One of the most effective ways to turn up that eco dial in your outdoor space is to make it a wildlife hotspot. Giving creatures – from insects to birds and hedgehogs – a place to hang out helps protect their numbers and, in turn, the local ecology.
Hedgerows and bushes promise great shelter for hedgehogs and small birds, while a pile of deadwood and other garden trimmings will act as great digs for beetles – as well as encourage fungi and moss. And of course, a bird feeder will see little feathered friends visit to fill up, especially in winter when food is harder to come by. The RSPB website has more handy details for encouraging wildlife into your garden.
Elsewhere, and if you've only got a small patch to work with, plant as wide a variety of native flowers as you can to attract bees and butterflies. Bees are essential as they pollinate the food we need to survive, as well as the flowers and trees that provide habitats for wildlife, so the more you can do to attract them the better.
Native plants also usually require less in the way of pesticides and fertilizers, too, which is great news for the environment. Head to the Grow Wild website to find out which types of native flowers to grow and where.
Break it down
Get a home composting heap on the go as it will provide you with lots of nutrients to feed the rest of your garden with. It’s the ultimate way to recycle organic matter.
Find a home for your composting bin in a shady corner of your garden (you don't necessarily need an actual bin: you can just form a heap, although it'll take longer to break down). Feed it with around half green waste (food, lawn clippings, pulled-up weeds and such) and half woody materials (paper, card, dead leaves and woodchippings).
A bacteria and fungi-friendly environment – with moisture, air and relatively consistent temperatures – will see your waste turn into a natural soil conditioner, fertilizer and pesticide in around six to 24 months.
Another easy way to compost food waste, particularly if you have a small garden, is to set up a wormery. The worms eat the waste and produce a nutrient-packed worm compost. Get youngsters involved and teach them the importance of nutrient-rich soil by building this mini wormery from the RHS Campaign for School Gardening.
Make it rain
The Earth's water supply is ever-depleting, so be mindful about how much you're using in your garden – our green-fingered pursuits can account for a startling proportion of our overall water usage. Evening is the most efficient time to water your garden, allowing plants plenty of time to soak up all that moisture without it evaporating in the sun. But, before you reach for that hose, check to see if the soil around your plants is actually dry. If it's damp beneath the surface, you can probably hold off watering a little longer.
Of course, we're usually blessed with plenty of rain in the UK, so harvesting this water for use in your garden is a smart move. Get yourself a water butt – the bigger the better, really – and come the drier seasons, you'll have gallons for those thirsty plants to drink, not to mention the potential to save on your water bill.
You can buy water butts online, as well as in some local garden centres and hardware stores with a garden section. They range from £20 to £50, on average.
Let it grow
Making your garden work harder for your needs will see it boost its green credentials, too. And what is one of humans' most basic requirements? Food. Whether growing ingredients for you means a window box of herbs or a whole veg patch, you'll be saving everything from food miles to plastic waste – not to mention enjoying super-fresh, hyper-local organic food. And that's without even mentioning the difference it could potentially make to your food bills.
Whether you're blessed with a sprawling garden or limited to a tiny yard, or even just a balcony or windowsill, as long as your plants will be able to soak up a decent amount of sun, there will be food that you can grow. Do your research first: it's always a good idea to pick a spot and work out its conditions first, then buy the plant to suit, as opposed to working the other way around.
If you don't have an outside space, salad leaves can grow in a window box – you can find them in seed or ready-grown plant form in garden centres. If salads aren't your thing, you might want to start with hardy herbs, like mint and bay.
Got some outdoor space but no soil? Containers such as pots and grow-bags can yield all sorts – carrots, potatoes, beetroot, spinach and beans are great places to start, before working up to the more high maintenance likes of tomatoes.
Did you know that you can also regrow food, such as garlic, potatoes and celery from kitchen scraps? It’s a cheap and effective way to grow your own. Check out this handy blog from Rural Sprout for food regrowing tips.
While us humans are guilty of releasing lots of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing climate change in the process, nature's air filters are more important than ever. Planting trees en masse is one of the most effective ways we can combat this pollution.
Trees suck up carbon from the atmosphere, locking it away inside themselves and turning it into oxygen. The thing is, despite their heroic efforts, there just aren't enough of them: the Woodland Trust notes that only 13% of the UK is covered by trees. To put that in context, the EU's average tree coverage is 37%.
If you already have a tree in your garden, then give it some extra love – make sure it's happy and looked after. And if not, research what species will thrive in your particular outdoor space. Native trees like oak and maple are a good bet, and will still be standing for years to come. Don't forget to consider how much the tree might grow – you won't want it blocking sunlight through you or your neighbours’ windows, or to start messing with the foundations of your house. Make sure any new trees are planted at least five metres from your house and opt for smaller species such as Blackthorn, Wild Cherry and Hawthorn.