Are you trying to make more eco-friendly choices in the garden? From pollinator-friendly plants and pollution busting foliage to drought-tolerant plants you can grow in the UK, here are the best garden plants for the environment.
Our gardens aren't just post-workday refuges; they can also be magnets for biodiversity and can even help ease your carbon conscience - if you get the planting right. It's true, not everything in the garden centre will help you smash those green goals. But there are ways you can ensure World Wildlife Day is every day. When looking for the best eco-friendly plants, you'll want to select drought-tolerant plants, as well as hardy varieties better able to resist flooding, frost or soaring temperatures - depending on your location.
If you live in a city, you might be wondering what difference you can make. But you don't need acres of land to have a positive impact on our planet. Recent research published in the Journal of Ecology found that urban areas are "hotspots of nectar diversity", with city gardens accounting for around 85% of all nectar sources in the places surveyed. Therefore, it's clear that what we do in the garden could be a matter of life and death for our pollinators.
Fortunately, gardening for the environment doesn't mean you have to forgo beauty or functionality. Here are our top plants that can help level up your garden's eco-credentials.
Choose pollinator friendly plants
Traditionally gardeners have relied on the 'perfect for pollinators' logo, but research carried out by Professor Dave Goulson at Sussex University found that even these were laced with "a cocktail of pesticides".
Instead, look to new labels such as The Saving Pollinators logo scheme launched in Wales to signpost plants that have been grown without toxic pesticides or peat. In addition, buy from organic suppliers or grow your own and plant swap with friends to maintain control of the growing conditions.
Attract pollinators to your garden and keep them coming back by providing year-round nectar. For example grow winter flowering Hellebores, Ivy and Asters for autumn, Wallflowers and Grape Hyacinth for spring and sweet-smelling Honeysuckle for summer. Start by selecting a few plants from each collection below:
We'd also suggest including some native plants for pollinators, such as the pretty ground cover Ajuga reptans and the pollen-rich Viper's Bugloss. Generally, the best flowering plants for insects are those in blue and purple hues (avoid red) and opt for single petal annuals instead of double flower varieties (these are generally showy ornamentals that have denser, difficult to access flower heads).
- Read this before you rip out any weeds:
- Create a buzz in your garden with our favourite bee-friendly plants:
- Get in touch with your wild side here:
Choose pollution tolerant plants
According to Public Health England, air pollution is the greatest risk to people living in the UK. But recent studies have shown we can clean up our air using the power of plants. Out of all plant types, studies have shown that plants with textured foliage trap pollutants best. Try to include a few of the following pollution busters in your scheme:
Plants with hairy leaves:
Research conducted by Citizen Sense at Goldsmiths University found that hairy leaves can reduce pollution particles by up to 60% and reduce nitrogen dioxide by 40%. Additionally, their plant pollution tool kit (PDF) suggests using plants that absorb toxins through the soil such as Euphorbia and Aster.
- Plants with waxy leaves
- Plants with scaly leaves
- Plants with rough leaves
Swap hard landscaping for 'green scaping
When it comes to environmental benefits, the more plants, the merrier; they absorb carbon, produce oxygen, improve soil stability and provide vital habitat for wildlife. Here's how to maximise your garden space for plants
Plant a hedge in place of a fence
Not only does hedge provide habitat for birds, but they're capable of sending pollution particles reeling upwards. According to a 2019 study, roadside hedges slashed black carbon by more than half (63%).
- Banish bare brickwork with climbers and green walls
Go mad for a green roof
Green up dull, functional outside structures (think sheds, bike storage, bin covers) with shallow-rooting grasses, creeping plants or sedum matting. They'll not only look gorgeous but improve air quality, help regulate temperature and absorb rainfall.
- Ditch the driveway (or swap grey concrete for green ground cover)
A Thyme lawn will smell delicious underfoot and, crucially, soak up rainfall. Additionally, Creeping Jenny won't mind a little wear and tear. Consider creating a gravel garden before paving over your drive, as this can help aid flood prevention.
Choosing plants that thrive on neglect is great for your water bill and means forgetful waters can still enjoy a lush garden with little input. Plus, your garden will be the envy of your neighbours next time a hose-pipe ban rolls around.
According to the book RHS Your Wellbeing Garden, a good way to tell if a plant will hold up in hot dustbowl conditions is to look out for the following key characteristics:
- Pale green-grey or silver foliage
- Fleshy foliage
- Fragrant foliage
- Hairy foliage
Grow a green garden with our top eco-friendly picks with Candide
- Peat free compost from Little Garden Shop on the Candide Marketplace.
For guilt-free growing, opt for For Peat's Sake!. This peat-free compost is made from dehydrated coconut coir, which puffs up when water is added. Little Garden Shop is a treasure trove of gardener's tools, run by garden designer and landscape consultant Claudia de Yong.
- Organic seeds from Purple Bloom Seeds
Give your plants (and the planet) the best chance with lovingly grown, pesticide-free seeds from Purple Bloom Seeds, a small family business that bloomed during the lockdown. Read about their story here:
- Natural, chemical-free fertiliser from Ecogro Gardens
Feeding the soil is essential for strong, healthy plants, but not all fertilisers are created equal. Ecogro's natural plant food is free from toxic chemicals, so your plants get all of the nutrients without any of the nasties.
- Organic tomato fertiliser from Bexley Butterfly House.
Growing your own pesticide-free produce? Ensure a lush, bountiful crop with Green Future's organic tomato fertiliser, available from Bexley Butterfly House. Unsurprisingly, their shop is full of pollinator-friendly seeds and plants too!
For more eco-friendly gardening tips, check out these articles: