Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change and Gardens - Blog Action Day

This is Blog Action Day, which this year concentrates on Climate Change. I am pleased to be participating in this important event, which aims to raise awareness of an urgent topic which affects us all - not only from damage to the environment but also with the threats of flooding, famine, increased risk of wars and creation of millions more refugees.

As I’ve touched on before in this blog, the gardener can address in small but important ways the environmental challenges which face the world. Whether by providing better conditions for wildlife (see here and here), growing vegetables in small spaces to save food miles (see here and here), encouraging an interest in the environment in young people, through school gardens, or better handling of rain water through rain gardens, we can all make a contribution. The mass effect of each garden in the world becoming just a little more sustainable would surely make a huge contribution to improving climate change.

Some further things to think about if you’re planning to redesign part of your domestic garden or the outside space of your business:

DO: use reclaimed materials where possible for structures, containers and so on - find a local salvage or reclamation yard and re-use items such as old flagstones, bricks, tiles, chimney pots, scaffold boards, sleepers and other architectural salvage – it will bring character into your garden instead of stark/bland brand-new materials;
DO: use recycled crushed concrete as sub-base material for hard landscaping instead of freshly quarried crushed limestone;
DO: use crushed recycled glass as mulch instead of freshly quarried gravel or stone/slate chips – but only if it’s available locally;
DO: cut down or cut out cement usage in hard landscape elements – cement accounts for more than 5% of the world’s CO2 production – which is more than the oft-criticised aviation industry:
Concrete is the second most used product on the planet, after water ... No company will make carbon-neutral cement any time soon. The manufacturing process depends on burning vast amounts of cheap coal to heat kilns to more than 1,500C. It also relies on the decomposition of limestone, a chemical change which frees carbon dioxide as a byproduct... Cement plants and factories across the world are projected to churn out almost 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2050 - 20 times as much as the government has pledged the entire UK will produce by that time.”
DO: use natural stone for garden walls rather than manufactured products if they are available locally; use dry-built stone walls with soil/compost and stone chips to even out the courses rather than cement mortar; planting into the crevices with suitable species (e.g. mat-forming rock garden / alpine plants) as the wall is built will improve the look of the wall and the plant roots will help to bind the walling stone together;
DO: use natural stone paving rather than manufactured concrete slabs if it’s available locally. Wherever possible, for pedestrian purposes, lay it on compacted sand, not cement mortar, and use wider, gravel-filled joints instead of mortar joints – it will look attractive and drain better. Make it even more special by including pockets of planting such as creeping thymes and stonecrop;
DO: ensure your timber, if not reclaimed, is from an FSC source which guarantees that the foresting is sustainable;
DO NOT: use tropical hardwoods without being absolutely sure of their provenance and credentials – the last thing we need is more rainforest cutting down!
DO NOT: use pressure-treated timber if it can be avoided – the chemicals used are mainly petro-chemical derivatives, are harmful to the environment, and the timber cannot be recycled (nor easily used as fuel, due to chemical release) at the end of the product’s life;
DO: consider “composite” decking materials, if you’re planning a deck. This is manufactured from waste hardwood and recycled waste plastic – OK it has a high energy input to manufacture, but it has an extremely long life, and doesn’t need chemical treatment to maintain it during its life;
DO: consider introducing a “green roof” on any flat or shallow-pitched structure, whether a part of your house or an outbuilding. Not only do green roofs look good and add environmental habitat, they slow down and help clean rainwater runoff – especially if used in conjunction with rainwater harvesting or rain gardens. They also add insulation, so reducing energy consumption - which saves you money! The transpiration effect of green roof planting can help to cool city climates in summer, they absorb CO2 and replenish Oxygen in the air as well as helping to filter out gaseous and particulate pollutants. Remember though, to first check the additional weight which will be introduced, and the load-bearing capacity of the existing roof/wall structure!
DO: try to find space for a compost heap/bin to transform your kitchen & garden waste into wonderful soil improver – saves energy of transporting it to the local recycling tip, adds nutrients back into your soil, keeping it “in good heart” - use it as a mulch and let the earthworms do the work for you!

What are your thoughts on how garden design can help fight climate change?
Please add a comment!

Here are 12 suggestions for actions which YOU can take from the Blog Action Day website:
Sign the Tck Tck Tck campaign's "I am ready" pledge supporting an ambitious, fair and binding climate agreement in Copenhagen this fall:

Register for the International Day of Climate Action October 24:

Join the UK Government's "Act on Copenhagen" effort to promote a global deal on climate change:

Learn and act with The Nature Conservancy's Planet Change site:

Watch and help promote Current TV's green-themed video journalism at:

Support strong climate legislation in the US by making calls to your Senators with 1Sky:

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see:

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see:

Join the Greenpeace cool IT challenge campaign to turn IT industry leaders into climate advocates and solution providers:

Add your personal story and tell the world what you will miss the most when you lose it to climate change with the United Nations Foundation Climate Board:

Find the latest and most popular climate change actions online at

Join the Causecast community and find new ways to get involved with organizations working to end climate change. Watch videos, read news and support one of the many environmental nonprofits on Causcast.

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