Gardening should be easy, manageable, affordable and fun – and small changes can make a big impact, says Samara Bebb-Bassett
Google 'Ecosystem Services' and you'll find many websites that define it the same way: 'Ecosystem services are defined as the goods and services provided by ecosystems to humans.'
This includes direct and indirect contributions of different ecosystems to human well-being that impact our quality of life and our survival. It is not surprising then that without nature and the services they provide us, we would not be able to thrive and exist. We owe a lot to nature and it has become increasingly obvious over the years that we need to give something back.
In January 2021, I began a personal research project into studying how could help to change the way we think about our immediate environments – but also how it could be done in a manageable and affordable way.
As a world united by wanting to be more sensitive to the requirements of nature, while reducing our carbon footprint and reducing the impact of life on our pockets, we want to be able to do more – but are often restricted by budget and time.
Gardening and providing a space for nature should be available to all and there are many organisations, large and small, that are working to ensure that accessibility is at the forefront of their services and the advice they provide.
During 2021, I tested and studied the impact that different growing companions had on each other, while at the same time designed my space with areas that would accommodate nature in the hope of boosting produce yield and the biodiversity of the area.
Set within an old estate kitchen garden, untouched for over 50 years, the soil was rich and full of soil invertebrates that would be incredibly useful for the plan I had – creating a combined garden sensitive to our own growing needs, and improving the diversity of the space around us.
This became more important to me when a tenant farmer took over the remaining kitchen garden space and put tonnes of imported topsoil on top of the existing ground to create beds, digging up the remainder to create concrete pathways. Not only did the resident deer population disappear from the space but the ground has become suffocated, and insect populations declined.
This demonstrated a need for business, rather than being sensitive to the area and being respectful of what nature can provide to aid in our survival through food production. But with my developing garden seeing a boost in insect populations as well as soil invertebrates, bats, and bird species, I was confident that I could add balance back into the garden.
By setting native hedgerow whips, flowering herbs and wildflowers around the space and beds dug from the existing soil, the ground was exposed and aerated through now complex root systems that continued to welcome visitors.
The recycled plastic sandpit trays became two shallow ponds that, while stagnant in the first year, welcomed midge larvae which when emerging saw an increase in bat activity. The increase in insect populations welcomed a wider variety of birds to the space, and with this saw an increase in predatory birds including sparrowhawks, kites and buzzard – with a pair of kites taking residency in the nearby redwood trees.
All this activity helped our produce to grow and produce great yields that provided food for the table, for storage and for the local estate. I wanted the heart of this project to also be manageable, so the need for mowing was kept to the paths I needed for access, with the planted areas allowed to develop as they needed. Weeding was kept to a minimum – only taking out plants that were taking over, in order to reduce competition for those plants that needed it the most.
During 2022 I wanted to see what effect completely leaving the space alone would have. As the seeds started to set in 2021, I collected 10 percent of each plant's seed for storage – leaving the remainder to drop and scatter where they may.
As 2022 warmed and the growing season began, the garden sprang to life again, with beetles and birds enjoying the compost heap – now crawling with soil invertebrates, creating a rich soil that would be reused in coming years.
With rewilding being at the forefront, I wanted to see what leaving my garden to 'grow wild' would do to the now booming diversity of the space. So I left the garden to relax completely and rest, while just adding some oxygenating weeds and native pond snails to my ponds.
The ponds became a haven for life – with a variety of visiting species that included amphibians – and the water became clearer and more fertile, creating its own ecosystem. Insect populations continued to thrive as did the species of bird visitors.
As we enter 2023, my final degree modules end with two projects, so I am focussing one on how we can improve and manage soil fertility by supporting its ecosystem service more. How we can balance encouraging soil invertebrates' needs and plant growth to support better nutrient and water cycling for root strength, plant growth and improved produce yield – without having a detrimental effect on nature.
With the heart of the garden thriving and continuing to adapt and change, this project will take place in an area of the garden that was used as vegetable beds in 2021 and left for nature to take over in 2022.
Now completely covered with invasive creeping buttercup, it will be separated into small beds for the project to start, and the article will be made available on completion of the module.
Gardening should be easy, manageable, affordable and fun. And by improving our outdoor spaces – large or small – nature can thrive and support our needs for relaxation, health, and overall survival through being in harmony with the nature we need to survive.
Little Green Space April 2023
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