Do you really need a bonfire?


Bonfire excuse for burning unwanted prunings from the garden ... or is it?

I remember when any decent gardening day in autumn culminated in a huge bonfire. By Saturday teatime, smoke was rising from gardens and allotments throughout the land; anything and everything, it seemed, ended on that fire.

Times have changed. We now realise that there are more sustainable and environmentally friendly methods of getting rid of garden waste. There may be occasions when a bonfire is an option, but there are some good alternatives.

What are these things we consider as ‘waste’ from our gardens, and what should we be doing with it. This is one of the topics that we cover on the RHS courses as sustainability and awareness of the environmental issues is both linked with, and as important as, health and safety.

Most of the stuff we need to deal with regularly in the garden is organic material. Leaves, grass clippings, hedge prunings, crop debris, weeds – these have all spent the season accumulating nutrients from the soil in order to grow. In nature, these nutrients would be returned to the soil when the plant either died or closed down for the winter. We do not necessarily want them to rot down where they are, so can remove them to the compost heap.

Leaves make excellent compost. If you have abundant deciduous trees or shrubs then the leaves of these can be composted separately to make leaf mould. To speed up the decomposition, collect them up via the lawn mower which will cut them into smaller pieces. If you only have a few leaves put them on the compost heap, along with other organic material. Anything that was once living would rot down – eventually.

Larger, woody material may need to be broken down into smaller pieces, either by hand or shredder. This can be added, either mixed or in layers, with the very green waste, such as grass clippings.

There is plenty of information on how to compost, some makes it sound far too complicated. Just remember – nature does it anyway, we are just trying to speed it up by offering all the little organisms, responsible for the process, a perfect home.

What if you do not want to compost?

Larger material in particular, and if you have the space, take it to a “wilder” area of the garden and arrange it in heaps, for native creatures to use as a hibernaculum. Inorganic material, such as rocks, may also be used. Or, and this can also apply to perennial weed roots that you do want to compost, put in your council green-waste bin.

They have the facilities to compost anything organic and you can then get it back, for free!

n Manea School of Gardening is a Royal Horticultural Society Approved Centre with RHS Courses taught at all levels. For more information visit