Tagged: Urban gardening

Diary of a window box garden

No space to grow?  Follow my new diary of a window box garden on the Guardian website, as I quest to create the ultimate miniature garden…

September 1st 2011

This is the beginning of the diary of a window box garden. The garden doesn’t exist yet but it soon will. For now it’s a figment of my imagination that bloomed overnight. I’m conjuring up something slim and trough-like, stuffed with neat little bushes and romantic trailers. It sits outside my bedroom window, all knitted about with growth.

If you lack outside space to call your own, but feel your fingers have a certain amount of green about them, it’s heartening to know that many plants can cope with an entirely container-bound life. If you’re a serial renter of small spaces in big cities, it’s also good to know you can create and tend a plot that’s completely portable.

The box garden I’m going to create will be tiny – with dimensions in centimetres not metres square – but it will have much potential. It could be planted with attractive autumnal edibles like green frills mustard, endive, blood veined sorrel, giant red mustard and mizuna ‘Red Knight’. Or delicious hardy herbs like chervil, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme. Or it could hold a textured mix of evergreens like ivy, lavender, heather and hebe.

I’m feeling inspired after witnessing the transforming, fiery beauty of a window box in Wales. It was filled with scarlet pelargoniums and peachy diascia – petals that painted a cool white wall with hot summer. The reds and oranges were reflected and doubled by the glass they rested against.

Back in a London that’s feeling rather gloomy under a fat rain cloud, I’m craving the heat that tiny garden gave off. But don’t mistake me for being anti-capital; I love this place. What I love most is its endless capacity to surprise. It’s both brilliant and reassuring to know that a huge swathe of this heaving, seething city is natural land and that numerous wild things thrive here. And I think attempting to be a grower in the face of spatial limitations and other urban excuses is important. Let all London’s window ledges host window boxes.

Gardening in a small boxy space, in a place that you can’t really call your own, isn’t uncommon and there are lots of great resources to help you make good window box decisions. For now I will be stealing planting and planter ideas from the London streets – especially Islington pubs and the Barbican – as well as balconyboutique.co.uk, rocketgardens.co.uk and thebalconygardener.com. And then the work will begin.


In the wild night garden

glow-worm-c-robin-scagell-galaxyStep into the garden at night and, once your eyes have adjusted to the dark, an after hours world teeming with life will slowly emerge from the gloom. The night garden is completely altered from the one experienced during the day. It looks, sounds and smells different. Designed for nocturnal wildlife, and planted with night loving plants, it can be an enchanting place populated by many crepuscular creatures.

Even in the depths of winter, it’s possible to enjoy your garden after dark. Although many species hibernate, there are still good wildlife spotting opportunities at this time of year. With the trees bare of their leaves, the chances of seeing the silhouette of an owl cutting across a moonlit sky are greatly increased. Watching birds feeding in the dim half light of an early winter morning is a joy, and spying a fox foraging through the garden, as frost thickens and glisters in the evening gloom, has a special, chilly charm.

Winter flowering plants that work well in a wild night garden include things like virburnums, witch hazel, winter jasmine and winter flowering honeysuckle. These plants provide colour and fragrance, as well as valuable nectar for any insects that might be tempted out by any milder winter weather. Heathers also inject colour and texture over the colder months and provide important breeding areas for moths.

Moon bathing

But it is in spring and summer that the magic of the night garden is at its peak. Amongst your vegetables, it is possible to include plants that come alive after dark, ones that encourage dusk loving wildlife that will in turn help protect your crops. The moth enthusiast in Allan Shepherd’s book ‘Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time’ celebrates the joys of moon bathing in a wildlife friendly kitchen garden.

“The moth collector’s garden is tribute to creation and the night. To rod cells and melatonin. To the moon and moths. Every plant in it has some quality brought out by darkness. Whether it is the opening of flower bud, the release of scent, or the illumination of a certain type of bold whiteness only really visible when colour is banished from the eye.”

Night species

The garden after dark is a sensual place, where our eyes work differently and our ears and noses are more sensitive than ever. The noises emanating from a wildlife friendly night garden are incredible – the screech of owls and foxes, the snufflings of hedgehogs and badgers, and the love calls of mating frogs.

