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How to create a sustainable, easy-to-maintain garden

by | 03 Jun 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads | 0 comments

Recognised members of the Society of Garden Designers (SGD) share their top tips to creating a sustainable, biodiverse, and easy-to-maintain garden that still offers the naturalistic benefits of being outdoors.


Balance paving with plants


While hard surfaces are often seen as a good low-maintenance option for garden furniture and BBQs, by balancing these with plants you can still help biodiversity and create a garden that is both sustainable and nicer to spend time in.

Helen Elks-Smith FSGD, a garden designer based in the New Forest National Park, explains that offsetting hard surfaces with plants, trees and shrubs not only helps to nurture soils and provides habitats for wildlife but it can also make us feel better.

Sue Townsend MSGD, who designs coastal gardens in Suffolk, agrees “Do not pave over the entire garden and think that a couple of plants in pots will do the trick’ she says.

She suggests creating seating areas with a mix of stone paving and gravel which can be planted through and will allow the soil to continue to breath.

London-based designer George Cullis MSGD recommends using waste material from local quarries or re-using existing paving with permeable joints to provide opportunities for self-seeding plants to take hold.


Garden by Alice Meacham MSGD



Think carefully about outdoor amenities


With the trend for outdoor amenities such as hot tubs, saunas, BBQ areas and outdoor kitchens continuing, you can reduce your carbon footprint without compromising your hospitality by thinking about the materials you choose and the features you offer.

Dorset-based garden designer Alice Meacham MSGD recommends keeping outdoor fires above ground as sunken pits require drainage and are often constructed with concrete and hard landscaping materials, which increases their carbon footprint.

She also recommends installing a natural swimming pond as an alternative to a hot tub. “These can be a real draw for holidaymakers”, she says. “As well as providing a fun and healthy novelty element to a letting, they are also great for attracting wildlife.”

Timber-clad saunas are also a good alternative which, she says, “They can be designed and incorporated into gardens in a more low-key way and are more environmentally sound than a large plastic hot tub requiring electronics and chemicals.”

Mitigating the carbon footprint of any outdoor features with plants is also a good idea, says Sue Townsend, as well as opting for the greenest form of energy to fuel them.


Garden by Sue Townsend MSGD


Choose low-maintenance, year-round plants


Planting can make a huge difference to a garden and everyone in it, whether that’s homeowners, holidaymakers or the local wildlife. By choosing the right plants that will add character and interest without needing extensive maintenance, you can create an easy-to-keep, year-round garden.

“Low-input drought resistant gravel gardens are one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of creating a sustainable low-maintenance garden”, says Alice Meacham.“They remove the need for regular mowing and watering, create a contemporary vibe, and with tweaks can work aesthetically for almost any architectural style.”

Julianne Fernandez, a garden designer from Norfolk, recommends using grasses, long-season flowering plants and small evergreens which won’t outgrow their space, or large planters filled with architectural plants, while Jilayne Rickards suggests evergreen shrubs mixed with tough perennials that will return without fail each year.

Vertical planting is also a good option, says George Cullis, and in a small space will have the added benefit of creating a cooling environment on a hot day.

Lorenzo Soprani Volpini MSGD, a garden designer based in Italy, recommends plants that can cope with diverse weather conditions: “They need to be drought-resistant but also able to cope with heavy rainfall and flash flooding”, he says.


Garden by George Cullis MSGD


Reduce, reuse and recycle


Reusing and recycling materials both in the home and garden is a great opportunity to reduce your environmental footprint.

“Wherever possible re-use existing or recycled materials”, says Julianne Fernandez. “Reclaimed items such as galvanized steel agricultural water troughs or domestic water tanks make fantastic deep planters and, if using wood for structures, then source from locally milled trees with FSC certified ratings.”

Matt Haddon agrees: “Specify and select quality products with a long expected lifespan in the first place.”


Garden by Lorenzo Soprani Volpini MSGD. Photo by Oliver Grahame

Small steps, big impact


Remember, the word sustainable might seem daunting, but even adopting small changes in your outdoor space can have an impact on your environmental footprint. Being an environmentally-responsible homeowner, host or landlord is not only good for the planet, it’s also good for you and your guests.

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