Fruit, Veg & Wildlife in a Smaller Garden

Our garden is not very big, and we have three different priorities for it: fruit and veg growing; wildlife; somewhere to sit and entertain. So, we’ve had to be creative with space.

To highlight 2021 Open Food Gardens summer programme this blog is about growing food at home by local gardeners, Nigel Harvey and Clare Hobba. They paint a picture of what food is possible to grow in a small garden when approached with a love of nature and a desire to #GrowYourOwn.  

Re-imagining the front garden #growyourown

For most people, a front garden is an area that we keep neat for the sake of others, but don’t get much benefit from. 

We use our front garden for growing fruit and veg

However, we use our front garden for growing fruit and veg at home.  Paths and low walls add structure, so it doesn’t look untidy. Bright flowers and shrubs grow round the edge and attract insects.    

Artichokes, gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and whitecurrants grow on one side; kale (curly, and black), beetroot, garlic and courgettes on the other. Not to mention dwarf versions of pear, apple and plum trees.  We kept a small cotoneaster tree which was in the garden before we arrived and it provides nectar for bees in summer and berries for redwing in winter.  All of that, just in the front!

“to save space we like anything that climbs upwards”

Gardening at the back

At the back, another patch yields kohl rabi, French beans, lettuce and chard.  In the little greenhouse, Nigel grows chilli and bell peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and three varieties of tomatoes, On the patio we also have physalis and cucamelons.  Patio pots also hold a great variety of culinary herbs.  

Vertical Growing

To save space, we like anything that climbs upwards and are experimenting with ivy gourd, tayberry and even a kiwi fruit vine. 

Watering, compost and fertilising

The plants are watered mostly from four large water butts which collect rain from the roof.  We make compost in a bin tucked behind the greenhouse and supplement it with llama poo from a local farm.

Gardening for nature

“the small pond attracts newts and frogs”

Insects are attracted by profusely flowering plants such as the hot-lips salvia. Bug and bee hotels offer them the chance to stay and to hibernate. Similarly, the small pond attracts newts and frogs. Nearby a pile of old wood and tiles gives them somewhere to over-winter.  All manner of birds arrive for the birdbath and squirrel-proofed feeders.  And we still have enough space for some seating from which to watch them!

Clare Hobba

Bug Hotel at the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust Wild Garden in St Albans

Want to know more?

How to Build a Bug Hotel

Pollinator Plants for insects

Recycled Wood for Garden Projects in St Albans

Vertical Veg Growing

Open Food Gardens Summer Programme 2021

Want to visit more food gardens?  Sustainable St Albans runs a summer programme of Open Food Gardens. It is like Open Gardens but with food growing too! These aren’t perfect show gardens, they are real gardens, owned and shared by real people, all of whom share a love of growing their own fruit and veg.  You can drop in for ten minutes or stay for two hours.  Find the dates of this year’s open gardens plus a range of videos on our website.

See the 2020 video tour of this garden below – but why not visit it on Sunday 20 June to see how it’s doing for this year – and talk to the gardeners yourself.

Open Food Gardens programme 2021

How to go #plasticfree Part 1: Plastic-Free Kitchen

The Big Picture: why do we need to go Plastic Free?

Plastic-Free July is a great time to start or continue down your journey to cut out single-use plastic. I’m sure many of you are keen to do this, but when faced with supermarket aisles full of plastic, it is very hard not to just automatically pick up what is being pushed at you.

Did you know that plastic is made from crude oil and natural gas, and the oil and gas industry is desperate to keep making money so is pushing plastic as the new way to keep their coffers full, now that there are so many renewable forms of energy?

For PlasticFreeJuly we have a series of 5 blogs you can read throughout July – written by Marianne Jordan  – who is the founder of local plastic-free support group Ethical Fridays @ethical_fridays  Marianne is the winner of St Albans Mayor’s Pride Award “Environmentalist of the Year 2020

According to the documentary film “The Story of Plastic,” a massive pipeline has been constructed across America to pipe all that newly fracked gas to the East Coast, where it is shipped to the INEOS plastic plant at Grangemouth, Scotland.

INEOS (Yes! those people who sponsor British Cycling) is the company who turn fracked gas into tiny plastic pellets called nurdles which are then used to make all types of plastic items. Go to any beach in the world and you will find nurdles in the sand.

