Students aim to sustain standards

Bush of variegated holly
Bush of variegated holly

As students at UK horticultural colleges create sustainable gardens to showcase for the Prince of Wales, their mentor TV gardener DAVID DOMONEY offers tips on how to create some sustainable features of your own

OLDER gardeners could pick up some tips from a new generation of young horticulturists who have grown up with the eco-friendly, sustainability mentality.

So says TV gardener David Domoney, who is mentoring students from six UK horticultural colleges as they create gardens with a sustainability theme as part of the Ideal Young Gardener of the Year competition, in association with the Prince’s Foundation.

Young people are becoming much more aware of the importance of sustainable gardening, thanks to programmes such as Countryfile and other horticultural shows, he says.

“Television has greatly influenced kids to an acceptability that wildlife is very important. There are a lot of little quirky designs in their gardens that really work.”

Natural stone and brick have been used to create mini pizza ovens, bulbs utilised to create 100 days of colour, while other students are using a combination of planting to create fluid movements in between timber and stone.

Herbs will be used for flowers and foliage. Ornamental plants which are also edible are being planted in blocks to create an attractive view.

“Kids today are working more with landcraft. Dry stone walling is immensely popular. When I was at college in the 1980s, things were very different. Today, there’s floristry and blacksmith work, as people hammer out their own statuettes and embellishments, and make woven wicker fencing. Land-based skills which have become popular at Chelsea have been adopted.”

Youngsters have a different attitude to sustainability than previous generations, he agrees.

“It’s become such an important part of the teaching, there’s an affinity to it, whereas other generations had to re-learn it. In the past decade we’ve seen a huge change. Who would have thought 10 years ago we’d have been separating our rubbish inside our kitchens? But kids of today are used to it. It’s part of their natural psyche.”

So how can amateur gardeners make their own plots sustainable?

Domoney says: “There’s a huge amount of confusion about what is sustainable and what is natural, whether everything has to be indigenous species and aspects of chemicals, peat and landcraft.

“But for the general public who have their own gardens and like the feeling of sustainability, there are a few steps they can take to try to encourage that style of thinking.”

Attracting as much wildlife as possible into the garden is the first step any amateur gardener should take towards sustainability as part of an equal balance, he notes.

“That means attracting everything from wild birds - creating not only a feeding and water station year-round, putting up bird boxes and roosting pouches - to insects that visit the garden, not just bees. Make little bee stations using cut bamboo canes tied together, or leave a section of the garden uncut.

“To create an eco-climate in your own back garden, you need to do less gardening, in some aspect,” he explains.

“Having a section with old logs stacked in the corner will attract a phenomenal amount of overwintering insects as well as hedgehogs, which eat slugs. Let a section of the grass grow wild.”

“Interacting with the nature that visits your garden is a good step forward for sustainability.”

As green space becomes more scarce, sustainable gardens will become more valuable in the future, he predicts.

“The garden is becoming much more influential for young families and new home owners. A garden is becoming an investment, a fashion statement, rather than just somewhere to put the bikes.”

:: The student gardens can be viewed at the Ideal Home Show London, which runs from March 15-April 1, 2013 at London’s Earls Court. For details on how to view the gardens, visit

BEST OF THE BUNCH - Holly (Ilex)

It’s the shrub of Christmas, perfect for adding to wreaths and table decorations, its prickly leaves and bright red berries bringing both colour and texture to any arrangement.

Some hollies are grown for their variegated foliage, such as I. aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’, whose leaves have a pale edge. Despite its name, it’s a male holly without berries, as only female plants produce berries, so make sure you have several varieties or you may be disappointed.

I. aquifolium ‘Handsworth New Silver’ is a great choice, bearing glossy dark green leaves with spiny cream margins and vivid red berries in winter.

If you are going for variegated types, put them in full sun for the best result, although they will tolerate dappled shade in any fertile, well-drained soil. Prune to shape, if you need to, in early spring.


:: Take hardwood cuttings of cornus, salix, forsythia, ribes, roses and gooseberries.

:: Check bulbs, corms and tubers in store and remove any showing signs of rot.

:: Plan new features, such as rock gardens and ponds.

:: Place forcing jars over clumps of rhubarb to encourage early stems for picking.

:: Remove dead or yellowing leaves from pelargoniums, fuchsias and argyranthemums which are overwintering in the greenhouse.

:: Firm down round newly planted stock to stop hard frosts lifting the soil.