Is RHS Chelsea Flower Show more eco-friendly than your Garden?

giant scabious, spider, Cephalaria gigantea, cottage garden, architectural plant, herbaceous perennial

Answer: in all honesty, RHS Chelsea Flower Show is probably not more eco-friendly than your own garden. But why not?

Think of all those mature trees transported in from the continent; all that hard landscaping; all those thirsty plants that need gallons of water as they’ve just been transplanted (if you remember, last year we had the added problem of being in a drought situation); all the lawns that will need re-turfing after the show.

But maybe you don’t think your own garden is very eco-friendly either? You could be surprised, read through ‘The Ten Commandments of Eco-friendly Gardening’ and then you can decide for yourself.

One: Water conservation

Parts of the UK have less rain than southern Spain; difficult to believe sometimes, but true. So a water butt is an essential part of your eco-friendly garden. You could also use the grey water from washing up bowls, showers and baths on ornamental plants. Water generously but less often to encourage deep rooting rather than shallow surface roots. Watering in the evening or early morning minimises evaporation, and direct the water at the soil not the plant. You could read one of our hosepipe ban blogs from last year for more ideas.


Two: Right plant; right place

This is partly about planting acid loving plants in acidic soil, but also about choosing drought tolerant plants for hot, sunny borders; and shade lovers for under trees. Most plants, once established, will manage with very little attention if they’re in the right location or habitat – easy maintenance gardening! Right plant; right place is one of the starting points when we’re designing a planting scheme for a client, for it to work we need to know our plants and our soils.

Three: Use alternatives to peat

Peat bogs are important ecosystems that took thousands of years to establish; when they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There won’t be peat used at Chelsea Flower Show as the RHS has been among those gardening organisations that now use alternatives. There are some good quality alternatives available, including those based on bark and sheep’s wool.

compost bin

Four: Composting

Definitely a holy grail of ecofriendly gardening; this is now actively supported by many local authorities, who collect your food and garden waste if you don’t want to or don’t have the space to. I would encourage everyone who can to compost; there are different methods so there should be one to suit you, your family and your garden. We’ve talked about different composting systems in other blogs and in the eBooks, if you’d like to know more.

Five: Re-use non-biodegradable products

This includes plastic plant pots, plastic bottles and plastic trays which can be used many times before being recycled. It also means, for example, using rubber car tyres as a soft surface under children’s play equipment.

Six: Exclude or at least minimise the use of unfriendly chemicals

Is it acceptable in an otherwise organic and ecofriendly garden to use a glyphosate based weed killer to clear the weeds initially? I would say not, but I can understand why people prefer this as a quicker method.

crazy paving path

Seven: Hard landscaping should be minimised

Or to be more precise non-permeable hard landscaping such as pavers set in concrete should be minimised. Purists may be against even decking, but so long as there is plenty of planting as well, there’s nothing wrong and much that is practical and right with permeable hard landscaping. You could use re-cycled pavers for example, rather than letting them go to landfill.

Eight: Lighting is evil

Light pollution confuses bats and birds, and can be irritating for your neighbours if it’s overdone. But we need some outdoor lighting, whether for security, for street lighting or because we’d like to enjoy our garden when we come home from work. See if solar lighting would be suitable to reduce electricity usage; and ask your garden designer and electrician to plan the lighting so that every day (or night!) lights are kept to the essentials only; but with plenty of scope for party fun

bug hotel

Nine: Messy bits

Also known as wildlife areas, bug hotels, nettle beds and log piles. These provide habitats for all those essential beasties that eat many of the garden pests. Some endangered species such as stag beetles need those log piles in domestic gardens in order to survive at all. Wildlife areas don’t need to be large so most gardens can find a small corner for a messy bit. You could for example, leave a pile of leaves at the back of a border behind the shrubs; perfect for a hedgehog to hibernate in.

raised vegetable beds, two gravel boards high

Ten: Grow your own and buy local

Growing some of your own food, whether this is a few salad leaves in a shallow tray, some herbs on the windowsill, an espalier apple tree along the fence or a fully fledged ornamental kitchen garden is very satisfying. Plews offers lessons in your own garden which can help a novice gardener learn the right way to hold a spade and to transplant seedlings, and there are plenty of evening courses at colleges around the country too.
With ‘buy local’ I’m thinking not so much about the salads as about the trees and other imported plants. We have many excellent nurseries in this country capable of growing most of the ornamental plants we want for our gardens, but sometimes we need to bring in trees or shrubs from elsewhere. If all plants coming into the country were properly quarantined we would not be in the situation that we are in where many of our native species – Ash, Oak, Horse Chestnut for example – are under major threat and may disappear like the English Elm did as a result of the 1980s Dutch Elm disease.

A cautionary note to finish on perhaps, but there is a positive, as if you were to start following one or two of ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ you would be making a difference. After all, even oak trees start as acorns…

If you’d like an ecofriendly garden designed, gardening lessons or gardening advice on any of the topics covered, please get in touch



More Chelsea Flower Show Gardening Blogs you may enjoy

Garden Design ideas from the Chelsea Flower Show
RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013 – 100 Years
Chelsea Flower Show 2015 – the Plews View
Show Chelsea a Flower
Garden Gnomes and Chelsea Flower Show


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garden designer, gardening writer, gardening teacher, garden advisor

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