The Green Tau: issue 39

4th April 2022

If gardens became nature reserves

Did you know that the ordinary domestic garden makes up one third of all green space in London? 

According to Greenspace Information for Greater London, GiGL roughly  47% of Greater London is ‘green’, of which 33% is natural habitats within open space and an additional 14% is estimated to be vegetated private, domestic garden land. This is not just true of London, but for the whole country. According to the RHA ‘Private garden space in Britain cover about 728,900 hectares so their potential as a haven for wildlife is considerable’.   If each garden were actively managed as a nature reserve just think what an impact that would have on biodiversity and environmental wellbeing!

Domestic gardens can offer a diversity of plants and micro habitats making them ideal environments for a wide diversity of insects and beetles, birds and other small creatures. 

A diverse range of plants can not only provide food and shelter for a great number of birds, insects and other creatures, they can also be chosen to provide a year round supply of blooms that ensure  constant supply of food for insects – and a good supply of insects will ensure food for other creatures further up the food chain.

A variety of height and density of plants and planting, including trees and bushes, climbers and creepers, ground cover and grasses will again meet the needs of diverse range of fauna. Areas of both shade and sun, warm hollows and places giving shelter from the wind will be appreciated. Further micro habitats can be provided with the addition of ponds or bog gardens, log piles and dry stone walls.

Encouraging wildlife is also about avoiding things that can cause damage such as pesticides, herbicides and slug pellets, and the use of peat which comes at the expense of peat bogs which are an exceedingly valuable habitat in their own right. 

Many creatures will need more than the space offered by one garden. Their normal habits maybe to move or roam over a wide area – hedgehogs for example can travel up to 2km as part of their nighttime forays. Whilst robins may guard one garden as their territory, other birds such as swallows, long tail tits, and jackdaws will feed across a much wider area. Gardens can act as corridors and stepping stones linking one garden to the next as well as linking into wider green spaces such as parks and commons. Small holes at ground level will allow hedgehogs to travel from one garden to the next, whilst trees, shrubs and climbers will provide safe stopping off places for small birds.

Gardens also benefit our own well being. The National Open Gardens Scheme identifies 5 ways in which we can benefit from our gardens –

  1. Do something (physical) – gardening itself, or playing, doing yoga, making a bug hotel, painting
  2. Do nothing! Spend time relaxing, just observing what’s there, de-stressing 
  3. Be alone – your garden can be an escape form the  demands of world and work. Find a quiet corner that is your personal retreat.
  4. Be sociable – share the garden with friends, chat over the fence, take tea together, eat meals outside, play games 
  5. Go natural – look at the shapes and colours, absorb the scents, feel the textures, listen to the sounds

For those without gardens, house plants can be equally beneficial and rewarding –

Gardens are places to grow food and make us aware of the journey from fork to plate. Growing food encourages us to eat more healthily. Growing your own salads, herbs and soft fruits can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of what you eat.

Gardens can also protect us from some of the effects of the climate crisis. Gardens with plenty of vegetation will add moisture to the air making it feel comfortable during hot weather and trees of course provide shade as do climbing plants trained over pergolas. Climbing plants can shade walls from the sun and keep the building cooler, whilst plants trained around windows can cast shade that cools the room inside.  Gardens are good at both absorbing rainwater especially if there plenty of soft areas – lawns, flowerbed and vegetable plots – rather than hard surfaces such as pavements, patios and compressed soil. Gardens with plenty of plants are good at slowing the rate at which water drains into the water table as leaves and roots trap and delay the rain. Longer grass is better in this respect than short grass, and will equally better withstand periods of drought. Both absorbing and delaying the rate of water  flow reduces the risk of flooding. You can even be proactive by emptying water butts in advance of heavy rainfall. 

Gardens are natural carbon sinks. Trees, plants and lawns all absorb carbon as they grow. So does a well tended soil. This is a soil that is not over worked or compacted but rather is well supplied with hummus that makes the soil home for a multitude of worms, beetles, bugs, bacteria and fungi, all busily absorbing carbon and releasing nutrients into the soil. Further ideas for reducing the carbon footprint of your garden include composting garden and uncooked vegetable food waste, recycling canes and flower pots etc, growing plants from seeds, and using hand rather than power tools – Or visit the RHS web site 

“When we garden, not only do we make the world a more beautiful place, we also improve local biodiversity, cool overheated cities, mop up pollution and mitigate against flooding, all while improving our own health and well-being, which together have been shown to directly determine how effectively our society functions. Plants are key solutions to pretty much every major problem that faces our species today.”

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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