How to give your garden a green makeover

by Tracy Stokes on July 25, 2007

in EcoHouse, Permaculture

Continuing our series of green makeover posts, today we’ll be concentrating on your garden. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a few changes to the way you garden, and make a big difference to the planet. These suggestions are not only for those with large suburban or rural gardens. They apply equally to those of you with a roof garden, or a few pots on a balcony.


Composting is a fantastic way of reducing household waste, and it’s a free resource of nutrition for your garden, preventing the need for peat-based compost and chemical fertilisers. There are so many ways to compost, some even suitable for flat-dwellers. Here is a look at some of those options:

  • Simple Composting – You’ll need a garden for this, and somewhere to “cook” the compost. Either dig a hole and be an undercover composter, make yourself a composter or buy a composter and fill it with your fruit and veg peelings and garden waste. A few months later, you’ll have free, ready-to-use compost for your garden or pots.
  • Vermi-composting – This is composting with worms. It’s faster than simple composting, and a good way to compost cooked food waste (not meat). When you compost with worms, you not only have a nutritious, fine compost, but also a great free supply of liquid fertiliser for your plants, sometimes known as worm tea. You can keep your wormery in a shed or on a balcony, so this type of composting would work well if you lived in a flat with a balcony. Wormeries come in various shapes and sizes.
  • Indoor composting – There is a system for composting right in your kitchen called Bokashi. It is completely smell free and you can even compost meat, fish and dairy products. After a few days, the waste is ready to be put into your outdoor composter, or dug into the garden.
  • Food waste digester – A food waste digester can also cope with meat, fish and cooked food. It needs to have part of the equipment buried in the ground, so you’ll need a reasonable portion of garden.

And once you have a supply of free compost, it’s time to start using it.

Earth friendly disease and pest control

Going organic means that it will no longer be as easy to get rid of pests and diseases as when you were using chemicals, but there are more and more good earth-friendly products coming onto the market which mean that it’s also not as hard as it used to be. The benefits to the planet and our own health makes it worth the effort to seek these products out. Let’s look through some of the more common gardening pests and what is available to get rid of them.

  • Slugs – Despised by gardeners everywhere. Thankfully there are a number of strategies to keep these slimy little characters off your strawberries/cabbages/cucumbers etc. Growing Success makes an advanced slug killer that is certified for organic gardening, and I can heartily recommend this. If you don’t want to kill the slugs, but simply deter them, you could try Slug Copper around your pots and along the borders of your beds. Slugs and snails won’t crawl over this copper tape.
  • Aphids – The most effective way to deal with an infestation of aphids is to ship in some of their natural predators. Ladybird larvae are available by mail order, or encourage ladybirds into your garden by providing them with a safe environment to breed and hibernate, and some beneficial insect food.

Companion planting can be helpful in keeping pests away from your food crops.

It is important to keep your soil and plants healthy, so that when diseases do strike, they can be overcome. Maintain hygiene in your organic garden to avoid the spread of disease.

  • Keep your tools disease free – Wash tools in boiling water after cutting away diseased wood, or digging out a diseased plant.
  • Keep your pots disease free – Scrub out your pots during the winter (only if they’re empty).
  • Space to breathe – Prune your trees and allow enough space between plants for air to circulate. This can help prevent fungal infections.
  • Be vigilant – Keep an eye on your plants and check for the first signs of disease. This way you can treat the plant early, or remove it to prevent infection to other plants.

For some great homemade remedies to ward off “vermin and plague”, try The Gardening Guild website.


Mulching is valuable in the eco-friendly garden for a number of reasons:

    1. Maintaining soil temperature
    2. Controlling weeds
    3. Retaining water
    4. Adding nutrients to the soil
    5. Suppressing weeds
    6. Repelling insects
    7. Controlling erosion

What to mulch with? How to mulch? When to mulch?

  • Mulch with lawn cuttings, newspaper, leaves, leaf mould, compost, bark chips, straw and hay. There is even a product called Dunweedin made of 100% recycled tyres that makes an excellent mulch.
  • Apply mulch around plants (leaving a little space between mulch and plant for air circulation) and over bare earth in beds and pots.
  • Mulch vegetable gardens once the soil has warmed sufficiently in spring. Don’t apply mulch to cold, wet soil. To protect against frost, mulch with straw or hay in winter.

Rainwater harvesting

Water is a precious resource that should be conserved. So why use perfectly good drinking water on the garden? Using a water butt to collect run-off water from the roof of your house or shed will provide you with water for your garden.

Be water-wise

We’ve already mentioned mulching and rainwater harvesting to save water. Here are some other ways to be water-wise.

  • Conserve water by planting plants that require a minimum of water. Try this handy water-wise plant guide.
  • Ditch the hose and stick to watering with a watering can, or install a passive irrigation system from your water butts with recycled tyre “water worms”.
  • Water first thing in the morning, or in the evening, to prevent evaporation.

Buy recycled

When you are buying “new” things for your garden, be it tools, planters, pots and other accessories, buy second-hand or buy recycled. Here are some ideas.

Go solar

Both water features and lighting in the garden can harness the power of the sun. These products are readily available from local garden centres, or online.

Grow your own food

Growing fruit and vegetables in your garden will instantly reduce food miles. It can also save you money, and is a great life-skill to teach your children.

If you are interested in living in a more sustainable way, it would be beneficial to research permaculture, a system that combines home, garden and lifestyle into an eco-system that makes use of its own waste products.

“Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability. The design principles are equally applicable to both urban and rural dwellers”- Bill Mollison, founder of permaculture.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rob July 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

What a great collection of tips. My #1 tip is not to use night soil on the tomatoes. You know what night soil is, don’t you? If not click here:


Kevin July 27, 2007 at 3:39 pm

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Tracy July 27, 2007 at 4:52 pm

Thanks for that. It would be a pleasure to blogroll you, consider it done.

Thanks for the comment.


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