Growbag Blog

A heap of resolutions for a more ethical garden

Are you planning to make some eco-friendly changes to your garden this year, but don’t know how to go about it?

Time was when the idea of gardening was to manhandle your outdoor space into submission. But now we know we must work WITH nature, not against it. We’ve got some ideas about how to make ethical choices for all sorts of spaces…


Let’s look at how we gardeners (and yes, we’re including Caroline here – it’s a broad church..) can do our bit to save the planet.
I think there are 7 broad categories:

Water. Storing rainwater helps, as does not having too many thirsty plants in dry locations or in pots (guilty as charged on the latter so must try harder).

Flood prevention. We need to try and make sure our gardens are natural rainwater sumps, and absorb the precipitation.

Wildlife. Can you make your garden a wildlife haven by banning chemicals, leaving wild corners, creating habitats and planting a mix of food and shelter plants?

Plastics. Let’s recycle any plastic we have already and always be looking for plastic-free when buying new. Re-cycling other containers and using biogradeable materials is the way forward – cardboard, wool, paper, hessian, canvas……do look at some of the items we have for sale, by the way, from paper pot-makers to canvas bags.

Wool pots
We love these wool pots – a great new use of sheep fleeces so help farmers too- they’re in our shop!

Have a compost strategy. Yes really, and you can dine out on your particular recipe. Peat’s out so you need a plan, and there’s no better time to start making your own potting medium from garden compost, leaf mould, bark chips, stable manure, mole hills, Local Council recycled sewage sludge …

Leaf mould - Laura
It’s time to go foraging for compost ingredients- leaf mould is a star rated one!

Plant Miles. How about cutting down on buying imported plants from huge heated propagation glasshouses and thinking about buying local-grown or better still, homegrown options? Save your own seeds, propagate plants from cuttings and divisions – saving money and the planet at the same time!

Climate Change. How resilient is your garden? Is it all one style, or a healthy mix of drought-resistant/damp-loving/cold -hardy plants. Is there a diversity of garden habitats? Or are all your eggs in one rather precarious basket? Garden designer showed us how to do it in his acclaimed ‘RHS Resilient Garden’ at Hampton Court Flower Show last summer and it’s our headline picture this week.


So what does all Laura’s high-falutin’ waffle actually mean in your outdoor space?! Rely on me, the feet-on-the-ground Growbag, to tell what features you need:

Water butts. Try to use as little tap water as possible. It costs us all a bomb to treat it for human consumption so why spray it on the ground? (especially as your plants actually prefer rainwater). It’s time to get your butt in action!

Permeable membranes. Flooding is an increasing problem. It’s not helped by front gardens being concreted over, or gravel driveways now tarmac-ed. Try to choose materials that allow water to seep away gradually – lots of innovation happening around this. Influencers’ pics of perfect gardens with fence-to-fence decking/tiles featuring only a couple of pot plants, should be viewed with caution (as should the authenticity of their perfect faces and bodies – hurrumph!!)

It’s trendy but is it right? Tiling over your garden is an environmental ‘own goal’

Wildlife havens. You don’t need to go the whole ‘rewilding’ weed-fest. In fact, it was Great Dixter’s herbaceous border that showed the highest wildlife activity of the whole estate when they did a biodiversity audit. So let’s keep creating beautiful gardens but with added habitat for wildlife  – include a log pile (brilliant habitat); water; a hedgehog gate, bee hotel or nest boxes. Plenty in our shop – just saying

Mixed-up borders. Try to provide a mix of plants and terrain. Apparently if we all left our lawns uncut in No Mow May, it would be bad for a certain bee which prefers short grass – there’s always one isn’t there 🙄 So try to have as many different types of plants/ features as you can and do things differently to your neighbours. If they have a pond, maybe you don’t need one. Do something different (a hot tub doesn’t count).

Try to get loads of different plants on the go and never mind if it’s a bit of a a riot!

Lawns Try to leave at least one area of grass uncut – you’ll find it absolutely buzzes with hoverflies etc. by high summer. Don’t worry that it looks a bit messy. Anyone whose opinion you value will know exactly what you’re doing and if they don’t, it’s a good opportunity to spread the message.

Ponds. A really fantastic resource for wildlife. If you can’t actually dig a pond, you could fill a large basin with water, some rocks and a couple of water plants. You can get a little gizmo to recycle the water at very little cost. Get your Blue Peter freak on!

A pond is right up there at the premium end of wildlife habitats. You don’t have to spend a fortune, you can make a difference just by planting one up in a washing-up bowl!


Good, that’s the practicalities sorted. Now the fun starts – what plants are you going to grow in your ecologically-sound garden?

