Gardens are about more than just plants. Some people choose to grow very little in their gardens, using them more as an extra room for outdoor entertaining, but that does not mean that they are necessarily ignoring the impact their garden has on the environment.
Not all kinds of patios, fencing and garden furniture are created equal when it comes to the environment – some are definitely greener than others. But it is still early days in terms of how much information you can find on the environmental impact and sustainability of garden products. Work is being done by some ecological organizations to devise organic standards that can be applied in this area, but in the meantime the best advice is to question your local garden centre, do-it-yourself chain or manufacturer to find out where the product comes from, how it is produced and how much energy has been used in order for it to reach you. They might not have the answers readily available, but without public pressure they might never bother to find out.
There is life beyond a lawn, and it used to be crazy paving, but these days people are opting for more natural-looking patio surfaces in their gardens than concrete. Avoiding concrete is a very good idea – it blocks natural drainage, absorbs heat and smothers all living things on which it is poured. But even with alternative surfaces there are still some important points to consider.
Decking was the garden design hit of the 1990s, but just because it is wooden does not mean it is necessarily green. The wood could be from poorly managed forests or have been treated with toxic chemicals, so get as much information as possible before you buy. Instead of buying new, you could try using reclaimed wood to give a unique look to your patio. Old railway sleepers are also useful for bed edging.
You can also buy second-hand for your patio if you use bricks or paving – reclaimed bricks and paving are available from some builder’s merchants. If you are buying new paving stones, look for local stone to save on the polluting cost of transportation.
Whatever your choice of surface, remember the principles of green gardening and learn to live with a few ‘imperfections’, such as moss. Do not use chemicals to blitz all plant life growing between the cracks in your paving. If things are really getting out of control, try the traditional tried-and-tested method of weeding by hand.