Abingdon garden flooded in July 2007

The UK has been battered by storms over the last few weeks, and the weather has been very mild – if not warm – for the time of year. It seems ludicrous to deny the fact that the climate is changing, and that this wilder weather is the result. We’ve been lucky, but gardeners elsewhere in the country have suffered storm damage and flooding. The long-range forecast threatened a cold, hard winter for the UK, but there’s no indication of when, or if, that will arrive.

The solution is to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ – the amount of fossil fuels we’re burning, and the carbon dioxide they’re releasing into the atmosphere. It’s not an easy task, as modern life is energy intensive, but improvements in energy efficiency and the rise in green energy mean that it is possible to decouple energy use from economic growth. (Personally, I believe you can’t have endless economic growth on a planet of finite resources – but it’s a step in the right direction.)

We all know the low-carbon drill: drive less, use public transport more. Buy less, reuse and recycle more. Switch off lights in empty rooms, have shorter showers, launder clothes at lower temperatures, turn the thermostat down and put a jumper on.

A Danish wind farm

The way you garden can have a big impact, as well. There are plenty of ways you can reduce the carbon footprint of your garden:

  • Use fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Many of them are oil-based, made in factories with a high energy demand, and transported long distances.
  • Use fewer plastics, choosing more durable materials. I use plastic pots as a preference, because they cut down on the watering burden, but I reuse them every year and pass on or recycle those I no longer have a use for.
  • Avoid using power tools, where possible. They add to noise pollution as well as having a direct energy consumption that increases your overall garden footprint. They’re also industrial products, generally with long supply chains. If you need one, consider renting/ borrowing rather than buying.
  • Buy less stuff generally. The more things you buy to use in the garden, the more transport oil costs you’ll be racking up. It’s those pesky supply chains again.
  • Use less water and/or collect more rainwater. Processing and pumping mains water takes energy, and we’re all using more than our fair share anyway.
  • Reconsider heating the greenhouse. Bring tender plants inside for the winter, and use your greenhouse to extend your growing season with winter crops that are hardy but benefit from a little protection from the weather. If you must have heat, insulate the greenhouse with bubble wrap (but don’t forget ventilation!) and section off a smaller portion to heat.

Peat free garden compost

That may all sound like common sense, or an impossible list of sacrifices, depending on your viewpoint. Rather than treating lowering your carbon footprint as simply a list of prohibitions, it’s important to look on the positive side, of things you can do that make a difference:

  • Grow some of your own food. It cuts down on Food Miles and the oil costs of food transportation. If you’re new to GYO then start small and gradually build up as you get the hang of it. And don’t buy a lot of stuff for the garden – you don’t need it. For what you can’t grow, support local farmers by buying at markets or farm shops, and help avoid the colossal food waste inherent in the supermarket supply chains.
  • Garden organically. Organic gardeners have a Garden Footprint a third lower than the national average, according to a report by Garden Organic.
  • Go peat-free. Digging up peat releases carbon into the atmosphere, and we need to keep it in the ground. If you need advice on transitioning to peat-free gardening, read The Peat-Free Diet.
  • Swap seeds and plants locally. If you’ve got spares you can swap them for things you need – cutting down both on your consumption and that of your friends and neighbours. It’s always fun, especially if you add cake.
  • Experiment with traditional storage methods to preserve your excess crops for winter. Rather than investing in a bigger fridge, or an extra freezer, try clamps, bottling and canning, drying and salting, which can all be less energy intensive.
  • Follow the four R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Use homemade compost and green manures to improve soil health and reduce the need for fertilizers. Anything you send off to landfill is a waste of energy, so make as little rubbish as possible!

Charcoal fines for gardening
Charcoal fines and biochar are an easy way of storing carbon in garden soil

Of course, the title of this blog post is a little misleading. We don’t want low carbon gardens. We want our gardens to help us store as much carbon in the soil as possible – and compost is the key! Turn your garden and kitchen waste into black gold, improve your soil and get bountiful crops whilst doing your bit to save the planet 🙂 No hair shirts here – we want countless carrots, and tasty tomatoes!

What are your top tips for reducing your carbon footprint?