Giving the bugs a break

A hotel fit for...
A hotel fit for...

One of my favourite units in the RHS courses that we teach has the quite uninspiring title of ‘Sustainable Gardening’. It is, however, the one that our students (of all ages!) have the most fun with.

A fully sustainable garden would be one which could, in effect, function ‘behind closed doors’. Nothing purchased or brought in from outside, save a few swaps with neighbours, and no rubbish sent out for someone else to dispose of.

A hundred years ago that would have applied to many gardens – now very few.

We purchase composts, seeds, fertilisers, sprays, plant supports, as well as plants whilst we send the packaging, and often waste plant material, off to be disposed of elsewhere.

These both cost – in terms of hard cash to buy the products as well as the effect these have on the environment.

Please do not think that I do not want us to buy things for our garden. I, like others in the horticultural industry, rely on selling plants and related sundries.

But we can think about what we can do to make our gardens more sustainable and environmentally friendly and have fun in doing so.

So what do we cover that can be so interesting? Well, as well as the more obvious practices of composting, including using wormeries, saving rain water and shredding waste to make mulches, our students have been making provision for ensuring our little garden helpers make it through the winter.

We do not use sprays to kill things that may be considered pests. We also need pollinators to ensure that our crops are a success.

Providing the basics of water, food and shelter – wild-life ponds, bird boxes, berry-bearing shrubs, log piles, can all help achieve a natural balance in our gardens.

Many mammals, as well as reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates, need some form of shelter for the next few months.

Whilst many of these may have been happy in the bottom of a twiggy hedge, they now have a wonderful selection of home-made ‘bug hotels’.

And every one is different. Best described as ‘rustic’, but lovingly made structures, with a variety of sections, or should I say ‘apartments’, to suit a range of prospective clients –ladybirds, lacewings, solitary bees, butterflies.

Larger structures have also been constructed, using a selection of materials found around the site. We are doing our best to ensure that we have natural pest control and pollination secured for next season.

To look at the fantastic creations see the Manea School of Gardening Facebook page.

Happy gardening!

n RHS courses taught at all levels.