Community gardens make an ideal place to showcase energy efficient technologies, tips and tricks, allowing them to play both an educational and an inspiration role and encouraging everyone involved to take some of the ideas home with them.
Energy in the Garden
Creating energy efficient gardens inevitably begins with addressing how energy is used. The plants themselves make remarkably efficient use of their energy supply – sunlight – and to continue the theme, we need to examine how we manage the non-living rest of the garden. Key areas for this include the decorative and functional items, such as lighting and water features, which add so much in terms of atmosphere, but demand energy to achieve it.
Whether it’s garden spotlights or fountain pumps, there is a huge range of energy efficient versions to chose from, many running on a fraction of the power that traditional designs consumed.
However, if you really want to play the energy saving trump card, recent developments in solar powered pumps and lights really do take some beating. Admittedly, they may not have the output of their bigger conventional cousins, but never-the-less make their own contribution to any community garden.
The latest solar-powered units are perfect for difficult sites or those which have no electrical connection, while self-contained water features can often allow the sight and sound of moving water where safety concerns do not permit a typical pond to be installed.
If circumstances permit, you can get even more inventive. Dependent on your garden design and location, your pond can be kept healthy with wind-powered aerators, or your community greenhouse warmed by solar water heating. What can be done for the cause of energy efficiency is really only limited by the imagination of the community itself.
Cutting Embedded Energy
The second aspect of making the community garden energy efficient involves thinking about how much energy is used in the manufacturing, transport and possibly even eventual disposal of the materials used to create it.
This “embedded energy” makes a significant and often forgotten addition to our collective carbon footprint – and the more the community gardeners can reduce it, the more energy efficient the whole project becomes.
There are three main areas which can see embedded energy making a major contribution – water, compost and construction materials. In the UK, our mains water supply is routinely treated to bring it up to the high standard of cleanliness needed for drinking – but most of it never goes anywhere near our lips!
Ethically there is something deeply wrong with using top quality drinking water to irrigate plants – given the scarcity of this precious resource in so much of the world – and from the energy standpoint, it’s incredibly wasteful. Fit a simple rain butt to a convenient down-pipe and the garden’s energy efficiency leaps up.
Transporting neatly packaged, mass-produced compost may be a convenient way to grow plants, but it’s scarcely energy efficient when you and your neighbours are sending tonnes of perfectly good compostable material in the opposite direction every year. Set up a community composting scheme alongside your community garden and you neatly sidestep this embedded energy too.
Recycling and reusing potential construction materials can also be a useful way of ensuring that community gardens remain energy efficient and the more inventive you can be, the better. Hardcore and stone sourced locally, for instance, can save considerable transport costs, while there is plenty of scope for reusing the likes of reclaimed timber and old pallets when it comes to making rough fencing or trellis work in the garden – and every bit saves energy.
Community gardens are particularly valuable resources for everyone and integrating them into a wider project can make them even more special to those who have created and enjoy them. Incorporating energy efficient measures sympathetically into a piece of public open landscape is also likely to reach the largest number of people – many of whom might never otherwise have stopped to give the whole energy efficiency thing a second thought. As a showcase for local energy awareness, these gardens have much to offer.