Gardens with Natural Capital
By Freddie Gibbs
‘Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.’
When looking on a smaller scale, such as your garden, how specifically does this relate? Most gardens contain at least three of these elements and therefore almost all gardens hold Natural Capital. There are two keys ways this becomes tangible for garden owners: biodiversity and carbon.
Any garden of any size can make a big impact (or hopefully, improvement) to biodiversity. My design philosophy has always been ‘less is more’. This isn’t exactly rewilding, but it’s close. I question, why do we incessantly mow everything? Leaving large areas of lawn to grow long, develop and flourish into a meadow will add texture and movement to your garden, giving a sense of adventure and natural beauty, whilst simultaneously protecting wildlife habitats and returning the area to a more natural state. Wild areas save you time, money and effort, and look – quite frankly – glorious. They also encourage pollinating insects to the garden and provide food sources for small creatures that would struggle to survive in a neatly mown lawn.
Another huge boost to the biodiversity in your garden is to include a water source. Even a tiny pond can become a feeding and watering ground for birds, hedgehogs, bats and frogs. If you really can’t squeeze in a pond, even a shallow tray of water on the ground can draw in wildlife and support the biodiversity of your garden.
Another simple solution to minimise our individual impact on the world on a larger scale is to increase self-sufficiency. The pandemic has taught us many things and reminded us how valuable our outdoor space is. Use your newfound (or reaffirmed) love of the outdoors to try producing your own seasonal fruits and vegetables. We are all aware of how the world’s current consumption of meat and dairy is unsustainable from a land use perspective, and replacing some of these foods with fresh produce from our own gardens is a step towards a more sustainable future. Even those with small gardens can get involved on some level, by growing herbs on a kitchen windowsill or potatoes in a grow bag just outside the backdoor. We can join this revolution from our own homes and take small steps towards big changes from just outside the kitchen window.
For those with the luxury of more land, maybe extending beyond a garden into an estate, it’s worth considering the current purpose of that space and whether there is a better way it can be utilised. There is significant capital in your land and soil which could do a lot of work for you with minimal effort.
Global warming, from the carbon we have released into our atmosphere, has reached a critical point where it is essential that we not only stop polluting, but also start sequestering gases we have already released. Tree planting is the most effective solution to this and carries multiple other benefits such as flood prevention, supporting new and existing ecosystems, preventing soil erosion and creating new active spaces for human wellbeing. Not-for-profit organisations such as the Forest Canopy Foundation have been formed to bring together landowners with investors and environmentalists. If you have the space for tree planting, but not the capital, FCF find investors to pay for the planting and maintenance of woodland on your land. The expert environmentalists behind FCF are at the forefront of defining how we save our planet whilst also ensuring financial viability in the process. This increases your land value as well as providing future income via timber production, carbon credits and game and wildlife management revenue.
A thought to last
We try to talk about natural capital through measurables around the financial value and return, overlooking how many new species might return to the garden, the quantity or variety of planting and the carbon sequestration potential – and these are the most important outcomes. If we were all inherently selfish, then we would not be trying to save the planet for our future generations.
An ancient Greek proverb declares, ‘a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit’. As we sit under the shadow of a looming climate catastrophe, never has a sentence been truer.
About the Author
My name is Freddie Gibbs and Nicholsons has been my professional home for nearly five years. It has nurtured me from my pre-graduate placement year through various roles, starting as an assistant designer and finally reaching my current role as design studio manager and garden designer. Nicholsons has helped combine my passion for the outdoors with my vested interest in sustainability by creating new and exciting landscapes.
As a child, my grandparents used to take me to Witley Court & Gardens. These grand and exuberant gardens, landscaped around the cindered remains of a 15th century, regency style manor house, are firm favourites of mine. I must confess, this holds its special place as my favourite garden not because of the design, but because of the nostalgia it evokes. I have great memories linked with it and I try to create the same feeling for people in the gardens I design for them.