Gardening the Natural Way

by Sarah Dobson Bees Wildlife Author - Stephen Peters Gardens

Lowdown on The Level

The Heritage Lottery-funded restoration of The Level park has given a new lease of life to this precious green space in the heart of Brighton since its completion in 2013 by Brighton & Hove City Council. We now have a permanent staff presence that includes an inherent commitment to gardening with nature in mind and creating space for wildlife as well as people.

Conservation gardening methods are wholeheartedly embraced at The Level, from our choice of plants to the use of alternatives to chemicals and recycling of green waste on site. Such measures aim to increase biodiversity, restore habitats and benefit species – especially insect pollinators, many of which have declined across both urban and rural areas.

Conservation gardening measures used at The Level include:

  • Plant selection, including a wide range of perennial plants that attract pollinating insects, as well as other beneficial insects, to the park. Furthermore ornamental grasses not only give a ‘living bouquet’ effect to any border, but also provide a valuable hibernating place for beneficial insects, such as ladybirds. Herb rock gardens (Basil, Chives, Tarragon, Thyme, Mint, Rosemary, Oregano, Marjoram, Coriander and Sage) also provide a great habitat for insects; due to their diverse planting and the rocks also provide cover for insects to hide beneath and for lichens to grow on.
  • Companion planting: Some species of plants have beneficial effects to neighbouring plants, such as Achillea (yarrows) which can repel some insect pests but at the same time encourage predatory ones; the root system also contains a chemical which can improve the neighbouring plants’ defence against pests and diseases. There are also clumps of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) which have the same beneficial effects, but additionally provide food and shelter to more than 40 species of insects which depend on nettles.
  • We also propagate our own plants from The Level to sustain the diverse plantings present; this is done through many forms of propagation, such as division, hardwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings, soft tip cuttings and of course from seed.
  • Designated areas, such as the perimeter of the park, have been left to grow so they can host wild flowers and provide a ‘stepping stone’ for wildlife to move along the green corridor of Valley Gardens in central Brighton from the Old Steine up to The Level and beyond.
  • No chemicals are used at The Level – such as pesticides, herbicides or fungicides – but instead we use Neem oil for controlling pests and diseases, such as greenfly or blackspot. Neem oil itself comes from a tree in India Azadirachta indica and has been used for many years as a form of natural pest control. Another name for this tree is ‘Margosa’.
  • No peat based materials are used, but other organic materials only such as dead leaves in the autumn, grass trimmings, spent coffee grounds from the Velo café, as well as tea leaves. All of this organic matter is beneficial as it adds nutrients back into the soil as an organic mulch compost that slowly decays, also improving the soil’s structure by creating an environment for helpful organisms. Coffee grounds are beneficial to the plants, because they slowly release nitrogen as they decompose, improve soil structure; encourage more earthworms to be present, and keep pests at bay such as slugs and snails.
  • Over 95% of green waste is recycled on site; such as grass trimmings, leaves and woody prunings. The prunings are scatted under the native hedgerow around the perimeter of the southern side of the park. This provides nitrogen to the hedgerow as they decay and a home for insects; which in turn provides food for foraging birds as well as nesting materials for them in the spring and summer.

Information is made available to the public in the park’s notice boards through the ‘Level Garden News’ sheets, based upon the plant database developed for The Level, to inform people about the plants flowering at that specific time and their attractiveness to pollinators.

For the past few months we have been working with students from City College Brighton to promote The Level as a place of learning about nature and environmental sustainability. Activities have included guided talks, wildlife surveys through regular bee counts, and habitat creation projects. Beyond environmental awareness, the collaboration has also helped to build students’ personal skills of self-awareness, confidence, and communication abilities.

Public volunteers are actively encouraged to get involved at The Level, including through a gardening club that has been running for the past year (Wednesday and Thursday mornings). This helps people to learn more about the world of horticulture through plant identification, appropriate planting, plant care and propagation skills. Other benefits of doing your bit for the park as a member of the gardening clubs and park ambassador include making new friends and improved health through ‘eco-therapy’.

To get involved, find out more from our web pages at!

Stephen Peters

Garden Manager – The Level

Brighton & Hove City Council – City Parks


  • Sue Craske:

    The Park management on The Level sounds far too good to be true-but it is true and it looks really good.

    01 Aug 2015 21:35:14

  • Nothing really beats doing things in the natural way. Gardening thru the natural method is healthier for the produce & cost is lower. Great blog post.

    15 Dec 2015 13:12:46

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