The Garden Landscape. An ignored but vital landscape in combating climate change.

The garden landscape is often ignored, whilst included in urban and peri urban landscapes, it is not subject to commentary and therefore proposals and has been largely left to fend for itself. One can assume the custodians of this landscape, the garden owners and the practitioners, are trusted as in the vast majority they should be. But the exclusion of targeted guidance as well as the garden being exempt to most protective and conservation based policies is wrong because the garden landscape in the UK is community based, it forms the backdrop landscape for the majority of the population as well as being the buffer against serious environmental problems, such as flooding. One ‘rotten apple’ can spoil the crop, ask any homeowner in any random suburban street and they can show you an example of this. Why are gardens exempted from felling licence requirements? Why is there no protection for hedgerows contained within a garden? Increased development means an increase in the garden landscape, a landscape removed from virtually all conservation / heritage based legislation.

Either by chance or deliberately the horticultural sector has remained isolated and exclusive. Regulated by fashion and media and subject to ‘experimental’ commercialism due to the significance of the money spent on it, the garden landscape is now in the grip of powers which manipulates its custodians into unwitting bad practice.

Climate change mitigation including carbon sequestration in gardens is a topic which lacks any guidelines or even reference. Regarded by many to be such a tiny drop in the ocean in tackling climate change it is simply insignificant to act on. Yet we have seen the targeting of individuals for trading carbon by way of tree planting by businesses and NGOs, the expected land used for such purposes is actually tiny in comparison to the size of the garden landscape. A cynical viewpoint may well concede that if there can be no money squeezed out, it should be belittled.

There is also the argument that good gardening practice and landscaping is by default ‘sustainable’ and cannot be improved upon, but the vast majority of the garden landscape remains as poorly maintained lawns and huge amounts are being cemented over. But CO₂ sequestration in the garden landscape can add significantly to regional and national ambitions and personalised sequestration should never be discouraged.

It is the landscaping industry (including garden designers, suppliers, landscapers through to the amateur gardeners) who have an integral role at the forefront of climate change mitigation in the wider urban and suburban landscape.

It is true that in the ‘grand scheme’ of things, the garden landscape can do little to help in the global sense, but there is little forthcoming from those with the power to influence the private garden owner, particularly the gardening media, with regards the myriad of other threats that accompany climate change. Thus preparedness of garden landscape communities to cope with these threats, particularly diseases, pests and non native invasive weeds, is virtually non existent. And there is certainly no arm of assistance proffered by governmental agencies, who are having to concentrate solely on the threats to the rural landscape and as with local authorities have little funds to assist beyond issuing statutory notices.

The garden is the interface between climate change threats and the rural landscape.

There is a huge amount of land that can be classed as ‘garden landscape’ in the UK and garden landscapes are increasing rapidly in Europe. And the garden landscape is hugely diverse, historic practice has created conditions which can alter dramatically each side of a garden boundary. There is no one size fits all model to adhere to, it is a case of trusting the landscaping practitioner and the owner to invent from scratch a bespoke garden which will achieve the ambitions of personalised sequestration, increased biodiversity and sustainability.

The ‘rogue trader’ together with a lack of enforcement by local authorities in terms of ensuring regulatory obeisance, as with regards SUDS, has damaged the established landscape industry, an industry which has to follow all the rules, the whims of clients influenced by a poor media and whose successes are often stolen by others.

Soil Management:

Soil is the second largest store of CO₂ after the oceans. Soil is also vastly under researched yet is the principle key to realising true sustainability. Soil Sealing is a vastly underrated and virtually unknown problem. The dam which prevents all the worse environmental, social and economic hazards caused by soil sealing (worsened further by a changing climate) are gardens.

The present situation does little to prevent further abuse by way of soil sealing, the draft NPPF does not refer to an absolute need that all future development requires permeable surfacing and / or a need for developers to mitigate soil sealing, indeed It does not even mention soil.

Should the draft NPPF that is out for consultation in the UK be adopted, the importance of private gardens in mitigating both climate change and sustainability is assured. An enforced trade off, negating the need to utilise public estate land because there is not enough at present and likely to be even less green space to allow for any climate change mitigation measures.

Many possible solutions that are in the process of being researched abroad are often laid out in front of the temperate garden owner, packaged and with accompanying sales patter they appear convincing, but which are simply not fit for purpose in the majority of gardens, if not all. Those who want and feel they are helping could actually be doing the opposite and seriously damaging soils irreversibly. Biochar is a classic example of this and we need more caution as well with the use of mychorrizal products, which in my opinion should only be available for use by qualified practitioners. The enormous power of the large horticultural and agricultural corporations, like Monsanto, means they can sell products which have not yet been fully researched direct to non professionals, and thus as in the case of ‘Round Up’, the research eventually returns a discovery that the damage it causes to soil is severe and possibly increases the threat from soil borne diseases also.

In a commercial world the impatience to earn leads to irreversible damage.

