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Simon Smith Garden & Landscape Design

Easy being green? Start with what's in front of you...

19 January 2023

For the last year I've been deeply involved in a number of local design projects. I also interact with other garden design professionals, with whom ideas are shared and discussed. The topic of "being green" is often mooted and because it is embedded in my work ethos I felt you might be interested in this short article I wrote for The Garden Design Journal, published by the Society of Garden Designers in May 2021.

Looking Local

Clients sometimes engage me for my green credentials. I have worked in environmental management and natural history all my life. When appropriate I approach designing a garden as if it were a nature reserve and so I design biodiversity, structure and habitat connectivity into the local landscape.

Firstly I respect what is there. When starting a project I conduct a strategic environmental assessment. Amongst many other things, I look for species that could be conserved. That could be common but pleasing native plants such as celandines in a hedge. I try to keep them in the design. Trees are also important habitats. If I do need to remove a tree, can I use the stump as a feature? Can I use the logs to line a path or to stack and cover with spare turf to make beetle banks for invertebrates? Can the chippings from the branches be used? If not, the arboricultural contractor removes them to their yard for composting. They are then bought back as a soil conditioner or mulch during maintenance.

‘Localness’ is always a factor when deciding which plants to keep. Blending in plants that are not just native but are of local genetic origin is important. This helps to preserve genetic diversity, an important factor in combatting spread of disease. Does a native tree occur in the local environment? If it does, can it fit into the garden design?

Building local connections and collaborating with suppliers is important. Where possible I visit nurseries to check environmental policies; are they peat free? ‘Working local’ is good for social cohesion, which is a key test of sustainability. This is how I approach garden design and how I work with my clients.