According to the Nurdlehunt charity, as many as 35 tankers full of these tiny lightweight floating plastics enter the sea every year from the UK alone, that is 53 billion pellets with no way of removing them. Once in the ocean, more harmful chemicals bond to them and they are eaten by all types of marine life and have been found in the stomachs of countless fish, birds and mammals. See more about nurdles here.

We’ve got your back! – how to take action, bit by bit..

By now you are anxious to know what you can do to stop this. Each week during Plastic Free July, we will tackle a different part of the problem, including food packaging, your bathroom, your desk/gifts, and which companies are the big plastic-producing (and therefore plastic polluting) companies. This week, we will start with some easy swaps in…

The kitchen

I’m sure the cupboard under your sink is full of plastic bottles, plastic sponges, plastic scrubbers, plastic brushes and plastic microfiber wipes.

All of these can be swapped for plastic-free versions.

Plastic free washing up?

Washing Up Liquid: No need to buy a single-use bottle of washing up liquid ever again! Instead save the empty bottle to be refilled at both The Refill Pantry (London Road) and Eat Wholefoods warehouse (Hatfield Road), both St Albans.

If you can’t get to these, try one of the refill delivery services:

Glass bottles: if you prefer to eliminate all plastic from your house, invest in a glass bottle with dispenser (Refill Pantry or online). Tincture sells gentle chemical-free washing up liquid refills in amber glass bottles and Fill has various cleaning products in clear glass.

Washing up bars: go totally bottle-free with a solid washing up bar see online at:

Plastic sponges break down into tiny microplastics as you use them, which then get into the water system

Sponges and brushes

There is now a big range of washing up sponges, brushes and scrubbers made from natural biodegradable materials. Plastic sponges break down into tiny microplastics as you use them, which then get into the water system, so swapping to a sponge made of plant cellulose will help stop this problem. Some are available from The Refill Pantry, and also look online.  When lockdown allows, you can also buy these and much more at the St Albans market from the Phase Out Plastic stall; In #lockdown at the time of writing, if you message them through Facebook they will deliver.

Dishwasher tabs

Plastic-free dishwasher tablets are available from Wilko’s (Doesn’t Cost the Earth range), Aldi (Eco-Action), Refill Pantry (Ecoleaf) or Ocado (Attitude) or how about subscribing to one of the refill delivery services such as Splosh, Fill or Smol?

Rinse aid: White vinegar works well as a rinse aid, but the Refill Pantry sells actual rinse aid. Online, Fill rinse aid comes in a glass bottle.

Dishwasher Salt: Find dishwasher salt in cardboard, e.g. Sainsbury’s and Ocado’s own brand 1kg boxes. Or visit Letchworth’s refill shop: Bamboo Turtle, which sells loose dishwasher salt and tablets, as well as citric acid, laundry powder and various cleaners.

Plastic-free cleaning

A lot of your cleaning can be done with just white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Bicarb is good for cleaning sinks and baths and vinegar is good for glass, backsplashes, kitchen surfaces (not granite) and tiles. Look online for more. Both of these are available as refills at the Refill Pantry, along with multi-surface cleaner and toilet cleaner. Dri-Pak boxes of Bicarbonate of Soda, Borax Substitute and Citric Acid can be found in Wilko’s and Robert Dyas. However, if you can’t give up your scented spray cleaner just yet, there are lots of refills available.

Soaking some orange peel in white vinegar for 2 weeks gives it a citrus scent and adds to the cleaning power. Fill half a spray bottle with vinegar then top up with water for an all-purpose cleaning spray.

Dissolvable Sachets

Iron & Velvet  produce dissolvable sachets of surface cleaner, anti-bacterial surface cleaner, oven cleaner, glass & mirror cleaner, floor cleaner (and some bathroom products). Just pop one into an empty spray bottle filled with water, give it a shake and off you go! Some of these can be found at The Refill Pantry.

Ocean Saver also produce dissolvable sachets of multi-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, kitchen cleaner, anti-bacterial cleaner, floor cleaner and wooden floor cleaner (and bathroom cleaner) and can be found in the M&S at London Colney.

Splosh does a range of concentrated cleaning products delivered in returnable pouches and Fill uses glass jars or bulk bags in boxes, which can be returned to Fill for refilling.

