Plant Doctor

By keeping our front gardens green we can reduce the risk of flooding, lower levels of pollution and muffle traffic noise, but what is the environmental impact of growing plants in the first place? Pesticides contain all sorts of harmful chemicals, compost contains peat from unsustainable sources and all of this is harmful to wildlife and destroys vital habitats. Environmentally friendly gardening is one of the first steps towards making a big difference to your local area. Below you will find advice and information on some of the enviromental issues around gardening.


Have you ever bought a bag of compost at the garden centre? Chances are it’s got peat in it. But what is peat?

Peat is used in horticulture either as a soil improver or as a growing medium.

Each year in the UK, around 2.5 million cubic metres of peat are sold to commercial and amateur gardeners. In Great Britain, over 94% of the 69,700 ha of peat bogs have been damaged or destroyed. Most of this damage has occurred in the last 50 or so years, since the promotion of large-scale use of peat for the horticultural industry.

Why is this so important?

Below are some interesting facts about peat:

  • peat is partially decomposed plant debris. Peat forms where plant debris is added faster than it is broken down
  • peat bogs are important sites for wildlife. They are unique habitats which support a fascinating variety of birds, invertebrates and plants
  • peat bogs also help to protect the earth from global warming

Peat mining results in valuable habitats being lost and large amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. 


  • newer peat alternatives can give equally good, if not better results without damaging valuable habitats.Coconut fiber compost or ‘coir’ is readily available from garden centers and is sustainably produced without the environmental damage caused by peat mining
  • home composting is a great way to get the most out of your rubbish. If you have space in your back garden or on your balcony why not start your own compost bin or invest in a wormery, both are relatively cheap and wormeries are a great way to teach children about how nature works
  • there are lots of everyday waste materials that can be composted; egg shells, tea bags, coffee dregs, fruit and vegetable peelings, newspaper, grass cuttings and many more. It will help cut down on the amount you throw out and provide you with a steady sustainable supply of compost and liquid fertilizer for your garden or window box

Pest Control

Most of us put down slug pellets or spray pesticides but it is not only the pests that these chemicals damage; useful insects are killed or driven away by pesticides and hedgehogs and birds eat slug pellets and die.

Fight nature with nature; there are many natural, more friendly ways to combat pests in your garden or in your flower pots:

  • companion planting, explained below, is one method that not only looks good but can be used as a highly successful means of pest control
  • making your garden wildlife friendly, explained in the next section, is another great way of maintaining a natural predator/prey balance that helps control pests
  • there are also natural sprays and solutions that you can buy from garden centres or even make at home

Try this!

Below is a common recipe for natural pest control for some of the pests that might afflict your garden.

Garlic Spray

Garlic spray is generally an effective repellent and will kill some soft-bodied insects. Spray regularly for maximum effect.

3 large cloves of crushed garlic
1 teaspoon of liquid soap
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 litre of water

Combine the garlic and vegetable oil and leave overnight to soak. Strain the mixture and add to the water and the liquid soap. Spray regularly.

Other environmentally friendly means of pest control include:

  • soot is good for keeping onion flies away. Sprinkle on the ground when you plant the onions and again when they start to grow
  • ground up eggshell around your plants will stop slugs eating your plants
  • copper strips for slugs and snail - gastropods will not pass over copper
  • fatty acid spray (available from garden centres) keeps aphids away
  • fine mesh can be placed over plants to keep white fly away
  • iron phosphate pellets keep slugs and snails away and are non toxic to other creatures
  • wood ash helps to keep slugs at bay. Sprinkle liberally over the soil

Caution: Sprays which kill harmful insects will also kill beneficial insects. Use these homemade remedies selectively, only spraying the infected plants. Apply them early in the morning or just before dark. Re-apply after a rain. Wear protective clothing when spraying insecticides.

Companion Planting

The right combination of plants can not only look good but can also act as pest control; attracting beneficial pests and deterring harmful ones, offer protection from wind and sun and even enrich the soil. 

Some combinations to try include:

  • french marigolds with vegetables; the strong scent of the marigolds is believed to cover the smell of the surrounding crops and prevent pests from finding them
  • planting sage or leeks with carrots is beneficial for both as each drives away the other crops pests
  • garlic planted among roses has a similar effect to garlic spray used to deter aphid
  • plants in the pea family enrich the soil by taking nitrogen from the air and storing it in their roots. Once the peas have finished, cut off at ground level and allow the roots to decompose in the soil
  • dill attracts aphid-eating pests like predatory wasps

How do I recycle garden tools?

Keen gardeners in Kensington and Chelsea can now ensure that their old garden tools get recycled. Thanks to an innovative new project called Tools Shed, residents can now deposit their old garden tools in a special bank at the Civic Amenity Site, Smugglers Way, Wandsworth.

From here, the tools are picked up by HMP Wandsworth, where they are refurbished by inmates in the prison’s workshops. The refurbished garden tools are then distributed to primary schools within the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Recycling old garden tools in this way prevents them from otherwise ending up in landfill and helps future generations discover the pleasure that can be had from gardening.

Where do I leave my garden tools?

You can leave them at the specially designated collection bank at Western Riverside Waste Authority Civic Amenity Site, Smuggler’s Way, Wandsworth.