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The garden

as an ecosystem

Samara Bebb-Bassett explains the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals – and aims to bring combined ecosystems into the wider community

My venture into self-sufficiency and habitat creation was spurred on by my passion for the outdoors and my studies with the Open University as an Environmental Science student.


As someone who spends much of her time outdoors and as an avid supporter of knowing where our food comes from and ensuring that it is as local as possible, I wanted to explore the complexities of combining companion planting with habitat creation on a smaller scale – our gardens.


Sustainability, companion planting, and habitat creation are not unfamiliar terms. Often linked to individuals or companies that focus on specific areas that are as important as each other, they are linked in a complex web of interactions that can be done on a much smaller scale – and are easy to apply into our day-to-day lives.


My plan was to develop a combined ecosystem and study the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals – and to encourage more biodiversity into our garden as well as food on our plates, while connecting it to the wider ecosystem of an estate's old kitchen garden that sits behind us.

We live in a tied cottage on a 350-acre estate where my husband helps manage the biomass, arable and ancient woodlands it contains. He works to ensure that there is fluidity between each part of the estate, which provides a habitat for several species of deer, pollinators and insects, and an abundance of birds – including several species of birds of prey.


In January 2021, I was allowed to take over a small section of the old kitchen garden – and in a 12m x 8m section of land I designed a network of beds that would include fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers to encourage a wide range of life back into the garden.


The boundary has been planted with native UK hedgerow species that will be a varied space for mammals and birds to nest and feed.

Companion planting – the use of planting certain plants together that provide a benefit to each other – was intertwined with herbs to deter weeds, and with wildflowers that would encourage pollinators and insects into the garden and aid a stronger crop of produce throughout the year.


Using companion planting also meant that different plants were grown together that complement each other with the same or non-conflicting growing conditions – but that would have mutualistic benefits in that neither plant will compete for growth, but will help each other in varying ways.


I also wanted to ensure that the preserved, nutrient-rich soil was kept balanced by planting plants that required different sources of nutrients that would also reduce competition between them but keep the quality of the soil intact.

Carrots planted with climbers also meant that they would break up the soil as they grow – providing a much better flow of water and nutrients to the climbing plants.


There is of course an element of trial and error with creating a combined garden space. The only way of testing if companion planting and habitat creation works would be to have some areas that were planted as test beds – and these were beds where similar crops grew side by side, or where crops were planted alone.


As the first half of the year drew to a close, the test beds were still slow to develop, and the potatoes planted without mint near them had developed blight – the whole crop was sadly lost.


However, in the combined areas, pollinators and insects were more prolific by the week. These areas saw an abundance of produce, as well as stunning blooms that seemed to survive a turbulent start to the year weather-wise.


This combined planting has helped to encourage and improve a mutual and independent complex biodiversity – including a host of wildlife including birds, bats, insects, pollinators, and has served well to deter pests and disease.

The plants have also played a role in keeping the integrity of the soil fertility by improving nutrient supply, availability, and uptake. Tall plants have provided ample shade for plants that prefer partial shade, and ensured that climbing plants do not compete for the sun. The taller plants have also provided support for other climbers that do well in partial shade.


Looking to the future

Planning has already started for autumn and spring crops, but I have embarked on a mission to bring combined ecosystems into the wider community by starting a fundraiser that will mean that I can help families and local communities to design and develop spaces, no matter the size of their gardens.


My approach encourages the development of more diverse ecosystems into built-up areas, which I hope will work towards improving climate change and reducing carbon footprints.

This project will also bring healthy, organic and sustainable living into people's lives through growing our own produce and looking closer at the beauty and inner workings of nature on a small scale.


We all know that nature is healing in more ways than one – from our mental and physical health to improving the environment itself – but it doesn't need to be done on large scales, and it doesn't need a mass of funding to start.


As William Shakespeare once said “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” – so let's start within our own spaces and make a difference one garden at a time.

Little Green Space August 2021

This is my mission – and by providing the design and creation starting points for people and communities, I aim to be able to pass on my knowledge and understand how these combined garden habitats can develop on an everlasting timescale.


To find out more about me and what I am up to – or to get in touch and discuss any projects that I can assist with – please visit my website.


To donate to my fundraising and enable me to reach my target of starting six-eight projects for people over the next 12 months, please visit https://gofund.me/ef3169b7.