Why not make some washable kitchen towels by cutting up some old vests or a towel?

Plastic-free laundry

Laundry liquid and fabric conditioner can be refilled at Eat Wholefoods warehouse and The Refill Pantry, so save your bottles to be refilled. For online see Splosh which do various laundry liquids, fabric conditioner and stain remover in different scents. If you prefer liquid capsules, Smol will post you laundry capsules in a plastic-free cardboard box with a child-lock mechanism.

Laundry powder is relatively easy to find, but brands without harsh chemicals are Ecover, which comes without a plastic scoop and is in most supermarkets; Bio-D washing powder in a brown paper sack available through Ocado and online or Mangle & Wringer pure laundry powder in a paper sack (online).

Laundry Strips

But for a really low carbon option, try some Laundry Detergent Sheets by Simply Living Eco (Refill Pantry) or Tru Earth Laundry Strips. These are very lightweight sheets of detergent which have a very low transport cost and very little packaging. For completely chemical-free alternatives, try Ecoegg (Robert Dyas etc) or natural Soapnuts (Refill Pantry).

Stain Removers

Natural bleach powders are made by Mangle & Wringer who also give natural stain removal tips. Bio-D and Peace with the Wild  stain removal bars are also available online.

I hope you have found some new ideas you want to try.  See all about plastic free bathrooms next week!

One School’s Journey to Cutting Single-Use Plastic

Six year-old pupils on a school Eco Team complained to their teacher about the waste generated by the free school milk programme so their teacher, Andrea Bootle, decided it was time they took action.

Binning the cartons

“Every Friday, our bins were overflowing with little milk cartons”, says Andrea, Eco Teacher at Crabtree Infants’ in Harpenden. “Each child could get five of them a week. Each carton had its own straw. And with 180 children in the Infants’ school, even if only half of them had milk ordered for them, the maths was staggering. 90 children, 5 cartons a week, 39 weeks a year….17,550 little cartons and straws to landfill a year.”

The Department of Health in the UK states that every child under the age of five in the UK is entitled to a free 189ml serving of milk whilst in attendance at a registered day care provider for two or more hours a day.  For many children at Crabtree Infants’ School, as at other schools, parents continue to pay for milk after the free entitlement has ended and the children very much enjoy their break-time drink.

“The children loved getting their milk but the waste upset them”, continues Andrea. “We looked at options for recycling the cartons, but since many still contained liquid, we couldn’t see a sensible way to deal with the waste. Adding to that all the plastic that the blocks were shrink-wrapped in and the waste was extraordinary. The Eco Team really felt it was time to act. During the Sustainability Festival, the children pledged to make change happen.”

With the help of their teacher, the Eco Team wrote to the school’s designated milk provider who offered them an alternative – a supply of re-usable plastic beakers and large containers of milk delivered to the school instead of individual cartons.

crabtree school milk 3

“Obviously, we were nervous at first.” explains Andrea. “Particularly with the new Reception children – we had visions of floods of milk all over the carpet if they were given open beakers. And the washing up was also a bit of a concern. However, all the staff have been amazing and supported the Eco Team’s changes with no objections and the children have coped with it well.”

crabtree school milk 2

Georgia Frost, Reception Teacher, agrees: “The children in Reception enjoy socialising at the snack table. They have gained independence by pouring their own milk, whilst being eco-friendly. It allows them to take some responsibility for the whole world around them; something we encourage in all aspects of school life.”

Stopping the flow of single use water bottles

Soon beakers of milk became the norm for the school and the bins are no longer overflowing. But the children did not rest there.  The Eco Team came up with another type of single-use plastic they wanted to stop: single-use water bottles for school trips.

“The children already brought in their own water bottles every day”, says Andrea. “Yet on school trips the school-provided packed lunch came with one and sometimes two disposable bottles of water. When it all arrived for our Year 1 and 2 trip to Southend the children were horrified by the stack of 240 throwaway plastic bottles of water just for one day.”

Again, by raising the issue with their provider and changing their school policy for trips, the children were able to make a big impact. Children now simply take their own reusable water bottles on school trips just like they do on an ordinary day.

The children were so right to challenge what we do”, concludes Andrea. “Their determination has saved thousands of cartons and straws from ending up in landfill and hundreds of unnecessary single-use water bottles. I’m extremely proud of them.”

