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GARDENING How green does your garden grow?

Outdoor Living

Margaret Sheehan’s bench, made by upcycling a child’s bed frame, rests on a pile of broken slates.
?Margaret Sheehan’s bench, made by upcycling a child’s bed frame, rests on a pile of broken slates.

How green does your garden grow?

Margaret Sheehan

There are many ways that we can be ‘green’ in the garden, and it’s not all about composting, or indeed about spending big money on bird, bee and bat boxes, although these may help. Something we can all do, even in the smallest garden, is to encourage greater biodiversity.

Winged things
At a recent training session where we learned how to identify species of bumblebees and butterflies, it was mentioned that we often grow buddleia to encourage butterflies to visit, but we rarely grow food sources for caterpillars, without whom we would have no adult flutterbys.
In fact caterpillars have suffered from bad press, and we tend to think of them as a negative especially those found on our cabbages. However, where possible we should set aside an area of the garden for nasturtiums, clover and even nettles, as they are a primary food source for butterflies to lay their eggs and can even act as a decoy, distracting them from those cabbages.  
Gardeners often grow flowers to encourage bees – purple and blue flowers as a general rule, but any open flowers, such as achillae, sedum, sunflowers or lavatera. Most herbs seem to go down very well with our busy little friends too. Here again, a wild area where dandelions and clover are allowed to grow, can help to increase numbers of bees.
And consider, when was the last time you heard a grasshopper? A common sound when we were children has all but disappeared with the coming of herbicides. An area of long grass and wild flowers can provide a safe haven for frogs and hedgehogs, as well as insects.
While I frequently complain about the birds stealing my berries, I wouldn’t be without our feathered friends, and apparently our native Elder is one of the best trees to grow for the birds. Elder is among the earliest native trees to come into leaf, providing shelter for the birds in spring, and berries in the autumn. If the birds don’t mind sharing, elderflowers are also a treat when made into cordial, or even champagne for the more decadent amongst us. The only downside to growing elder is the occasional pink splodge on a line of clean washing.
Ivy is another native that we don’t appreciate enough, but it provides late flowers for the bees, berries for birds in winter and all year round shelter for insects, and the bats and bird that feed on them.

Creative recycling
Being green isn’t all about biodiversity though, it’s also about reducing carbon usage and industrial processing. Anything we can produce ourselves will have no air miles or processing gone into it. For example, we could use our own leaf mould as mulch instead of buying in bark in a plastic bag, or source sticks from our own garden instead of buying imported bamboo to stake the tomatoes.
Try to ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ waste where possible. It doesn’t have to be as boring as it sounds though. Think of it as an opportunity to be creative. I, for one, am a devil for keeping ‘stuff’ just in case I need it – I don’t like to throw anything away, much to my husband’s annoyance. Instead of burning an old child’s bed frame, I recycled it into a small bench (see pic). And of course, old pallets can be made into garden furniture relatively easily (especially with the help of a short video clip on the internet).
And if it hasn’t cost you much, it’s not too precious to play around with. You might try wacky designs in garden furniture, or using leftover paint colours to brighten it up.  I used a pile of broken slates as a paving area for my bench to sit on, and reclaimed tiles from my bathroom renovation were used for decorative purposes to frame my up-cycled polystyrene statue. So being green isn’t all about serious issues, it can be an opportunity to release our creativity, and have a bit of fun. Go on, give it a go.

Margaret Sheehan is a member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Tacú Resource Centre, Ballinrobe. The club is on a break for the summer, but meetings will resume in September.

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