Grow plants for pollinators.  There are hundreds of lovely plants to grow in your garden that the precious bees, hoverflies etc. can use.  You do NOT have to go all David Attenborough – loads of familiar plants are perfect – Cosmos, salvias, snapdragons, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, zinnias, sunflowers, lavender, Hydrangea, Buddleia, Phlox………..A paradise for you AND the bees!

Cosmos are beloved by pollinating insects

Grow your own edibles. Make this the year you grow something you can eat – no food miles, no chemicals, no warehouse storage. And oh, the satisfaction! No room? – dozens of vegetables, fruits and herbs can be grown in pots.

Growing lettuces in a pot – a revelation to me…….

Grow native plants. Nigh on 1700 plant species are native to the UK and are therefore best placed to support our declining bird, mammal and insect populations with food and shelter. Just a few minutes of online research will help you find them.

Grow hardy perennials. Plants raised in heated glasshouses for the mass bedding market demand heavy energy use. Hardy perennials (think peonies, Alchemilla, hollyhocks, delphiniums, Bergenia, Campanula, daisies, violas, verbascums, scabious………..) grow naturally in their own time and space, their roots are stronger and they can withstand our changing climate with much more resilience.  Go figure.

Hardy perennials like peonies are a better choice than all those hothoused tender annuals

Grow trees and hedges. If you have the space, plant a tree. Yes, they give out oxygen and store carbon, but they’re home to all sorts of lichens, mosses, birds and invertebrates too.  Hedges are a wonder element in an eco-friendly garden – they can capture air pollutants, intercept rain, cool the air around them and provide cover for wildlife. Laura takes you a lovely little walk along her native hedge in the video link below.

Grow self-seeders. This is a no-brainer: grow beautiful annuals and biennials like love-in-a-mist (Nigella), foxgloves, forget-me-nots, honesty (Lunaria)…. they produce masses of seed, they germinate at the right time, they establish better than hand-sown seedlings – plus they look beautiful and the good insects love them! You might need to weed them out when you’ve got too many in the wrong place but hey, you’re a gardener – you’ve got to do SOME of the work yourself!

Honesty – such a beautiful self-seeder…..with fabulous silver-penny seed capsules to boot!

Companion-planting. I love this. You can’t/shouldn’t use chemicals in the garden, but if you’re canny, you get the plants to help each other – plant lavender near the tomatoes to attract pollinators, French marigolds in the greenhouse to deter whitefly, nasturtiums near the broad beans to attract the black fly…. A subscriber recently suggested growing salvias under roses to lessen attacks of blackspot (something to do with the sulphur they exude). Genius.

Will salvias stop black spot developing on your roses? That got to be worth a try!

There you go – a host of ideas for a more Nature-friendly outdoor space. Here’s the thing. No one has to do all these things. We bet you’re already doing a few of them, and all we’re suggesting is that you might consider joining the three of us by incorporating two or three more of these ideas into your garden plans this year.

Have you got some great tips for eco-friendly gardening to add to yours? Do get in touch!

Here is the link to Laura’s walk along her native hedge.

Louise is finding beauty in the frosted silhouettes of her garden plants and a particularly stunning one is her Plant of the Moment. Click on the box below to find out what it is.

Verbena macdougalii ‘Lavender Spires’

More NB If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

How about giving wildlife a hand; being more ethical AND introducing beautiful new additions to your garden? That’s our ambition for you in our online shop – do have a look…

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

5 replies on “A heap of resolutions for a more ethical garden”

Dear Growbags,

Another resolution for a more ethical garden is not to cut perennials to the ground in autumn and clear the garden in general. Insects overwinter in hollow seems of perennials and hedgehogs love hibernating in scruffy piles of dead vegetation and leaves. Leave the garden clearing until January and February.
I love your weekly email!

Hi Ingrid, thank you for writing in. Yes, you’re absolutely right, and I’ve certainly advocated leaving the big garden tidy-up until early spring in my tips column from time to time. The only exception I make is when I know I’ve planted early spring bulbs in that bit of the garden – it feels very unfair to them to plant them and then leave them to fight through layers of dead undergrowth in order to bloom! We are so glad you like our weekly ramblings – long may it continue! All the best, Elaine

I have not yet read the whole article but came across your reference to “precipitation”. The issue of paving over front gardens so that cars can be parked is one of the biggest contributor to water runoff etc. Can you research and publicise permeable alternatives in your future newsletters please?

This is your best blog ever. All of this information can be applied to most areas of our world. I enjoy your posts and find many are appropriate for my High Desert climate in the central Oregon USA area.

Oh thank you, Dona! It’s so kind of you to take the trouble to write in and tell us we’re doing okay. Yes, many of these principles would apply to millions of gardeners around the world, I think, and I truly believe that together we can make a difference. We are always thrilled when we hear from folks in other countries who have heard about the3growbags, and like what we’re about – do keep spreading the word! I hope you have a wonderful gardening year in 2024 and that you keep enjoying our posts. All the best, Elaine.

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