From returning a lost temperate rainforest to the North-West of England, to the rewilding of a secret garden, to practical yet inspiring tips and recommendations for every gardener, this article taps into the knowledge of professional landscaper, Jake Sutcliffe of Farm Lane Landscaping.
Jake – always curious about the nature and plants that surround us – has used his homegrown knowledge of gardening to nurture a successful landscaping business across greater London. Now, keen to bulk up his understanding of how soils, air, and climate interrelate with landscaping (and how they can be used to produce beautiful outdoor spaces that work for people and planet) he’s undertaking a design diploma at the London College of Garden Design.
If you’re eager to be inspired and learn how your garden or outdoor space can contribute to fighting climate change, this article is for you. Jake’s ethos urges experimentation, creativity and not being afraid to get it wrong. In his words…
“Failure is kind of what gardening is. Nature will always completely gob smack you so just try something and see what happens!”.
Jake, let’s start by hearing about a passion project. What’s getting you up in the morning?
On the southernmost tip of Cumbria, there’s a fell that was once part of a rainforest. Think massive ferns, beardy lichens, pine martens, and red squirrels – a luscious, species-rich habitat thick with life. This is a stark contrast to what you see there now; the barren landscape undulates as far as the eye can see.
Most people don’t realise, but Britain was once a rainforest nation. We’re at risk of losing this habitat completely, which would be devastating both from a historical and an ecological perspective.
So, inspired by Guy Shrubsole’s book ‘The Lost Rainforests of Britain’, I’m in the very early stages of restoring this fell to its former glory. Knowing that 30 years from now it could be a temperate rainforest and home to a whole new set of wildlife is definitely one of the things getting me up in the morning!
Can you tell me about a garden or outdoor space that inspires you, and why?
Knepp’s Walled Garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith and other experts. It’s really cool. It explores the concept of rewilding in a smaller space, allowing nature to do its thing by moving away from the traditional ‘flatness’ of most British gardens.
They’ve used natural materials like clay and sand to create peaks and troughs which support different habitats and therefore ecological variety. It’s a haven for biodiversity – apparently there are more than 800 different species of flowering plants alone. An insect’s paradise!
According to Knepp, rewilding your garden isn’t about ‘letting go’. It’s about thinking like a keystone species – a beaver or a wild boar, for example – and disturbing nature in a way that creates opportunities for the wildlife around you. What, in your opinion, does this mean in the UK? What does a climate-fighting garden look like on British soil?
Firstly, I think a garden is such a personal space. It needs to meet your needs as much as it meets nature’s, and luckily there are unlimited creative ways to do that.
When designing a garden, I try to use the 40/60 rule. That’s 40% of your garden for you (entertainment spaces, storage, food, etc.), and 60% for nature. Imagine the impact if everyone in the UK did that.
In terms of what I mean by ‘for nature’, I’d agree with Knepp in that it’s not about waking up one day and deciding not to touch your garden again. It’s about looking at what you have and working out how to manipulate it to support different habitats – from soils to plants, it’s all about variety! So yes, leave a patch messy/rewilded, but then also create space for a wet patch, a sandy patch, flower patches, etc. With warmer climes headed our way, you might want to mimic landscapes that are resilient to warmer weather.
Which brings me to water. I think we should all start thinking about how to store and use rainwater efficiently. If you have water running from your drain pipes straight down your drain, and you need to water your plants, you’re not doing it right. If you’re clever about it, you can create a garden that needs very little watering during periods of drought, and that can act as a flood barrier during the wetter months.
What are your top 5 tips for readers keen to create climate conscious gardens?
Relax your boundaries
If you have a fence, cut a hole in the gravel board at the bottom to create a tunnel between your garden and your neighbours. This allows animals to travel between the spaces, making it easier to find food, friends and somewhere to nest.
If you have the space, consider removing the (often expensive to maintain) fence altogether and planting a native hedge. They make lovely green boundaries and so much life can live in them.
Avoid digging healthy soil
Digging disturbs nature’s natural processes. If you have healthy soil – soil that has air and water and isn’t too compacted – leave it be.
Fish sculpture made out of plastic waste. Jake won an award at Hampton Court Garden Festival for it, and the garden design around it.
Leave things a bit messy
Many of us were raised to think that leaves in the garden equals mess. So what? Leave them to degrade into the soil. It saves you time and makes Mother Nature happy.
Don’t have a fear of failure – try things out. If they don’t work you’ll know for next time and if they do you’ve learnt something new. Honestly, this is what all gardeners are doing a lot of the time; I’ve planted something somewhere only to realise it’s not going to work there. So I just stripped it back and moved it. That’s actually a good tip – if you put the wrong plant in the wrong place, just cut it back to the ground to take stress off of it and try somewhere else!
Stand back and enjoy
If you’ve got your head buried in the soil all day, and you’re not taking a step back just to enjoy the space that you’ve created, is it really worth it?
Pour yourself a big drink and sit out in the garden at sunset. Watch the birds fly past; perhaps one eats a hoverfly as it goes. That’s an ecosystem that you’re supporting right there! Remember to enjoy the nature you’re creating.
Be Curious! Jake’s recommended reading list and inspiration corner
- Jo McKerr’s nature-led gardening blog is a great source of knowledge. She writes about how gardening is ‘a physical expression of our relationship with the land and its inhabitants’ and believes it’s at the ‘very heart of how we choose to respond to the environmental crisis.’ For those who like pictures more than words (myself included), her Instagram is excellent.
- Sid Hill Ecological Gardens is another landscaper working to ensure our outdoor spaces are adapting to the climate emergency. Their blog is somewhere to keep on top of the latest ecological design practices.
- To follow the adventures of a conscious, creative & inclusive gardening team, check out Gold and Wild. (Even if just to examine their website, which just makes you want to jump into the screen and roll around in nature!)
- Read some more Curious.Earth articles to deepen your knowledge of the topics I touched on. From more on rewilding, to ‘No Mow May‘, to extra green garden hacks, they’ve got everything you need to get out into your garden with confidence and start fighting climate change from there!