Peter Dowdall: Gardens can save the planet

Don a cape rather than your anorak as Peter Dowdall explains why gardeners have superhero status


I CANNOT think of a pastime more connected with and more relevant to the challenges facing the environment in which we all live than gardening. All of our gardens have critical roles to play in terms of both species extinction and climate change. Gardens can save the planet, which makes us, the gardeners, the superheroes! That’s a pretty bold statement and I never would have thought that I would be describing a bunch of predominantly middle-aged, some anorak wearing individuals who like to tend the allotment as superheroes but there you go, that’s the truth of the matter.

Trees, all plants and soil will trap carbon in the atmosphere and sequester it in trunks and in the ground. Therefore, for the professionals amongst us we have a responsibility both in terms of what we create and also in education because as an industry, Horticulture has to at the forefront of change.

I’m delighted to see the Garden and Landscape Designers Association (GLDA) once more leading the way in this regard.

According to garden designer Patricia Tyrrell, one of the driving forces behind the GLDA seminar, “our gardens should be a haven for biodiversity and a refuge from the world, not only for ourselves but for the rest of the wildlife with whom we share the earth. It is something we all aspire to, but the reality can be somewhat different”.

He adds: “Every plant we plant produces plastic waste in the form of pots and labels, our composts may contain peat, and the plants we choose may have travelled long distances bringing with them the risk of introducing alien pests and diseases. The issue of maintenance may influence us towards increased use of hard landscaping rather than wildlife-friendly alternatives.”

There’s a few big challenges there facing an industry which would be and should be regarded as “green” and I’m delighted to see them being tackled.

Answering those challenges may sound easy but in practice how achievable is it to go greener? Are there other ways to plant a garden which would produce a more self-sustaining plant community attractive to wildlife?

The speakers at this year’s GLDA seminar entitled “Seeds of Change — Planting Design for the 21st Century” is a veritable “who’s who” of garden professionals who work at the cutting edge of planting design and they will share their insights into new approaches to resilient and biodiverse planting for the 21st century.

I am really looking forward to hearing from Nigel Dunnett, professor of planting design and urban horticulture in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield, as a primary objective of his work has been to move the consideration of planting design and landscape horticulture from a largely cosmetic, decorative and functional role, to one that is also central to the discussion of how to address the major problems of climate change and a sustainable future.

Cassian Schmidt, director of Hermannshof Gardens in Germany, is a leading expert in planting design, using natural plant communities as inspiration for sustainable, low-maintenance, cost-effective plant combinations. Cassian is at the forefront of the new German and Dutch movement.Wildflowers in our own gardens and in public spaces do and will continue to, provide a vital part of the jigsaw. Sandro Cafolla is the founder and energy behind Design By Nature based in Carlow. Sandro is considered Ireland’s foremost expert on wildflower seeds and the creation of wildflower meadows

He is passionate about using native wildflower seeds and plugs to support and protect local wildlife and to create more climate-resilient landscapes. Finding it difficult to source native seeds and plants for his projects, he started gathering and supplying them himself and Design By Nature was born. His expertise in how to sow and maintain wildflower meadows makes him the go-to person in Ireland for local authorities, landscape designers, landscape contractors and the private sector.

Sarah Price co-designed the 2012 Great British Garden at London’s Olympic Park and continues to work on a number of large public planting schemes as well as private projects.

Her designs have collected numerous awards, most notably gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2018. She is a visiting lecturer in planting design at the Department of Landscape at Sheffield University and has lectured at the New York Botanical Gardens, Kew Gardens, the Royal Academy, and The Royal Geographical Society in London.

You don’t need to be a member nor a horticultural professional to attend. All are welcome be you a garden designer of renown or someone with a keen interest and tickets are available to purchase on

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