How to start your own eco-friendly garden: Expert advice from the Leeds gardener who curated the Secret Garden in the Climate Innovation District

At the Climate Innovation District in Leeds city centre, sustainability is at the heart of the development.

Sunday, 18th April 2021, 6:00 am

However, it's not just about making the homes eco-friendly, it is about reconnecting with the surrounding nature too.

The houses have been built with the environment in mind, utilisingbig open windows to let natural light in as well as boasting south facing roof terraces, with magnificent views across the city.

Solar Avenue opens out onto The Green, a traffic-free acre of green landscape dotted with over thirty trees, while the Secret Garden homes overlook the River Aire below.

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Claude Yearwood is the gardener at the Climate Innovation District in Leeds. Photo: Mark Webster

Claude Yearwood is the man responsible for creating the serene outdoor gardens in the district.

The 43-year-old grew up farming and gardening in the Caribbean before turning his passion into successful business Ras Roots Gardening Services in Leeds.

Since he began working at the site, he has planted edible plants, living walls and herbs and flowers along the riverside, an area which sees wildlife in abundance with herons, swans, and kingfishers regularly spotted enjoying the greenery.

Claude said: “There are no dull days in the Climate Innovation District and there is a genuine interest in how people interact with landscapes.

Claude Yearwood has created a serene and interactive garden for the area, including living walls and herb gardens. Photo: Mark Webster

“The creative license is one of the beautiful things about the job, and there’s always new technology and new ways of looking at things.

“We’ve got the wildflower meadow along the river side which is great for the wildlife and how people interact with nature.

“We're genuinely trying to create something that is good for generations to come.”

Claude's gardening is dictated by the needs of the development, for example rain gardens have been installed along Solar Avenue to control surface water runoff the roof terraces and prevent flooding.

The greenery at the Climate Innovation District.

However, Claude said he has been given the scope to be innovative when curating the garden, meaning he is able to pursue his own passions in the area, such as planting vegetables and creating herb gardens.

He said: “I've got a passion about growing food and I don't see a strict distinction between ornamental and food planting.

“I'd like to have edibles dappled across the landscape.

“There has been a lot of interest from residents about growing their own.

“There's a different climate of the terraces because it is sunnier but also windier, so the choice of plants is different, but the residents are becoming their own experts on what plants thrive and wouldn't thrive on the roof terraces

“Last year, we had a lot of pumpkins growing and the residents were coming up with creative ways of cooking it up which was a huge learning experience.

“It really sparked how significant a change it could be growing your own food.”

He added: “I think there are more conscientious people who are thinking more about what they eat and where the food comes from.

“The situation last year with Coronavirus created more time for people to do more gardening at home.

“In the same way houses are insulated to reduce the level of heating, everybody's trying to chip away the level of impact that they have on the environment around them.”

Claude's top tips for gardening:

Claude said: “My best advice for that is to take a subtle approach, which involves letting nature lead the dance.

“Try not to be too bullish about things.

“It's one big experiment.

“The best gardening advice is do something and just evaluate what worked and what didn't because that's what every good gardener arises from, a combination of all these experiences of what worked and what didn't.

“There are no hard and fast rules, different environments will lend themselves to different outcomes, given factors.

“So, again, try some things. Look at how well it worked. That didn't work.

“Let nature lead the way and look more.”