10 Top Tips for your Garden that won’t cost the Earth!
Some easy wins to get on top of your garden now and have a beautiful outdoor space all year long while keeping it wildlife friendly and full of biodiversity.
Whether you’re building a new garden or you’re looking for inspiration to cheer up your old garden, here are our Top Ten Tips and good practice guidelines from the Garden and Landscape Designers at the GLDA. These tips are good for your pocket and good for the planet.
NATURE IS THE REAL CLIENT
Even though you and your family are the Clients, the real client to keep happy is Nature. Once a garden has a good balance of flowering plants all year long and organic growing principles are at the heart of everything then the bees, insects, birds and other wildlife will thrive. This is the basis of healthy biodiversity. A wild area, a pond, succession flowering plants, and as many trees as you can fit in should all be your Tick Boxes.
EMPLOY THE EXPERTS
First step is to make a Plan. A chat or a more formal Consultation with a Garden or a Landscape Designer will get you on the right path. It might cost a bit at the start of the project and you’ll be looking at paper and plans rather than flowers or trees but when you have your overall Design / Masterplan you will end up saving money because you’ll do those jobs only once. The Designer will consider your aspect, soil type, prevailing weather, views etc. which can be used to get you an accurate price or undertake the build yourself in phases as budgets allow.
Get an Arborist / Tree Surgeon in to prune trees – they will also save you money because they’re highly trained, fully insured and they take away the waste. A Landscape Contractor will install a better patio than a builder and a qualified Gardener will be able to get through weeding or planting faster than most of us.
RE-USE PLANTS, SOW SEEDS AND BUY LOCALLY GROWN PLANTS
SHARE CUTTINGS, SPLIT PLANTS, TAKE THE TIME
Take stock of trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials already in your garden. These are the bones onto which you can add more components to enhance it. Maybe the trees need a good prune, the beds need some weeding, or the paving needs a good power-wash. A list of jobs will help you to focus and not get overwhelmed.
If you’re buying new plants and trees try to buy Irish grown from a local nursery. Ask gardening family or friends for cuttings or divisions of their own plants. This is a free and beautiful way of spreading the green love. Most perennials need to be lifted and split every few years anyway so you’re doing the plants a favour!
Sow some seeds. Lots of sowing and growing videos / classes available online too.
You can make all this easier by installing a timber potting bench/table, or a Greenhouse or Polytunnel and grow your own flowers and vegetables. Make your own kitchen garden or a cut flower bed and bring beauty back in to your garden.
RE-USE HARD LANDSCAPING MATERIALS RATHER THAN IMPORT PAVING
The same advice goes for the hard landscaping. If you already have a patio or pathway ask a good Landscape Contractor if it’s worth keeping and possibly make it a bit larger or add some benches to make it more user friendly. Perhaps an industrial power-wash is the answer to revitalise existing paving.
A Garden Designer will help you design a Patio with salvaged cobbles, reclaimed brick, old granite window sills etc as a new pathway or incorporate into gravel to make a much more interesting and unique Patio or Terrace for you rather than having to import paving from the other side of the world. Better for the Planet and for your Pocket.
LEAVE THE CHEMICALS ON THE SHOP SHELVES
Never buy any chemicals for your garden. They kill all insect life which in turn kills birds or even worse renders them infertile and sick. Picking off the greenfly from the Roses with your fingers is always better than spraying the roses to kill the insects. The birds will ingest that poison plus it dribbles off killing all the micro-nutrients in the soil beneath. The chemicals are also incredibly poisonous to us humans and our family pets.
HARVEST RAINWATER AND MAKE COMPOST
Try to incorporate a water butt and a composting area to harvest rainwater and make your own compost. If space is tight the water butt can go against the house or a shed but always hook it up to a down-pipe to maximise water collection off the roof. An electrical pump would be handy and mount your butt safely onto brick platform to increase the gravity water flow. There are so many composting solutions – make your own with 4 timber bays if you have loads of space, or just one small Wormery in a courtyard garden or apartment balcony will give you the best plant food.
PUT UP BIRDHOUSES, MAKE A WILDLIFE POND AND MAKE A MESS
A wildlife pond can be as small as 500mm wide x 100mm deep or as large as a natural swimming pool depending on your space and budget. Bees need water to cool down their hive so even a small bowl in a flowerbed to capture rain is a welcome pool on a hot day.
And hang up bird boxes, bat boxes, swift boxes to encourage our feathered friends to stay in the garden.
By leaving a section of the garden messy with brambles, scrub, wildflowers / weeds and even a dead tree this can support more wildlife than any Bug Hotel. It also acts as a carbon sink and encourages excellent microrhiza activity deep within the soil.
DON’T MOW THE GRASS
If you have a lawn try not to cut the grass until early June. The wildflowers, or sometimes called weeds, are so important as an early source of food for pollinators and insects. It’s crucial to keep the biodiversity cycle going in your garden no matter how small an outdoor space you have. Anyway, the green can be boring – buttercups, clover, daisies and dandelions are so much prettier! If you can’t handle the “mess” then mow little pathways through the long grass and around the edges. Then sit in your long grass in June making daisy chains. Bliss.
CLEAN OLD GARDEN FURNITURE
Look at what furniture you had last year and give it a spring clean. A power-wash might be the answer and then a fresh coat of paint. A scrub with a wire brush will get rid of last year’s cobwebs or maybe a new piece of funky fabric on an old deck chair will give it a lift. Lots of brilliant outdoor furniture to buy too and if it’s vintage even better. Top tip: Orange furniture gives a garden a serious lift on a rainy day.
TREES, TREES AND MORE TREES
No matter how much or how little space you have you should be planting as many trees as you can fit in. But watch out that it’s the Right Tree in the Right Place. Nothing worse than a huge 12 metre conifer in a suburban semi-D blocking out light and drying up the soil.
Hawthorn and Mountain Ash are fantastic small native trees for Irish gardens. You’ll be looking for something that looks good in winter when it has no leaves, something that flowers and something that won’t grow too tall and will respond well to pruning every 5 years or so. Advice is always on hand from the experts and if you’re getting your inspiration online just make sure you take the Irish climate into consideration! Succulents and tropical plants look amazing on Californian architectural websites but in an Irish garden they can be sad and shivery. The act of gardening is so good for us. Doctors prescribe for us to chill out in trees and amongst the Green to reconnect with Nature and reduce our stress hormones.
Meet Marion Keogh on the GLDA Advice Desk in the PhoneWatch ‘Ask an Expert Hub’ on Friday at the permanent tsb Ideal Home Show, April 21st to 23rd, RDS.
Marion Keogh MGLDA is an award winning garden designer with a private practice based in Dublin. An originator of the nature-based artists collaborative Green Edge (formerly BloomFringe) which slammed onto Dublin City’s streets in 2014 “making the gritty city pretty” Marion is passionate about engaging communities to transform forgotten outside spaces into more green and more beautiful places.
She recognizes the value of enhancing the physical space but also engaging people in planting and growing and making links with each other, with the environment and with the wider community. Her Garden Design practice concentrates on enhancing the natural elements within domestic private gardens.
Marion made a TV appearance as mentor in RTE TV’s Super Garden and she is a full member of the GLDA Garden and Landscape Designers Association.