With the fading light also comes the heady perfume of night flowering plants, and with the sugary fragrances come the insects that are attracted to them. White and silver plants begin to glow in half light and stems and branches become sculptural silhouettes, casting striking shadows. An area designed for the night is not only good for wildlife but a great place for some alfresco relaxation.

Night planting

So what should you plant in your night patch? Nocturnal species of moths are often attracted by scents and by pale coloured plants, using both to navigate. Species such as night scented stock, honeysuckle, mint, evening primrose, tobacco plant and soapwort are good. Gardens that are rich in invertebrates at night-time will in turn attract nocturnal mammals like hedgehogs and bats.

Bats emerge at dusk to hunt for night-flying insects, with each one eating up to 3000 every night. The rapid decline in night-flying insects (due to pesticide use and other environmental pressures) has led to a decline in bat numbers, so a garden rich with insect life at night could become an attractive feeding ground.

Glorious glow worms

Researching night gardening also seemed the perfect excuse to find out more about the glow worm, which actually isn’t a worm at all but a beetle. Seeing one of these firebugs feels exciting, exotic even. The light from glow worms is a form of bioluminescence. Only females emit light, in a bid to attract males, and their glowing life is just a few weeks long.

Angela Brennan from London Wildlife Trust is a something of a glow worm expert. “Glow worms are becoming a real rarity a nd are now uncommon in gardens, but they have been reported from time to time. They tend to start displaying around an hour after sunset, when the sky is fairly dark. They look like pale green LED lights and are absolutely wonderful. A glow worm friendly garden would be pesticide free and have undisturbed areas away from lights, with long grass, hedgerows and a pond.”

Much have I loved the night

Choosing the right kinds of plants, and creating areas that are attractive to night loving species, will make your green patch an afterhours delight, both for you and for the wildlife that will keep pests under control. Vita Sackville-West’s White Garden at Sissinghurst is one of the most famous gardens designed to be experienced after sunset. “Much have I loved the night,” she wrote, “drinking the deep nocturnal silences… only with nightfall could I stand apart and view the shaping pattern of my way.” It’s a whole new world – enjoy yours!

Full moon diary

The wildlife spotting potential of the garden at night time is vast, and it’s an especially magical place to be when the moon is full and the sky is clear. In the next few months, there’ll be full moons on:
Sunday 11th January 2009
Monday 9th February 2009
Wednesday 11th March 2009
Thursday 9th April 2009
Saturday 9th May 2009

More information

All your glow worm questions answered – www.glowworms.org.uk
Wildlife friendly gardening advice – www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening
RHS night planting tips – www.rhs.org.uk/Learning/research/biodiversity/wildnightout_plants.asp
‘Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time: The fantastic story of the disappearing night’ by Allan Shepherd (ISBN 1-90217-525-5)

This article appears in the Feb 2009 issue of Kitchen Garden magazine




Winter wildlife watching

From mornings crunching about on the sugar coated, frost bitten earth to evenings watching skeletal trees become silhouettes against huge glowing skies, gardens are magical places in winter.  And it’s a great time for wildlife too – there’s a surprising amount to see, plus lots you can do to make your winter garden a wildlife friendly one.


The bright sight of winter butterflies


While many species hide away over winter, there are still many wildlife spotting opportunities.  One of the most eye-catching might be the bright flash of a red admiral. These butterflies normally over winter in sheltered places like the dark corners of your shed, but on warm days they can become active again and be seen fluttering about gardens.  Climate change is affecting many species’ hibernation patterns, with unusually high temperatures sometimes surprising them in the depths of winter and tempting them to venture out. 


Butterflies are delicate creatures and very vulnerable if they emerge at this time of year, burning up vital fat stores searching for nectar. Make your garden butterfly friendly by planting winter flowering plants like heathers, or winter flowering jasmine (Lonicera fragrantissima) and winter flowering honeysuckle (Jasminum nudiflorum).  If you do see active butterflies, treat them to a dish of sugar water and keep their energy levels up.


Late blooms and berries


Vegetable growing might be fairly limited at this time of year, but you can grow a veritable feast for the wildlife in your life.  Late blooming flowers provide food for bees, butterflies and other insects that emerge on warm days, while trees like holly are a valuable source of berries for birds like woodpigeons and thrushes.  Spindle berries are important for robins. 


