Go wild and grow a garden

Groundbites is our bite-sized blog on making London greener, stronger and healthier. This article features our Corporate Partnerships Officer, Jack Narbed, who encourages us to ‘go wild and grow a garden’.

At Groundwork London, we work with nature to find solutions to social, environmental and economic challenges. As a Corporate Partnerships Officer, I help companies give back to their communities through corporate volunteering.

Gardening can be a form of local action that improves biodiversity, promotes wellbeing and brings communities together. On the UN’s World Wildlife Day 2020, I am sharing my tips for letting go and harnessing the power of gardening. So go on – go wild and grow a garden.

  1. Rotten but not forgotten

Organic matter is key to healthy soils, but we’re throwing it away.

Compost and mulch are expensive but can be necessary when conditioning soils, especially in London’s heavy clays. It is often accompanied with the habit of removing seasonal organic matter that accumulates in your gardens such as grass clippings, prunings, and fallen leaves and branches. This obsessive tidiness was inherited from the Victorians and it’s time we kick the habit.

Leave the autumn debris where it is. Fungi and bacteria will break it down to simple compounds allowing it to be processed by worms and other organisms.  Start a compost heap for your own sustainable source, but remember to turn it every few weeks. Keep a mixture of 25-50% ‘green’ material (clippings, kitchen peelings, annual weeds) and the rest should be ‘brown’ material (dead leaves, woody material, cardboard or newspaper).

  1. Bug hotels need not be 5-star

The success of on-trend ‘bug hotels’ is questionable, and in my experience vacancies can go unfilled.

Keep it simple: make a log pile. A mountain of branches and sticks with some rotting leaves will entice nature to do the work. This is a great habitat for garden residents: toads and frogs, solitary bees, beetles and even some larger visitors like hedgehogs!

As the pile ages, it will change and mature, becoming a home for different flora and fauna. Find out your

  1. There’s a whole world out there!

From bees with pollen trousers to networks of mycorrhizal fungi, nature is constantly churning water, nutrients, and mystery.

Fungicides and pesticides destroy nature’s magic. There are many natural alternatives for pest control that benefit the plants.  One practical option is companion planting. Companion planting uses flora species that attract beneficial insects and deters ones you’d rather not have in your garden.

  1. Annuals are so last year

Annuals have their place and can quickly brighten up a garden after a long winter but it can feel like you’re forever changing up the planting scheme.

Instead, populate your garden with hardy perennials. These will come back year on year and require little maintenance. Perennials support our precious pollinators and soon your garden will be teaming with life.

  1. Give it a go

The first thing you can do is get yourself out there.

Don’t worry about whether you’ve got the right kit or if you’ve read enough ‘how to’ blogs. A helpful place to start is by just observing. Take a passive role in your outdoor space and observe what is there already, where the sun hits the garden, and what animals and plants call your space home.

Some things won’t work and that can feel frustrating, but don’t let it knock you back. You’ll see your outdoor space change and grow as you do. Let it happen, and see where the journey takes you. You’ll be creating a haven for our precious wildlife, helping to support struggling species in an ever-changing environment.

Now go wild.

Photo credit: Crowe UK’s corporate volunteering day 2020 in a London community garden