Even the traditional ‘gardeners best friend’ or ‘sustainable landscaping champion’ the compost heap has problems attached. A period of believing the compost heap can easily ‘break down’ or recycle much more than standard garden waste has resulted in pockets of soil with acute nitrate problems in the urban environment where accelerated run off has caused damage beyond the boundaries of a garden and into the wider community, even entering natural water courses.

The installation of traditional and historic land management techniques, highly honed over hundreds of years are forsaken in the rush to investigate and sell new ideas. The landscape practitioner is left to implement measures without any assistance from his or her own industry hierarchy who are seemingly too busy preparing for celebrity day at next years Chelsea show.

Ensuring soil has a ready supply of organic material for digestion by the vast quantity of micro organisms found in soil is all that is needed to ensure carbon storage. But it is much more complicated than that, there is some organic material which harbours pests and should be destroyed by other means.

Permeable hard landscaping and decking ensures the surface area of soil is undiminished. But how should that surface be left? Are all landscaping fabrics suitable? Does the consolidated surface post construction simply cause the same problems as an impermeable surface?

Leaving garden waste in situ, by way of habitat piling or mulch mowers utilises the beneficial organisms in soil and maintains a healthier soil. It can be done attractively and also help in educating younger generations to the attributes of the garden in sustainability. But again it can harbour unwanted pests.

Landscapers have often been blamed for the demise of particular species, which had become naturalised over hundreds of years in the garden landscape due to a ready supply of prey feasting on vegetables and fruit and when trends turned, on the array of ornamental plants available. It is not the landscapers fault, it is the fault of commercial pressure to use products which had not been fully tested and which were a fantastic sideline for large agricultural corporations.

The demise of the slug eating hedgehog in the UK should have awoken people to the problems associated with slug pellets and other products. But slug pellets remain a popular and essential product, usually next door to the bird feeding products in garden centres.

Why have the powerful RHS and the BBC gardening department ignored this for so long! It is nothing short of a disgrace and shows clearly that in the desire to promote anything new they risk being responsible for destroying the most essential component of any garden; soil.


There are huge sales of trees to the private sector annually, in the hundreds of thousands. How many of these trees will succeed to a point where their usefulness is realised? This depends on so many variables many of which are ignored in the wider landscape unless the advice of a practitioner is forthcoming, a rarity in the UK where many people have bought homes with gardens or land which they simply cannot afford to manage properly. It is pointless to watch a television programme or read a blog extolling the virtues and values of planting a tree and believe it to be as simple as suggested and sometimes the resulting damage to a landscape by those who are custodians of it is often shocking.

Of the the 8 values of a tree, (Holistic, Environmental, Ecological, Landscape or Amenity, Timber, Nursery, Sustainable and Production) not all are attributable to a single or even a group of trees. In terms of the establishment of trees it is necessary to study at great length the pre existing conditions. These conditions alter dramatically and it is only the tree and landscape professionals who have the tools to be able to match the desired values against the prevailing conditions.

Planting a mix of trees matched to the species varieties found in ancient woodland on a post industrial site will not work, but is increasingly tried. Perversely there are areas of ancient woodland destroyed irreversibly by planting plants which should never have been introduced; Rhododendrons and other ericaceous plants are advertised and sold as suitable for a ‘forest garden’.

In mitigating climate change and allowing for personalised CO₂ sequestration the planting choice must be considered solely for this purpose, until the tree effectively reaches semi maturity it cannot be considered to be beneficial for any other purpose.

But ornamental planting, planting a tree solely to improve a landscape, has been the largest factor for tree planting in urban and peri urban landscapes for several hundred years. The range of trees and their present conditions allow for easy research into the use of certain trees for climate change mitigation. Those that are failing to cope with climatic changes or become prey to an increasing array of diseases and pests must be replaced by trees that don’t. It is sad that we will see trees that have become an iconic emblem of the wider landscape disappear, but it is inevitable. Replant using case study from the garden landscape and move on or face the fact that future generations will be sorely disappointed that we were so blinkered in preserving smaller elements of protected rural landscapes that we ended up destroying the whole landscape.

The fragmentation caused by infrastructure can be used to maximum effect, a real mosaic of opportunity in experimental planting and using it to further research rather than habitually treading water with regards research on protected countryside niches.

Priority financing for research in tree planting in the urban environment and the garden landscapes contained within it, will surely make future rural policy decisions based on the needs to mitigate threats from climate change much easier to implement as well bring policy with regards the landscape as a whole closer to the core of the UK population .

We stand at a cross roads, somewhat enforced by radical policy decisions via central government, but we must use this opportunity to transcend boundaries of entrenched opinions. The practitioners in landscaping and arboriculture who operate within the garden landscape have gained knowledge which needs to be tapped. They will know what trees work where.



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

4 responses to “The Garden Landscape. An ignored but vital landscape in combating climate change.

  1. The English treat their gardens like their cars. Once in them they are in a bubble, secluded from the rest of ‘civilisation’. The causes of road rage, to extend my simile, are very often judged to be a perceived intrusion into the immediate space in front and back of a driver’s car (“He was driving so close, I thought he was going to get in for a chat!”). Like road rage, invade the gardner’s personal patch and there will be trouble. However much it is an inevitability, to do so with a raft of rules and regulations concerning even as much as their privet hedge, let alone a much loved tree, the soil, or their compost heap and you have a war on your hands.

