It probably comes as no surprise that despite the creation of habitat through planting, the materials you use in your garden can have a detrimental effect on the environment. Hard landscaping can notch up some seriously high carbon emissions, but luckily there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives available.

A sustainably designed garden can still have patios and paths, if they’re kept to a minimum and made from materials like recycled ceramic “gravel” or reclaimed stone slabs. The sustainable garden can have pergolas with untreated, locally FSC sourced wood and second-hand garden tables and benches, or handmade items in green oak. Don’t buy materials unless you have to, working with what you already have in the garden, is the first and best solution.

Using natural materials in your garden design can provide a whole host of benefits ranging from increased sustainability through to durability. I have chosen my top 7 reasons to embrace natural materials in your garden design project and expanded on them in more detail for you.

Natural materials in garden design
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#1 – Sustainability

Natural materials are often more sustainable and environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts, therefore they should have a lower environmental impact. Ideally they will be derived from renewable resources, and can often be biodegradable or recyclable.

Examples for using natural materials include, using locally sourced wood, stone and or plants this will reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation.

In the garden above, we did the following;

1 – We recycled the pavers and gravel to create a SUDs compliant patio.

2 – Found trunks from a local tree surgeon for the gabion walls and benches.

3 – Used locally sourced softwood for the pergolas

4 – Laid multi-species turf.

Read the full case study here.

Sustainable materials
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#2 – Biodegradable and Compostable

Many natural materials, such as wood, bamboo, and cotton are biodegradable or compostable, which means they can break down naturally over time and return to the earth without causing harm to the environment.

Synthetic materials, on the other hand, can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down and can release harmful chemicals during the process.

Composting natural materials like food scraps, garden waste, and fallen leaves can create nutrient-rich soil compost that improves soil quality and promotes healthy plant growth.

Bug Hotel

#3 – Wildlife Habitats

Create spaces where animals can live and thrive. By using natural resources such as soil, plants, rocks, logs, leaf litter and water you can create habitats for wildlife like insects, birds, and small mammals. Here are some ways to encourage wildlife habitats using natural materials:

Create natural shelters: Provide natural shelters like trees, shrubs, or piles of leaves, logs, or rocks. These can provide nesting sites and protection from predators for a variety of animals.

Plant native vegetation: Native plants provide food and shelter for wildlife. Plant a variety of native trees, shrubs, and flowers to provide food and habitat for insects, birds, and mammals.

Provide water: Create water sources like ponds, bird baths, or small streams. These can provide drinking water and a habitat for aquatic animals like fish, frogs, and insects. My cat loves this too, the more stagnant the better!

Avoid using pesticides: Pesticides can harm wildlife, so try to use natural pest control methods like planting companion plants or using natural predators like ladybugs and species targeted parasitic nematodes.

For further ideas check out this previous blog  

Durable materials
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#4 – Functionality

Natural materials can be used for various functions in a garden, such as providing structure, drainage, and support for plants. For example, an old stone wall can provide a retaining structure for a garden bed, while a wooden trellis can support climbing plants.

Natural materials like bamboo stakes, willow branches, and twine can also be used to create fences, trellises and supports for climbing plants.

Create alternative pathways and walkways in the garden using natural materials like gravel, stone, and wood chips.

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#5 – Aesthetics

There’s an additional benefit; natural materials can add a sense of beauty, texture, and character to a garden. For example, a reclaimed brick pathway, or an old terracotta planter can add warmth and charm to a garden design.

Use natural materials like driftwood, shells, and stones as decorative features in the garden to add visual interest and natural beauty to the space.

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#6 – Health

Natural materials can provide health benefits for both humans and plants too. Why not use organic soil and compost, it can promote healthy and improved plant growth. Investing in natural stone and wood in your garden can reduce indoor air pollution and create a calming atmosphere.

Include a water feature within your garden design. Natural materials like rocks, pebbles, and boulders, use what’s in your garden already. These can be used to create water features like streams, waterfalls, and ponds, which provide habitat for aquatic plants and wildlife. The sound of running water has a soothing effect on the mind and body, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

We created this waterfall and pond above for a client’s disabled son who was drawn to the sound and feel of water. Read the full case study here.

Sarah Prices, rammed earth walls at Chelsea Flower Show

#7 – Concrete Alternatives

The good news is the building industry is currently exploring greener alternatives to conventional cement-based concrete, made from waste materials or biodegradable fibres.

  • Ferrock is made from 90 percent waste materials, mostly iron dust, which reacts with carbon dioxide to create iron carbonate – therefore actively absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.
  • Timbercrete is a reduced-cement concrete, substituting up to 10 percent with sawmill waste to make a material that’s about 2½ times lighter than concrete. Available as blocks, bricks, and pavers.
  • Rammed earth is compacted subsoil or chalk packed between temporary panels. You can use it for steps, walls, and even molded furniture.

I hope you have found these tips useful and if you are looking for further advice on how to design a sustainable garden using natural materials get in touch to arrange a FREE consultation using the contact form.