Evergreens like lavender and climbers like ivy give your garden winter texture and colour, and also provide valuable shelter.  Ivy is a particularly useful plant – birds and invertebrates can take cover in it, caterpillars and holly blue butterflies feed on it, birds can eat its berries well into February and its flowers can provide insects with winter nectar.


Grow for shelter


Providing areas that are sheltered and safe will encourage beneficial wildlife to take up residence.  On a small scale, you could plant a winter hanging basket with lavender, heathers and trailing ivy to provide food and shelter.  Larger, living walls dripping with berries are great winter resources for wildlife, while species rich hedgerows provide valuable food and nesting places.


November through to March is the best time to plant a hedgerow in your garden (but don’t plant into frozen ground).  Aim for a varied mix of foliage, fruit and flowers, and include evergreen and thorny plants for winter shelter.  Include species like hawthorn, buckthorn and dog rose, spindle and crab apple, bramble and honeysuckle.  For a free and comprehensive ‘How To’ guide to planting a mixed hedgerow, visit www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening


Recipes and ideas


It’s rather satisfying to lay on a spread in your garden and watch all kinds of birds descend, greedy for some winter grub.  There are lots of creative ways you can fill your garden with food.  You could decorate bare trees with strings of monkey nuts and apples studded with sunflower seeds, or make bird feeders from old plastic bottles.  Baking a bird cake is always fun!  Make sure that the food you provide is nutritionally suitable for the wildlife you are aiming to attract.


Seed studded hanging apples – you’ll need apples, sunflower seeds, twigs and string.  Tie a short twig onto a length of garden string.  Core an apple and stud all over with sunflower seeds (the pointy end of the seed is easy to push into apple skin). Thread the string through the apple, the twig will slot against one end of the apple and make a handy little perch.  Hang from a branch or bird table.  Birds will love it, and, of course, the squirrels probably will too!


Bird cake – you’ll need some old yoghurt or plant pots, string, lard and small scraps of food, like bread, cheese and seeds.  Pierce the bottom of the pot and thread through a length of string.  Melt the lard in a saucepan until it’s runny and then pour over the food, coating it with fat.  Fill the pots with the mixture, press it down well and then leave to set for about an hour.  Then hang out in the garden.  Bird cakes look especially stylish when set into a coconut half!


Wildlife friendly garden design


Winter is the traditional time for making plans for your garden next year.  Resolving to be more wildlife friendly makes good sense – wildlife friendly garden design will encourage species into your plot that will help protect your produce.  Things to think about including are ponds (frogs and toads eat slugs), wood piles (heaven for mini beasts), and wild areas, with nettles, bramble, campion and rosebay willowherb.


A final wildlife friendly tip this winter is not to be too tidy.  Leaving herbaceous vegetation standing until March provides cover, while letting seed head stay on plants will provide food for small birds.  Resist hard pruning in some areas, and delay repairing walls and relaying paving until the weather warms up, as all these places will be sheltering wildlife from the cold.  Put your feet up and indulge in some wildlife watching, and record what you see – especially surprising sightings like butterflies that might be a response to our changing climate.


© Helen Babbs / The Wildlife Trusts


This article appears in the December issue of Kitchen Garden magazine

Real estate for wildlife

Real estate for wildlife


Sometimes as a kitchen gardener it’s tempting to see wildlife as the enemy and condemn all species with the label ‘pest’, but perhaps it actually makes sense to attract wildlife into your garden. London Wildlife Trust’s Helen Babbs argues that our gardens and allotments are vital habitats and encouraging wildlife is often an effective way to protect our crops.


Gardens account for a high proportion of total green space in the UK – for example, in surely the most built up part of the country, London, there are over three million gardens covering more than 90,000 acres. This land has enormous potential, for both growing food and providing habitat for wildlife.


Wildlife Trusts across the country are determined to encourage the nation’s gardeners to make their plots better for wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts’ vision of creating ‘A Living Landscape’, where species benefit from green areas that are connected and easy to move between, includes gardens being made more hospitable. And for the kitchen gardener, an organic, wildlife friendly garden is a more successful one for fruit and veg production. Hedgehogs and ladybirds, to name just two species, will defend prize crops against onslaught from slugs and aphids. And where would we be without bees to pollinate?