    I touched upon this very briefly some time back. Here in the New Forest, Hampshire, the local Wildlife Trust and the National Park Authority launched a consciousness-raising campaign at the beginning of the garden hedge growth season, reminding gardeners that all birds, their nests and eggs, are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (including active nests in the ubiquitous privet hedge). Could gardeners be persuaded to down tools? Put away their hedge trimmer? Set aside their shears? No way. Even with extant legislation that’s been around for over 25 years, there is still widespread disregard for the responsibilities that befall the average English gardener.

    Meanwhile, drive around the urban streets of Britain and you will see well-established specimens of many trees species, native and otherwise, that are chosen for quick growth, ample shade and most of all, the desire for privacy. Eucalyptus springs to mind in terms of the shade it offers (and removing a large specimen is a four day job costing up to £1500 GBP for the services a jobbing tree surgeon – an expert quite a bit more). I’d be interested in information on the status of that species with regard to the subject of this post because it has, over the past 25 years or so become something of a poor-man’s ornamental from what I can see. Tell somebody with a mature Eucalyptus in their back garden that it was a fool-hardy planting and you would have a fairly swift response. Garden rage/Neighbour rage is second only to Road Rage in the middle class crime stakes as far as I can see.

    Enough – You are well researched, and I am not, but if no amount of robust legislation can stop somebody trimming their hedge, of dumping Roundup or SBK on their soil, I think most of what you speak of here will be seen (in time-honoured English gardener fashion) as interference where it’s not wanted.

    I agree with almost everything you say (and feel much enlightened by the information I’ve found here) but it will be a braver man that I who ever tries to coax the urban gardener into rethinking their complex plot of land they often refer to as their ‘oasis of calm’. The suburban garden was pretty much invented as a form of social engineering; something to aspire to having to establish one’s place in the social hierarchy of the inter-war british class system. Usually, where legislative change and an established aspirational culture collide, battle lines get drawn.

    [As a post script, I have three trees in close proximity in my own garden. An Acer, a Beech, and a Silver Birch all around 20 years old. One has to go and I cannot help myself but ask, in light of your comment concerning personalised co2 sequestration, and a host of other concerns listed above… which is for the chop?]

  2. Great response Ian, thanks and allows me to explain why I wrote this. I am habitually upset by the plethora of so called expert gardeners blogs, often by really quite influential people who suggest things which are at best simply daft but often very damaging, (For example just this year there was a blog on the BBC Gardeners World site, describing the benefits of choosing to plant up your front garden rather than use it for parking – all very nice, but missed the point that it is illegal to pave over your front garden! – this dumbing down enters the head of the populace as well as the enforcers – The other one was during last Xmas when bloggers were merrily writing how you can ‘grow your own mistletoe’!!!). I have a real admiration for those thousands of sole trader landscaping practitioners whose knowledge and experience is awesome. They are as disenfranchised by gardening media as foresters have been by NGOs. Together with the insular organisations that have established a hierarchy in the horticultural industry which extracts this knowledge edits it to suit their own aims and those of their sponsors and then places back in front of the clients, with glossy adverts of tools which any professional has to spend a fortune training to be certified to use. As I am sure like many other professionals these guys and girls have to face clients who habitually question their skills and often withhold payments as well, because their more precise, accurate and localised knowledge does not go along with what Alan Titchmarsh said the night before. Yet without recognising their skills and knowledge the garden landscape is at risk of becoming stagnant or worse. The landscape juice network, , is probably the single greatest thing to happen to the industry for many many years and has started to empower the practitioner, slowly but surely. The owner Philip Voice has questioned many of those holding a command over the industry and forced them to change their ways. Together with many issues coming to light with regards the horticultural industry being responsible for the introduction of invasive plants, pests and diseases as well as still condoning the use of chemical products that are banned in many other countries, there is a likely to be a severe backlash against the landscaping and horticultural industry headed by conservationists, foresters and other land management professionals in the wider landscape. It will not be the practitioners fault but they will get the blame despite the fact that it is they that have in the majority helped to alleviate the problems caused. They should also be empowered further as they could genuinely help with the battle against serious threats to plants and trees in the UK – but I fear yet again this cheap and effective solution will be overlooked in favour of putting more pressure on some under resourced quango to deal with.

    As for your three trees, do any of them need to come down? depending on which Acer you have, these trees should comfortably live in close proximity to one another. Better still take a photo, join the above landscape juice network and ask the practitioners themselves for free.

  3. Pingback: The Garden Landscape. An ignored but vital landscape in combating ... | SandalFarm Forest & Water |

  4. Hopefully the integration of more specific supplementary planning guidance (relating to the retention of a suitable level of soft landscaping) will assist at the planning stages here, however, the long term promotion of suitably integrated landscaping is more difficult to ensure – more of a mindset change for many.!

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