Sustainable gardening

Diane Peacock, chief gardening sub-editor, feels inspired after GH’s relaxing reader’s day at Keith Kirsten’s River Lodge Farm in Lanseria

Bucolic scenes and lush green trees are the things farms are made of. It’s the absence of traffic noise that really makes you realise the value of peaceful spaces, clean air and living in harmony with nature. Ways to garden sustainably was the subject of the talks given by horticulturalist Keith Kirsten and vegetable growing expert Jane Griffiths. Here are their tips on how to practise this in our own gardens.A wild area where flowering plants grow freely amongst the grasses and under the trees.

A sustainable garden is one that looks after itself. It’s in essence an organic garden and is about living in harmony with nature; preserving the environment in the most natural way. As we strolled through the farm, I noticed how the garden had matured over the last three years. Here are three sustainable ways Keith has used to develop his trial garden.

1. When landscaping his garden, Keith placed more emphasis on the plants than the design and advised us to let our gardens tell us how they want to grow, giving them a little free reign. If your garden is in a cold area, like this farm, take advantage of the many plant varieties like hellebores, lamb’s ears and viburnum that will thrive in such an environment rather than trying to grow plants that won’t and which require a lot of water and fertiliser.
Lamb’s ears and irises grow well in frosty areas.

2. Planting things in containers (above left) also reduces the amount of water and fertiliser required and you can make sure the quality of the soil is good.

3. Use gravel where grass won’t grow or as an alternative to paving (above right and below) as it allows rain water to soak easily into the ground. In courtyards and areas outside your windows, plant indigenous plant such as fragrant buddleja and trees with edible fruit like olives and lemons.

Jane Griffiths, author of two books on growing vegetables and herbs is a great believer in the no-dig gardening philosophy. She described how a garden will progress naturally as a healthy organic place if you don’t dig up the surface. She explained how it works:

1. Create beds narrow enough (so there’s no need to stand in them) with edges that contain the soil, then just add organic material to the surface like compost and leaf mould that breaks down naturally.

2. Using mulch limits the spread of weed growth, increases humidity and retains moisture reducing the amount of watering required.

3. “Balance is essential for an organic garden,” says Jane. Include edible flowers and herbs and don’t have everything flowering at once. For natural pest control, create a ‘food’ chain to attract bees, wasps and ladybirds and you won’t need to get rid of bugs like aphids. Good plants to include are borage (see above), rosemary, Queen Anne’s Lace, chives, cornflowers, nasturtiums, tansy, marigolds and lavender.

Both Keith and Jane agreed that the more diversity, the better.