Resisting the urge to be really tidy in your garden helps make it a friendlier place for wildlife. Simple things like leaf and log piles make great hiding places for small mammals and insects, and also provide them with nesting materials that they can move elsewhere. But wildlife gardening doesn’t have to be messy, in fact homemade habitats can look really stunning.


One of the most popular elements of London Wildlife Trust’s Future Garden at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show was a textural habitat wall. Built from old builders’ pallets nailed together and stuffed with natural bits and bobs like bamboo, pine cones, twigs, slate and teasel, it was visually exciting and a real talking point. The idea can be adapted to suit any garden and is a quirky way of disguising a compost heap or fencing an area off. Find out more about the Future Garden and habitat wall on www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening


Do it yourself


On a smaller scale, DIY habitats made from materials you already have lying around at home are simple and effective. Here are four projects to attract bees, bugs and hedgehogs into your garden that will take you less than an hour to complete.


Habitat hotel (beloved by mini beasts)

Why not scale down London Wildlife Trust’s wall and make a mini habitat hotel?

Take two or three old bird boxes with the front panel removed, or construct some simple, open fronted wooden boxes. Nail the boxes together and tack a couple of small plastic plant pots on top. Stuff full of natural bits and bobs like pine cones, bamboo canes, stones and twigs. Position in a sheltered spot on your veg patch. Birds and small mammals might pinch bits for their nests so you will need to keep topping it up with materials. You can add items to your habitat hotel as you find them, and even pop in a flower or two if you’re feeling creative!


Solitary bee home

A bee home is easy to make and will last for years. There are around 250 of species of solitary bee, and their nests are usually tunnels, in which the bee builds a series of chambers to hold a fertilised egg and a pollen rich food supply for the developing larvae.

Take a substantial piece of dry timber like an old gate post, at least 15cm square. Site it in a sunny, sheltered spot and fix firmly into the ground, so that about a metre is visible. Using an extra long drill bit, and angling the drill slightly upwards, drill holes in a random pattern into the wood in diametres ranging from 2mm (lots) to 8mm (just a few). The slight angle will allow the holes to drain. Nail a roof on top to keep the rain off and maintain a muddy puddle nearby as bees use mud to build their brood chambers. Note that bees don’t like the smell of freshly cut wood so you’ll need to wait for it to weather out before any move in!


Recycled bug bundles (perfect for lacewings and ladybirds)

These two bug bundles use up household rubbish, are incredibly easy to make and look rather fun hanging in your plot.

Cut the bottom off a two litre plastic bottle, keeping the lid on. Roll up a piece of corrugated cardboard tightly, stuff inside the bottle and let it expand. Tie some string round the neck and then hang in your garden.

Take some old bamboo canes and cut into short 10-15cm lengths, tie into a bundle with some string and hang in your garden or leave to rest in a veg patch. These recycled homes will be loved by lacewings and ladybirds!


Hedgehog hiding place

The easiest way of building a hedgehog shelter is to make a lean-to by placing an old board against a wall or fence and covering it in leaves, compost, soil, or branches. The gap under the board will provide a relatively dry shelter where a hedgehog can hibernate. You could rake some dry leaves into that gap or provide a little dry straw for nesting too.


Produce-friendly wildlife

Bees: Bees perform a vital role because they are responsible for pollinating flowers, so fruit and veg can develop. And actually wasps are also useful to gardeners because they eat many types of insect pests.

Hedgehogs: With their diet of slugs, caterpillars and beetles, hedgehogs are among our best natural pest controllers. Hedgehog numbers are in serious decline and they could do with your help!

Ladybirds: Ladybirds are capable of devouring up to 50 aphids a day, and will also eat a variety of other insects and larvae including scales, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers, mites, and various types of soft-bodied insects.

Lacewings: Lacewing larvae are a natural predator of aphids, able to eat over 300 each!


