The One Mistake To Avoid If You Want A Climate-Friendly Garden

A pro gardener called the common product "toxic" to your garden.
Mother and daughter watering plants in the vegetable garden on the family farm. Growing food for their own consumption.
Jordi Mora igual via Getty Images
Mother and daughter watering plants in the vegetable garden on the family farm. Growing food for their own consumption.

If you’re passionate enough about nature to want to grow your own garden, chances are you care about the environment as a whole. After all, home-grown veggies can be great for the environment and your dinner plate; pollinators thrive in well-populated gardens; and yes, of course your beloved backyard tree is doing the planet some good.

However, even though housebuilder Redrow reports 66% of UK homeowners looking to improve wildlife in their gardens, it turns out that “one in four (26%) say they haven’t seen a butterfly in their gardens in the last month.”

Sadly, it turns out that simply having a green space outside doesn’t automatically make your back yard more eco-friendly or hospitable to all-important pollinators and plants. In fact, a highly-manicured grass lawn – which Redrow says 53% of gardeners prefer – can be seriously damaging to the planet.

Gardening expert and writer Arthur Parkinson, who’s working with Redrow, shared that astroturf, or fake grass, can be especially warming for your garden. Here’s why – and what he recommends instead.

So, what’s the problem with artificial grass?

Well, there are a few issues.

Firstly, Parkinson says that “The fact is, with climate change, we need our gardens to be green.” This is because a wilder, more diverse garden attracts pollinators – in fact, they encourage biodiversity of all kinds – and also because naturally green gardens are great at absorbing heat.

“If you imagine every garden in a heat wave to be like a lovely sponge that can absorb all the heat, the only way gardens can do that is if they’re full of living green plants,” Parkinson says.

“If all our gardens are just literally green plastic carpets, they can’t do that,” he adds. “The heat just bounces off them. Whereas if you decide to have thick trees in your garden or anything that’s alive, almost acting like a lovely big umbrella, that will give you shade and allow you to have a much nicer time than if you’ve just got a hot plastic box full of manmade fibres.”

The Desert Research Institute found that the “maximum surface temperature of green artificial turfgrass was approximately 69 degrees Fahrenheit higher than that of irrigated natural grass, and 62 degrees higher than air temperature.”

No wonder Water Use It Wisely say that artificial grass contributes to the urban heat island effect, right?

OK, but – what can I do instead?

Look, we get it – artificial grass can seem really convenient, especially if you’ve got difficult soil or are new to gardening. But Parkinson says that getting a greener garden started can be surprisingly cheap and easy, no matter your garden’s apparent shortcomings.

He recommends looking up your soil’s type to see what will work best in your yard. “It’s just about researching what your soil is and also what light you’ve got. So if you’ve got a shady garden, the things that love sun won’t flourish there... This mantra of ‘right plant, right place’ is very apt,” Parkinson says.

Even if you’ve got a new build garden with very shallow soil, Parkinson says that you don’t need to reach for the fake foliage.

Wildflowers thrive on poor soil, not rich soil. So if you’re considering laying down wildflower seeds, actually, what is often the soil on a new-build plot is going to be perfect for a lot of wildflowers because they love poor soil,” he says.

Parkinson recommends planting flowers like chamomile and oxeye daisy on struggling soils, sharing that even sprinkling the contents of a chamomile teabag on bare patches of your lawn can bring beautiful blooms in a single summer season. However you choose to grow your garden, though, Parkinson is keen that you try to do so as naturally – and climate-consciously – as possible.

“I think at the moment, gardening is completely being pitted against tradition and also the way it needs to go into, which is wilding, really,” he says. “We are in a biodiversity crisis, but our gardens are being filled with more plastic than ever before.”

“We’ve got astro turf, we’ve got plastic box pools that are being sold, and a whole barrage of chemicals which really are making gardens toxic places if they’re being used,” Parkinson says.

So, here’s to less mowing, more sowing, and way, way less plastic grass, ta very much.