Every day seems to bring a new warning about how we humans are damaging our beautiful planet through interference with its fragile ecosystem.
As gardeners we cannot but be aware of that the human race is heating up our planet, causing ice caps to melt and seas to rise.
However, gardeners can also make small decisions which will help alleviate some of the damage. We can take steps to encourage wildlife and change our gardening philosophy in ways which will reduce our use of chemicals and precious natural resources.
Over thousands of years we've developed a desire to tame nature, to grow perfect plants, while valuing precision and a neat and tidy aesthetic. So, how can we begin to redress that subtle balance of nature?
Our gardens collectively are the biggest nature reserves in the country, covering a bigger land mass than all our nature reserves put together. Over the last 30 years there has been a sharp decline in native species of wildlife and flora. In our quest for low-maintenance Edens, we have decked over lawns, cut down trees and removed herbaceous borders, and in doing so have made our gardens less attractive to wildlife.
It's time to introduce some wildlife-friendly practices into our gardens. By working in harmony with nature, we can have our plots buzzing with bees, butterflies and birds. By encouraging these natural predators, we can cut down the need for pesticides and insecticides, saving time and money in the garden.
Gardening with nature is our best option. If we want to clear an area of ground, for example, could we go back to digging or covering with blackout material such as an old carpet for a while? We may have to reconsider planting some age-old garden favourites, if we know we may need to resort to chemicals to keep them healthy.
Here are some ways to go greener this year.
Recycle a kitchen spray and get mixing. For example, a spray of one part cow's milk to two parts water can be effective against blackspot, which can plague roses in warm, wet conditions.
Chamomile tea makes a safe fungicide and can be used to prevent damping-off disease of seedlings. Sprinkle cinnamon powder around seedlings. Baking soda mixed with vegetable oil, and water can be used on leaf blight, powdery mildew and as a general fungicide. Similarly, an infusion of chopped garlic, veg oil and water can be a good insecticide. Methylated spirits can be used to remove woolly aphids from the trunks of fruit trees.
Simply picking off aphids as they appear and crushing them or hosing down affected plants will reduce the need to spray.
Natural predators such as the ladybird will hoover up aphids. They like herbs such as mint, chives, coriander, fennel and dill, and flat-topped flowers such as yarrow. Include calendula, statice, alyssum and cosmos in your flower beds. Ladybirds need places to hibernate in winter. You can create your own ladybird house by using a simple wooden box and adding bits of bark and leaf litter. Alternatively, you can make a log pile in an out-of-the-way area.
Keep weeds under control by hoeing annual weeds and digging up perennials. A good, thick mulch - several inches, ideally - will also suppress weed growth as well as retaining moisture in the soil. Plant ground covers such as pachysandra, ajuga or alchemilla in larger areas. Use boiling water on weeds in gravelled or paved areas, or a flame gun.
Adopt a more relaxed approach to what you might otherwise think of as weeds. For example, nettles are a wonderful breeding ground for the larvae of butterflies, as are thistles, docks, sorrel weed and meadow grasses. So why not consider leaving a little patch of your garden uncultivated, which the weeds will colonise quickly.
Good cultivation habits such as crop rotation, companion planting, choosing the right species that will thrive in your particular microclimate, growing disease-resistant cultivars, best-practice hygiene (cleaning tools, etc.) and maintaining plant health with correct planting, nutrition and watering will all reduce the requirement for chemical intervention.
Nematodes are tiny parasitic creatures which burrow into other slightly bigger creatures, such as vine weevil and slugs, and release harmful bacteria and destroy them within a day or so. August and September are ideal months for application. Buy in powder form, dissolve in water and then spray affected areas.
Slugs and snails are the bane of every gardener's life but use up your leftover coffee beans and crushed eggshells to create rough barriers around precious plants. Copper bands are also effective around pots, giving snails a mild electric shock if they try to cross.