Make your own habitat ‘how to’ guides

www.wildlondon.org.uk/gardening – download a free wildlife gardening pack and handy ‘how to’ guides

www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk – A joint Wildlife Trusts and RHS website all about wildlife gardening

www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/projects/category/wildlife-gardening – easy to follow DIY guides

www.bbc.co.uk/breathingplaces/doonething – lots of ideas for wildlife friendly projects

There are 47 local Wildlife Trusts across the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. The Wildlife Trusts are the largest UK voluntary organisation dedicated to conserving the full range of the UK’s habitats and species whether they be in the countryside, in cities or at sea. www.wildlifetrusts.org

© Helen Babbs 2008/ The Wildlife Trusts

This article appears in the October 2008 issue of Kitchen Garden magazine – http://www.kitchengarden.co.uk/contents.php

The mile high club

The mile high club…


Would you like a bigger backyard or allotment?  Do you live in a flat and dream of a high rise garden to call your own?  You could increase the amount of green space in your life by extending your garden or allotment out over a roof.  Be it the top of your tool shed or the flat roof on an extension, why not join the mile high club of gardeners who are greening the roofs of the nation?  Join Helen Babbs from London Wildlife Trust as she discovers a whole new roof top world.


I recently moved to a lovely little first floor flat in Islington, north London where I’m lucky enough to have a garden.  Well, a garden of sorts.  A small door in my bedroom opens out onto a flat roof, my neighbour’s kitchen roof to be precise.  The estate agent optimistically calls it ‘the roof terrace’ and it certainly has potential.  In a city where having a garden feels like something of a luxury, I’m very excited to have a small slice of outside space to call my own.  But what on earth can I grow on it?  


What is a living roof?


A living (or ‘green’) roof is a vegetated roof or a roof with some vegetated spaces.  So it could be anything from a balcony packed with pots and planters, to a fully living roof with a carefully constructed layer of substrate (a mix of aggregate and sand or soil) out of which plants grow.


Living roofs vary greatly – they can be designed to support low-growing mosses and sedums, wildflowers and grasses and even shrubs and trees.  Everything depends on the type of roof in question. There are three basic types: extensive, semi-extensive (also known as semi-intensive) and intensive. These terms relate to the amount and kind of maintenance that each type requires, the depth of soil or substrate, and the type of plants the area will support.


A Living Landscape


Conservationists and environmentalists argue that protecting and increasing a network of green space across the UK is incredibly important, and the idea of creating a ‘Living Landscape’ is championed by The Wildlife Trusts.  A Living Landscape would provide valuable habitat for species and vital breathing space for us humans as things hot up. 


Design for biodiversity


A green infrastructure, following ecological principles that integrate nature into the design and management of green spaces, allows us to harness natural processes to help solve wider environmental problems.


One organisation that actively supports design for biodiversity and living roof creation is The Wildlife Trusts.  London Wildlife Trust, for example, is campaigning to make our capital greener, encouraging Londoners to take gardens seriously and start gardening with climate change and wildlife in mind.  They want gardens protected for wildlife and people, and those gardens lost to concrete and decking to be compensated for with living roofs and walls.  London Wildlife Trust wants everyone to pledge to do one thing for wildlife this summer, perhaps creating a living roof could be your one thing?


How do I do it?


So you’ve decided that having a living roof is a great idea, but how do you get started?  And most importantly for us kitchen gardeners, is it possible to grow produce in the sky?


Dave Richards is garden co-ordinator at Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) and he has created an edible roof garden amongst the chimney stacks of the town.  His garden is living proof that it is possible to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables on a roof. 


Aerial allotments


The RISC garden is planted as a forest garden, modeled on a woodland eco-system with many different layers of plants and permanent ground cover to suppress weeds and conserve moisture”, explains Dave.


“The garden has a canopy layer of small trees, including pruned fruit trees, and a layer of soft fruit shrubs.  There are herbaceous perennials like asparagus and globe artichoke, and ground cover like strawberries, herbs. Climbers do well, things like grape and kiwi, and roots and tubers, such as potatoes, work.


“Just like any other garden, what you can grow depends on meeting the needs of the plants – sun, soil conditions, nutrients and water. A living roof is a bit like container gardening.  A limiting factor is the depth of the soil. The RISC roof garden has 30cm of soil which limits the natural tendency of plant roots to search out moisture. This has a bonsai effect but many fruit trees and bushes flourish even on this limited depth.


“Water is the other main factor. In dry weather the irrigation system is on every night and we use various water conserving techniques.   Soft fruit does very well – raspberries, Japanese wineberry, gooseberries – as well as some of our more exotic fruit such as medlar and old varieties of apple.


“To maintain fertility, we have to feed the soil with an annual application of organic horse manure and occasional applications of ground volcanic rock from Scotland and ground seaweed, to replace minerals leached out by irrigation.


