Want a productive, edible and sustainable garden? One that nourishes you with healing delicious foods? Growing your own organic food garden is one easy way to live more sustainably and tread lighter on the planet.

7 Sustainable Garden Design Tips

When you ‘shop’ for fresh ingredients from your garden, you save time and energy. Home gardeners don’t need to use huge amounts of precious water, toxic petrochemical fertilisers, expensive fuel, transport, tonnes of material and lots of land. Designed cleverly, a small sustainable garden avoids wasting resources and minimises environmental impact.

I believe being ‘sustainable’ is a lifestyle that helps sustain you physically and provides you with short and long-term benefits. Being a sustainable gardener is about making conscious choices about the actions you take and the resources you use. Giving back to the earth and not just taking from it.

Recycling food waste back into the garden is a sustainable practice

Recycling food waste back into the garden is a sustainable practice

When I think about designing a client’s garden, I’m conscious of not just the plants that are going to grow there, but also how they are going to be supported. Just as importantly, I consider how they in turn are going to sustain and help the gardener! Whether that’s on a balcony or backyard – every well-designed sustainable garden space should be multi-functional.

“We don’t live or garden in isolation. The choices we make affect the plants, soil life, insects, birds, animals, water, air and our neighbours.” – Anne Gibson

To create a sustainable garden DOES take careful thought and good design skills. When I work with my clients to create beautiful abundant garden spaces, I factor in many design principles and low-maintenance features. The smaller the space you have, the more important it is to design and use it efficiently.


7 Sustainable Garden Design Tips

I hope these practical ideas will help you get started with a sustainable garden, save money and resources, and redesign your space more efficiently.

1. Commit to 100% organic and avoid ALL chemicals

Designing a sustainable garden – one that will create a healthy environment for the plants and life within it – and your own health, means committing to never using any chemicals. Chemicals create massive damage and have harmful consequences. Spraying pests with petrochemical pesticides, annoying weeds with toxic herbicides and feeding your plants with inorganic fertilisers that contaminate and pollute your soil and underground water, should never be an option.

Ladybirds and their babies will provide free pest management services in a chemical-free garden.

Ladybirds and their babies will provide free pest management services in a chemical-free garden.

There are simple, safe alternatives and ways to work with nature for pest management that won’t harm you, your family, pets or the earth.

2. Find creative ways to reuse resources

Every material or resource has embodied energy that was needed to create it. Some materials such as pots or landscaping supplies have a greater environmental impact than others, so please research! This comparison chart for choosing pots is a good place to start.

Use renewable local resources where you can or plant your own. e.g. bamboo. Consider recycling and repurposing household items to use in your garden, instead of always buying new. Try to give old things new life outdoors.

Repurpose biodegradable cardboard toilet rolls as seed raisers

Repurpose biodegradable cardboard toilet rolls as seed raisers or add this free carbon to your compost


“We share this planet, our home, with millions of species. Justice and sustainability both demand that we do not use more resources than we need.” – Vandana Shiva

3. Passively harvest water

Try to collect as much rainwater, grey water or stormwater as you can. A few easy ways to save and reuse water are:

  • buckets in the shower;
  • rainwater tanks or rain barrels;
  • swales; and
  • permeable surfaces like mulch rather than hard landscaping, that allow moisture to soak into the soil.

Harvesting your own water helps reduce erosion, maximises moisture available for healthy plant growth, minimises costs and reliance on town water supplies. All sustainable gardening options.


4. Choose plants wisely

Grow more perennials and locally adapted native plants and less annuals. Select water-wise edibles and plants that use less water than thirsty varieties. Some edibles suck up water so if you live in a dry climate, consider buying these and grow drought-tolerant and low-water-needs plants instead.

Grow a diverse range of plants to create a balanced ecosystem that supports itself. Even if you have a tiny space, always include some flowers for beneficial insects and hardy herbs that provide both culinary and medicinal uses.

Planting flowers like marigolds and sweet alyssum attracts beneficial insects

Planting flowers like marigolds and sweet alyssum attracts beneficial insects

Keep a journal, be observant and take note of what grows well during tough conditions. Grow more of the resilient, healthy plants that like your soil and climate! Don’t fight nature, work with it.

“Our role is to provide plants with their natural companions, above ground and also in the soil. We need to learn to create ecosystems rather than plant collections. And we need to allow our plants the opportunity to form the relationships that sustain them.” – Heide Hermary

5. Create a Zero-waste Garden

Think about it: In nature, there are no garbage bins. No landfills. No dumps! Everything that was once living, decomposes and those nutrients are recycled back to feed new life. A closed loop system. Smart hey? So why should our gardens be any different?

We just need to take a leaf out of nature’s book and see the value of what we normally call ‘waste’. Challenge yourself! If you didn’t have a bin, how would you creatively reuse or dispose of your waste?

Sustainable Gardening Tip: Salvage any garden or food waste to recycle nutrients back into your soil

Salvage any garden prunings, grass clippings and leaves to recycle nutrients back into your soil

Compost and recycle ALL your kitchen scraps and green garden ‘waste’. Even many household items can be reused outdoors. Everything that goes into your garden to feed it should ideally be locally sourced. Even better, if it comes from your own property. There are a wide variety of compost systems, worm farms and bokashi bins to suit just about every space and situation. If you don’t have room, contribute your food waste to a neighbour’s compost or worm farm and use the composted nutrients to feed your soil. Think ‘win-win’!

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6. Save seeds and propagate

If you have to buy seeds or plants to get started, then maximize your USE of them. Start with organic and open-pollinated varieties so you can save the seeds, reducing your need to buy year after year. This is one of the most sustainable actions you can take.

Propagate new plants for free from species that grow well in your garden.

Regrow food from kitchen scraps. If you make your own compost, you’ll also get free volunteer self-sown plants popping up!


“Healthy living soil is the foundation of a sustainable garden.” – Anne Gibson

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7. Build healthy soil

Imitate Nature. In a forest or native bushland, you see a carpet of leaves, ground covers, flowers, bark, grass, weeds and living plants like fungi and moss growing on fallen logs. Nature covers the earth … and so should we! Apply mulch to your garden so your soil is NEVER bare.

Dead leaves and grass clippings are free mulch and organic matter you can use

Fallen leaves are free mulch and organic matter you can use to build soil health

Layer organic matter (e.g. dry leaves, grass clippings and prunings) over your soil to constantly improve the structure, moisture and nutrient-holding capacity and grow healthy plants.

Creating a sustainable garden is not only good for your own health, but also for the environment in which you live. We can each make a small difference by taking little steps towards a more sustainable way of living. If we each become a role model in our family and community, it creates a ripple effect around us. And that CAN make a big difference.

Sustainable Gardening Guides

I hope these sustainable garden design tips help inspire you to be the change you want to see. I also have a range of sustainable ‘buy once, use forever’ gardening aids and guides in my shop. Your purchase helps me cover the cost of providing free online articles. Thanks for your support!

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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2017. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

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