How some home truths can help save the planet

As this picture from the Open Squares event in London shows, it is possible to create green spaces in urban environments.

By nurturing our gardens and ‘rewilding’ our own spaces, we can help save the planet, says Peter Dowdall.

THE garden is one of the keys in solving the two greatest problems facing humankind, namely rapid species extinction and the effects of our changing climate.

Gardens, plants, and the ecosytems in which they thrive will act as carbon sinks and filter the air that we breathe. It has never been more important that we realise this and that we protect our garden spaces, and by this I don’t just mean our few square metres outside the back door. No, I also mean the wild public spaces. They are ours and they are helping us all to survive. We need to think about how, in our own gardens and in public spaces, by welcoming in nature, we can play an extremely important role in saving the planet.

Most of us don’t want to damage the natural world, the great outdoors, even though we sometimes unwittingly do. Thus, we need to educate ourselves as to what all of us can do with our gardens.

Two events in Dublin soon will show us how to do just that and will be of interest to all gardeners.

The first is The National Biodiversity Conference, in Dublin Castle on February 20. In Ireland, many of our protected habitats are in poor condition and many species are now endangered. The number of plants and wildlife that are threatened is growing year on year.

As biodiversity decreases and nature’s great tapestry begins to break apart, then the air that we breath, the water that we drink, and the food that we eat all become more and more vulnerable.

This conference is bringing together many experts and stakeholders to discuss these challenges, to explore the solutions, and figure out how to work together to reverse biodiversity loss and implement the National Biodiversity Action Plan.

With two thirds of Ireland’s population now living in urban areas, the ‘rewilding’ of open spaces has become an imperative to push back against a damaging tide of concrete. Later that same week, on Saturday, February 23, the Garden Design and Landscapers’ Association (GLDA) will be hosting their seminar in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Santry. Entitled, ‘Gardening on the Edge — Rewilding Green Spaces’, a diverse range of gardening, design and landscaping experts from around the world will discuss the concept of rewilding.

Speakers will include renowned French gardeners Thierry and Monique Dronet, British green roof expert Dusty Gedge, Texas-based landscape architect Kevin Sloan, and Ennis-based wetlands professional Feidhlim Harty.

They will share their fascinating work and the inspiration, thoughts, and processes that underpin it. They will explain and illustrate how Irish gardeners and garden designers can help in the fight against habitat loss, extinctions, degradation, exploitation and climate change.

“In Ireland, broadleaf woodland makes up only 2% of our tree cover and species-rich grasslands have declined by 97%,” said one of the conference organisers, Patricia Tyrrell. “With urbanisation comes less green space and more concrete. We are living on the edge. It has become impossible to ignore and it means we are also gardening on the edge. Is there something more we could do, on an individual level, and as communities, to turn the tide and restore lost habitats for our dwindling populations of animals, birds, and insects?”

The conference will hear about the growing philosophy of rewilding, which promotes a return to as close a version of wildness as can be achieved, where people share their space with the natural world of animals, birds, and insects, rather than fighting nature.

“This involves creating a multifunctional landscape, where everybody benefits. Most of our world’s landscapes have been altered by humans and their activities. Realistically, we cannot completely reinstate the natural landscapes that were there before. But we can question our choices,” said Tyrrell.

The GLDA conference will tackle a series of tough and pertinent questions: Do we really need a concrete driveway or a pristine, mown lawn? Could we have rich grassland on our roofs, where birds might find refuge? Could we plant more native trees and plants in our gardens?

“In our urban jungles, we have to examine whether we could have woodlands, scrub or meadows, instead of green spaces. We must look at giving back floodplains to our rivers, with their valuable wetland habitats, rather than encasing them in concrete. In the process, we can begin to reconnect with nature, our best teacher,” said Tyrrell.

- For more information on the national biodiversity conference, see www.biodiversityconference.ie. For more on the GLDA seminar, see www.glda.ie or info@glda.ie.

Heather for winter weather

Winter heathers are doing their thing right now and looking at their best. We tend to forget that flowers can give colour during the month of January in the garden and we don’t need to rely completely on foliage and textural interest. Recent studies have now found that honey from Irish heathers is every bit as good, if not better, in terms of health benefits as Manuka honey. Bumblebee queens which should be hibernating during January are already out collecting nectar as the weather is so mild so if your garden doesn’t already contain some then now is the time to plant some beautiful winter flowering heathers. They will provide masses of flowers at this time of the year, either pink or white depending on the variety, and no matter what your soil type there will be a heather to suit.

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