Sleek Sustainable Gardens


Lee Bestall
4th June 2019

The phrase ‘sustainable gardens’ can conjure up images of overgrown grass, bug hotels, nettles, brambles and the off self-sown Buddleja, quite the opposite of what I consider as a ‘designed garden’.


But, over the past decade or more, environmentally friendly gardens have moved on a long way and no longer have the look of a school wildlife area or an area labelled ‘wildlife friendly’ just because you can’t be bothered to cut the grass and weed!


Horticulturalists, botanists and landscape designers have been working hard in recent years to change the public conception of environmentally ‘outstanding’ spaces and I’m slowly seeing it being adopted by homeowners too.  


For decades there’s been people who wax lyrical about sustainable gardens, but these are rarely described as sleek, or even have any considered design elements to them (in my opinion, and of course beauty is always in the eye of the beholder!).  We’ve recently had a great debate in our design studio about creating more sustainable gardens and we’re pulling together many of these ideas in our new experimental garden ‘Maison des Fleurs’.  


When designing a new garden, we often have to remove a lot of clay sub soil, improve drainage, import soil improver and mulch, all with the aim of planting plants from all over the world which would hate having their roots sat in wet, cold clay for 6 months of the year.  So, what’s the answer to a more sustainably designed planting scheme? 


I’m often asked by clients for a native planting scheme, later to find they are underwhelmed when I point out the limited available range to choose from and even less impressed by the ‘lack of colour’. Research shows that most wildlife doesn’t really mind whether the plant is native or not (think about a Lavender bush in June) so for me I think it’s more important to consider growing plants on site, from seed, so that’s what we’ll be doing in our experimental garden.


Now don’t be under the impression that this is a cheap way to go about a project, it’s not.  The skilled person hours required to sow, prick out and transplant the new plants is very time consuming and it may end up costing more (unless you do it yourself of course!).  It’s also going to take a few years (I’m thinking about 3) before we get the plants to a good size, and much longer for the shrubs, but we won’t be transporting compost up and down the motorway, the plants will be grown hard, and develop in the environment that they’ll eventually live in, and best of all there’ll be no plastic pots!


We’ll be using annuals and biennials to ‘fill the gaps’ and bulk up the borders in the short term.  The area is around two hundred square meters, pretty much level and in full sun, but one border will receive shade for the second half of the day. It’s a pretty windy site, so I’m expecting most of the plants to grow a little shorter than normal, but with plenty of digging, love and time, this garden is sure to be sustainable and sleek!

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Lee Bestall

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