A huge hanging basket


All of this sounds great, but it sounds like a living roof could be high maintenance.  Dave Richards says it needn’t be.


“The most common and cheapest is an extensive living roof which has about 4cm of substrate and drought resistant plants, like sedum. These only need irrigation in really severe drought, and they provide most of the advantages of a green roof – thermal insulation, reducing storm water runoff and providing habitat for wildlife.


“An intensively planted living roof (like RISC’s) has deeper substrate and so can support a wider variety of plants. The additional weight needs a more substantial structure and, depending on the planting, an irrigation system. A roof garden is like a huge hanging basket and can dry out very quickly.  Ongoing maintenance depends on the kind of planting. Vegetable beds would need more time than a garden planted with predominantly perennial species.”


The edible roof garden


Creating a living roof is a definitely a challenge, but well worth the effort.  However, do seek out expert advice before you start, depending on the size of your project you may need planning permission and the advice of a structural engineer – see roof resources for more information.


Creating an edible roof garden with pots and planters is easier and relatively cheap too, and I’m definitely going to transform mine into an idyll for both people and wildlife.  I have planted a crop of peas and I’m pleased to say they are flourishing, as are my herbs.  


As summer approaches it is a real pleasure to spend evenings out on the roof with my produce.  From online chats with a green roof enthusiast in Australia, to useful tips like growing Jersusalem artichokes as a windbreaker crop from a gardener in Nottingham, I’ve found a whole roof top community of gardeners, keen to share their experiences.  Why not give it a go?




Roof resources


Useful websites:






Useful books:

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls Nigel Dunnet & Noel Kingsbury Timber

Press 2004

How To Make A Forest Garden Patrick Whitefield Permanent Publications 2002

The Edible Container Garden: fresh food from tiny spaces Michael Guerra Gaia

Books 2005




What grows up high?


Small fruit trees

Soft fruit shrubs

Herbaceous perennials like asparagus and globe artichoke

Ground cover like strawberries and culinary herbs

Climbers like grape and kiwi

Root and tubers like potato



© Helen Babbs / The Wildlife Trusts

First published in Kitchen Garden magazine July 2008


The future of gardening

The future of gardening


Gardens are becoming more important than ever for people and wildlife, a vital link in a living, breathing grid of green space across the country. They are quite simply crucial in our efforts to cope with the effects of climate change, from soaking up water and carbon and offering shade, to providing areas where we can grow our own food and offer shelter and food to wildlife.


A change in climate will be felt strongly by the nation’s gardeners, who will witness first hand the impact of extreme weather like drought and flood on plants, food crops and garden wildlife.  It is time to start gardening with climate change in mind.  In a two pronged approach, we can take steps to both mitigate against and adapt to climate change.


Why cities need gardens

Canyons of concrete and oceans of pavement heat up quicker than a field or forest, and they keep cities warmer at night by releasing heat stored up during the day. By the middle of the century our capital city may be sweltering in heat waves in two out of every three summers, according to the London Mayor’s climate change report.  Average summer temperatures are predicted to rise by two and a half to three degrees Celsius by 2050.

High proportions of concrete and other hard surfaces make flooding more likely too, and with the increased intensity of rainfall making the risk of flooding ever greater, our gardens have never been more important.  They soak up water like sponges and then allow it to evaporate slowly, steadily helping to cool the atmosphere.  Gardens and green space like allotments let our cities breathe, and that’s why it’s so important that we preserve and protect them.

Campaigning for the capital’s gardens

In response, London Wildlife Trust is taking a stand on climate change and campaigning to get garden conservation taken seriously.  They are encouraging people to stop adding hard surfaces like patios and concrete parking spaces to their gardens. If green space must be covered, porous surfaces can be used and additional areas of green space or habitat can be developed elsewhere on the property. This could be by installing green roofs on sheds, garages or flat roofs.

London Wildlife Trust’s Director of Biodiversity Conservation, Emily Brennan explains that “managing your garden with climate change in mind can be beneficial for people as well as wildlife.  A high proportion of living, porous surfaces can reduce the likelihood of flooding, and also make your garden a more pleasant space during heat waves.  Choose plants which provide shelter and food for wildlife, and which don’t need a lot of watering to thrive.”

