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A quick urban organic wildlife garden design guide

An article on gardening? On an Architects website?

Not so odd as you might initially think. For starters we’re creatives; and so most of us at the practice are also into landscaping.

But also we’re lifestyle perfecters. We take your home and make it into the best possible place that it can be for you, depending on your budget. The importance of good wellbeing is forefront in today’s culture. That includes the outside of your home as well as the inside, and the two should be inherently linked to help you make the most of your space.

We’re finding that more and more clients are approaching us with briefs that include eco-credentials and to implement changes to their property with minimal impact on the environment, or indeed incorporate technologies that help to reduce the impact going forward.

Why not have your home designed so that the outdoor area can be as productive as possible in terms of providing an abundance of food for both your family and the wildlife that lives in it?

Organic gardening is not a new concept (the original cottage gardeners were the true experts of course!), but through increased public knowledge more and more people are reviewing their use of chemicals in their home, on their home, and in their garden, and are consequently starting to incorporate organic gardening methods into their lives.

So what is organic gardening? Its working with the natural balance of your garden’s ecosystem, helping it to be its best without the incorporation of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers. It allows your garden to be its absolute best in terms of health and supporting a mass of interlinked systems that hosts millions of complex symbiotic relationships.

Organic gardening helps to alter your entire perception of what a beautiful garden is. It gives you joy to know that your outdoor space is looking after itself to a certain extent.

Sounds wonderful. But how can this all be achieved in an urban setting? What should the garden include? Where on earth do you start?

In basic terms, stopping using chemicals and doing anything that you can to help support and encourage wildlife is a good start. In fact, if you just left your garden to re-wild itself, it would probably become more healthy than it has in a long time – it just might not look that pretty, and almost certainly would become overgrown and unusable (by you!).

As an example, we’ve chosen a pretty typical detached house in an urban setting with a medium sized garden.

The garden has a few mature shrubs and trees to the periphery, but typically the rest is grass.

So think about what you need; a seating area, a dining area, a composting area, a pond, a meadow, a bug hotel, some trees for coppicing? The list can become large quite quickly, so you may have to prioritise.

Subdivide your space into loose areas for each activity, and play around with the size and location of each of these spaces until you find a layout that works for you.

Next is to think about what areas of your garden get sunlight, and at what times of the day. This will inform where your seating and dining areas go (if you tend to use informal seating more in the evening, then choose a bit of the garden that gets evening sun). Obviously your dining area will have space for cooking close by. The size will be dictated by what components you want to include (if you’re just having a BBQ the area can be relatively small. If you want a pizza oven, an outdoor sink and a food prep area then it needs to be bigger). Have a look at incorporating reclaimed or recycled materials to reduce your impact on the planet further, and remember to go easy on wood stains in contact with the soil, as these can leach into it.

The remaining space that gets the most sunlight throughout the day should be the designated kitchen garden. The sunniest parts of this should be reserved for Mediterranean herbs.

The (hidden!) heart of all organic gardens should be the composting area. We have tucked this out of site on one of the boundary lines, but it should be easily accessible, and paths should be wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow for shifting all that lovely hummus rich homemade compost around the garden. The composting station should have 3 separate zones so that a production line can be introduced (as compost is turned it is placed into the next bay and so on). If you can locate it close to the kitchen garden this is ideal.

Almost the whole of the front garden is given over to the promotion of wildlife. A small pond will encourage frogs,

toads (which will help with pest control!) and a myriad of water dwelling insects. The grass is replaced with lower maintenance and much more diverse meadow mix, and an area for comfrey (for making the ultimate natural garden fertiliser). A quiet seating area allows this section of the garden to be enjoyed.

A privacy screen between the front and back space has been incorporated through the use of trees which can be coppiced. This will provide wood for a fire pit (coppiced trees grow on cycle of approximately 7 years, depending on the species, and actually stimulates the plant and lengthens its life expectancy). One tree would be coppiced per year in order to maintain privacy.

All that is left then is to connect your spaces. The use of a limited palette of materials will give a cohesive look to your outside area.


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