosing the right plants that will add character and interest without needing extensive maintenance, you can create an easy-to-keep, year-round garden.   ‘Low-input drought resistant gravel gardens are one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of creating a sustainable low-maintenance garden’ says Alice Meacham. ‘They remove the need for regular mowing and watering, create a contemporary vibe, and with tweaks can work aesthetically for almost any architectural style.’

Julianne Fernandez, a garden designer from Norfolk, recommends using grasses, long-season flowering plants and small evergreens which won’t outgrow their space, or large planters filled with architectural plants, while Jilayne Rickards suggests evergreen shrubs mixed with tough perennials that will return without fail each year.  Vertical planting is also a good option says George Cullis, and in a small space will have the added benefit of creating a cooling environment on a hot day.

Lorenzo Soprani Volpini MSGD, a garden designer based in Italy, recommends plants that can cope with diverse weather conditions.  ‘They need to be drought-resistant but also able to cope with heavy rainfall and flash flooding’ he says, ‘and choose plants that are suited to the soil and conditions of the site.’ ‘If you’re unsure’, advises Matt Haddon, ‘seeing what grows in neighbouring gardens is often a great place to start.’

REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE

Reusing and recycling materials both in the home and garden is a great opportunity to reduce your environmental footprint. ‘Wherever possible re-use existing or recycled materials’ says Julianne Fernandez. ‘Reclaimed items such as galvanized steel agricultural water troughs or domestic water tanks make fantastic deep planters and, if using wood for structures, then source from locally milled trees with FSC certified ratings.’ She also warns against using cheap materials such as softwood decking. ‘They don’t last and will need replacing within a year or two so it’s a false economy and a waste of resource.’

Matt Haddon agrees. ‘Specify and select quality products with a long expected lifespan in the first place’ he says, ‘so that adding these features in is as sustainable as possible.  You should also make sure that they are straight forward to replace and recycle at the end of their lifespan.’

Alice Meacham also advocates designing in a hidden compost storage, allowing domestic waste to be recycled back into the garden.’

SMALL STEPS, BIG IMPACT

Remember, the word sustainable might seem daunting, but even adopting small changes in your outdoor space can have an impact on your environmental footprint. Being an environmentally-responsible homeowner, host or landlord is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for you and your guests.
Images: Top: Garden by Helen Elks-Smith FSGD (Image: Elzbieta Sosnowski).  Bottom: Garden by Sue Townsend MSGD.

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