Gardening for wildlife

Urban gardens can be rich in wildlife, supporting rare and common species, from stag beetle and hedgehog to sparrow, bumblebees and old native trees.  Gardens could also help wildlife adapt to rising temperatures. As the UK heats up wildlife will need to move to new areas of suitable habitat along climate corridors, up and down the country.  London’s gardens and allotments are one vital part of a UK network of open spaces including river corridors and parks that wildlife can use to move. Such a network is an essential part of the ‘Living Landscape’ approach to conservation championed by The Wildlife Trusts.

Think global, act local

The importance of growing food shouldn’t be under estimated.  Reports[1] suggest that processed foods use ten calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced, not to mention the impact of air miles, refrigeration and packaging.  Growing and eating local reduces our climate calorie intake.

Author and expert grower Charles Dowding explains why an element of self sufficiency is important.  “The more food you can grow, the more independent you become and that is vital in a fast changing world where weather, market supplies and international trade look more uncertain from day to day.”


Advice for gardeners


So how do we create the gardens of the future?  How can you do your bit to fight climate change and also adapt your garden to cope with its effects? 


Charles Dowding advises that “it makes sense to garden organically, in a way that eventually relies little on inputs from outside. Making and using sufficient compost is the key here. 


“To cope with increased risk of drought and flood increasing the organic matter content of soils will make the biggest difference. More moisture can be conserved because the humus in organic matter is like a sponge, holding on to more rain, so you need to water less in dry weather. Adding organic matter also encourages soil life such as worms, whose vertical tunnels act as superb drainage channels in heavy rain.


“Vegetables can be far more productive than is often realised, as long as the right ones are sown at the right time, soil is in good heart and slugs are dealt with correctly (see top tips for sustainable gardening for advice). I hope that the allotments and kitchen gardens of the future will be more productive, as people re-learn the art of growing good vegetables.”


Get inspired

Last year London Wildlife Trust developed an award winning ‘Wildlife Garden in a Skip’, which travelled around the capital highlighting the importance of urban gardens.  Building on that success, this year they are taking the sustainable gardening message to Hampton Court Flower Show, July 8th – 13th.  London Wildlife Trust’s Future Garden will explore how gardeners can adapt to our changing climate by planting water saving plants, and using sustainable and reused features. It will also highlight what could be the common garden species of the future.  Why not come along to the show and visit the garden? 


Visit www.wildlondon.org.uk for fascinating facts about the capital’s wildlife and indispensable mini guides to wildlife gardening.


Charles Dowding is author of ‘Organic Gardening the Natural, No Dig Way’ and ‘Salad Leaves For All Seasons’, both published by Green Books at £10.95.  You can find out more at www.charlesdowding.com.



London Wildlife Trust’s top tips for sustainable gardening:


DIY compost and feed

Make rich liquid feeds for hungry tomatoes and peppers from comfrey, borage or nettle.

Leave autumn leaves to rot in bags and then use as mulch.

Adding homemade mulch to your soil will not only increase how much water it can hold, it will also suppress weeds.



Collect rainwater in water butts and use ‘grey water’ from washing up, baths and showers to water your garden.

Egg boxes and yoghurt pots make great planters, and why not make protective cloches from old plastic bottles.

Trap slugs and snails in grapefruit halves or saucers of beer, or create barriers around prize plants with soot, grit or egg shells


Wildlife working for you

Attract birds, hedgehogs and frogs – they’ll feed on slugs and snails.  Lacewings, ladybirds, hoverflies and spiders will devour aphids.

Plant a variety of seasonal flowering plants to provide year round nectar for ladybirds, bees and butterflies, and integrate native wild flowers into your existing planting scheme.

Colourful poached egg plant, pot marigold and fennel will attract hoverflies.


Some star plants for dry gardens

Rosemary – delicious with your Sunday roast and good for bees

Lavender – smells divine and a favourite of butterflies

Thyme – tasty herb beloved of humans, butterflies and bees


Visit – the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham, South London



© Helen Babbs / The Wildlife Trusts

First published in Kitchen Garden magazine June 2008


[1] Taken from ‘How we’ve all grown’ by Allan Jenkins, The Observer, 11th November 2007 – Lucy Siegle writes in ‘The Ethical Audit’: “Processed food uses 10 calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food produced. Then there’s the air miles, the chilling, the refrigeration and the packaging” – see http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/gardens/story/0,,2206775,00.html