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Climate Change – can garden designers make a difference?

 In Garden Design

We’re all accustomed to recycling household waste, re-using bags and reducing waste but how can gardens counter the effects of climate change? Can garden designers really make a difference?

How will climate change affect garden design?

Climate change experts tell us that we can expect wetter winters, drier summers and so water management is key. There is already a need to conserve water in summer and ameliorate flooding in the wetter months. Warmer temperatures mean that we are likely to see more – or rather different – plant pests and diseases. It’s likely that wildlife will be affected by climate change too. Human lifestyles already seem to be putting pressure on insects, birds and mammals. With more pest control and fewer food sources, these precious links in our food chain could well become weaker.

Climate change is something that is debated a lot. Some say it’s a problem, others think the world is overreacting. As a garden designer I prefer to hedge my bets. I will always try to find the compromise between usability, sustainability and longevity when recommending plants and materials. By remodelling their outdoor spaces, my clients are investing in their property and their wellbeing and so I do my very best to ensure that their garden will look fantastic and function whatever climate change may bring.

Choosing hard landscaping materials

Hard landscaping is all about the more permanent features of the garden – the structure. It’s the paths, patios, ponds, pools, driveways and retaining walls.

decked seating area in landscaped garden

The ratio of hard landscaping materials to plants and soil is as important as the type of materials used.
In this garden in Rodney Stoke we’ve combined timber decking and stone paving with pockets of drought tolerant planting.
The entire garden is framed by a wildlife-friendly laurel hedge

Many of my designs are for sloping gardens and so water management is a key part of the design and construction. If my client is in agreement, I’m always keen to incorporate a water harvesting system to make summer watering cheaper and more convenient. Especially since many plants actually prefer rainwater to tapwater.

Planning rules insist that large swathes of hard landscaping in front gardens are permeable. My designs use materials and construction techniques to maximise water absorption.

A big part of climate change is being blamed on travel and transport. Wherever possible, I specify locally sourced materials that don’t need to travel too far to get here. I like natural timber for decking and structures, reclaimed materials where they’re practical, artisan-made features and locally grown plants.

Soil management

So many people want low maintenance gardens. Ones where there is little or no interaction with the soil. I can understand that. Actual gardening is time consuming and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, soil, and the microbes and minibeasts that live in it, is a fantastic carbon sink. It’s also nature’s way of recycling rainwater.

Soil is probably one of the biggest compromises in any of my garden designs. Unfortunately some clients associate natural soil and plants with hard work. Consequently they opt for as much hard landscaping as they can afford. That’s OK – there are a few tricks of the trade we can use to protect the soil beneath.

Personally, I associate soil with natural drainage, beautiful planting, productivity and wellbeing. We all have different lifestyles and opinions but I do try to help my clients understand how living lawns, mulched beds, low maintenance planting and wildflower areas could benefit them in the long term. My designs are all about making sure people truly enjoy their gardens and I only ever create planting plans that suit the clients lifestyle and gardening loves.

gravel border tbetween patio and retaining wall

Little details make a big difference when it comes to designing a garden that will cope with climate change. This gravel edging aids rainwater management but still looks beautiful.

Plant choices

For the sake of our pollinators and birds I try to make sure there are plenty of plants in all of my designs. Not only do plants create a wonderful aesthetic, they have so many benefits for wellbeing that they really shouldn’t be ignored.

However, I do aim to gauge the client’s horticultural interest and capabilities. Every single plant in a Dan Richards design is chosen for its suitability to the soil type, its position in the garden and the client’s ability to care for it.

natural lawn with porcelain paved paths

A natural lawn has a host of benefits when it comes to coping with climate change. It will soak up excess rainwater, absorb carbon dioxide from the air and help to cool the garden.
Careful choice of grass species and equally careful site preparation will help your natural lawn stay green for most of the year.
Hate mowing? Invest in a robotic mower for automatic lawn trimming with minimal carbon footprint.

Futureproofing the planting means choosing species that will be suited to the garden now and going forward. With changing weather patterns and new pests and diseases popping up, its vital to choose the right species with the right provenance. Particularly for long-lived plants such as trees and hedging.

Can garden designers make a difference to climate change?

No one person and no one industry can reverse climate change but I do feel that garden designers can do their bit. By educating clients, sourcing and specifying responsibly and ensuring that each garden makeover is constructed to the highest standard we can certainly ensure that our gardens benefit the environment for the longest possible period of time.

Could your garden be more sustainable?

Get in touch with Garden Designer Dan Richards to discuss ideas for a more sustainable garden

Contact Dan

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sloping garden pathdesign for sloping front garden with retaining walls and curved steps