Check with your school milk provider and caterer about their policies and how you can work together to cut single-use plastic. Crabtree Infants’ School receive their milk from Cool Milk and uses Herts Catering for their school meals.

crabtree school milk 1

St Albans District streets celebrate World Car Free Day

Seven streets in St Albans and Harpenden closed for up to 3 hours on Sunday 22nd September  for World Car Free Day.  Neighbours took the opportunity to socialise as their children played on the road with bikes, scooters and skipping ropes. They were all taking part in the trial of a new Sustainable St Albans project called Playing Out.  The project enables residents to apply to close their own road to through traffic for the purposes of children’s play and community building.

The Playing Out scheme is being launched throughout the district including St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. It is being run in conjunction with St Albans District Council and is now open for applications from the public for 2020. 

Sustainable St Albans’ Playing Out co-ordinator, Nicola Wyeth, said:

“Playing Out sessions enable children to play out in the way that we all took for granted when we were young. It is a fabulous way to build communities, for parents to find a support network and for isolated residents to enjoy a cuppa and a chat all while the children get fresh air and exercise. It was wonderful to see multiple streets celebrating World Car Free Day in this way.”

A Playing Out scheme is always run in a way that minimises any inconvenience to residents who need access by vehicle to the closed area. Neighbours volunteer to steward the road closure points and if a driver needs access, they are escorted to their property at walking pace after children have been cleared from the road. 

Sustainable St Albans will help you through the necessary steps of the application and lend you the necessary kit such as high viz jackets and road closed signs. Interested residents can find out more at by visiting our Playing Out page or get in touch by emailing us. There will be free information sessions in November – one at the Harpenden Arms in Harpenden on 11th November at 10.30am and one at The Beech House pub in St Albans on 15th November at 10.30am. Come along to find out more.


Harpenden explores nature for SustFest19

As part of Harpenden Town Council’s aim to encourage people to engage and learn more about their local common and green spaces, our Commons and Greens Support Officer runs events throughout the year, exploring a wide variety of wildlife and habitats.

Harpenden Town Council takes over our Guest Blog this week looking at events being run as part of the Sustainabilty Festival 11th May to 1st June. Details of all events below can be found at

Spending just a few minutes each day enjoying nature is known to improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as help to create long lasting memories with children and adults alike. More information about events throughout the year can be found at as well as booking links for those below.

Bat Walks


Harpenden Common is home to two species of bat, the Common Pipistrelle and the Soprano Pipistrelle. These are species which hunt for their prey along treelines and hedgerows, making the common perfect hunting ground. What do they eat? How do we know we have these species on the Common? What can we do to continue to help these nocturnal predators of the sky? Come along to Bat Walks on Harpenden Common on the 14th and 16th May to find out.

River Dipping

29-5 58 - RIver DippingHarpenden is home to lots of special habitats and one of these is the chalk river, the river Lea, which runs through it. Chalk streams are a rare habitat, 98% of which are found in England. They boast a diversity which rivals the rainforest, from the tiniest aquatic invertebrates to a number of fish species. Can you identify a mayfly larvae or a stonefly larvae? What does a caddis fly make its home out of? Bring along some wellies and get stuck in, learn how to id these aliens of the waterways and how we look after this special habitat. Morning and afternoon session on the 29th May. 10am – 12:30pm Morning session. 2pm – 3:30pm Afternoon Session

18-5 57 Litter picking

Litter Picking on the Common

Come along and help us keep Harpenden clean by picking up a litter picker and a bag at Harpenden Cricket Club. Go the extra mile and separate the recyclable litter from the non-recyclable. Drop in session from 1pm to 3pm – Pop along at any point during that time to collect your gear.

Marvellous Mammals

Bank vole in the hand - small mammal trappingThis event is running in conjunction with the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Small mammals like field voles, shrews and field mice are an incredibly important part of any food chain. Able to produce between 5-10 litters of 3-12 young every year, they are plentiful in number and are eaten by birds, larger mammals, and even insects take advantage! A healthy number of small mammals can indicate a healthy habitat. Come along and see the small mammal live traps (called longworth traps) in action, and hopefully see a mouse or shrew! Learn what they look like, what they eat, and what tracks and signs these and some of our larger mammals leave behind. Location TBC – Friday 31st May 9:30am-11am.