Greening up our gardensAlison Marsden
My thoughts for the New Year turn to how we can ensure that as well as being happy and productive green spaces, our gardens are as green as possible in the planetary and sustainability sense too. This has been a direction of travel since the start of the 21st century across pretty much all aspects of life and gardens have great potential to help if we give a little thought to what we are buying. One of the most eco ways to garden is to grow your own plants or swap with friends and turn garden waste into compost – nature’s recycling. But there are times when we all need to acquire ‘stuff’ whether pots and compost or tools, machinery and garden furniture.
There are a couple of topics that are probably familiar to all gardeners by now from coverage in mainstream as well as gardening media and those are Peat and Tropical Hardwoods. I am a long term advocate of peat-free multipurpose compost to preserve dwindling peat bogs as irreplaceable wildlife and plant habitats. They also reduce water run-off and flooding and now we know that they store huge amounts of carbon. Sustainable timber sourcing is another no-brainer and, despite labelling schemes, tropical rainforests are still at risk to produce hardwood garden furniture.
For the rest, it is not practical or reasonable to try to list all the environmentally good or bad products and certainly not for me or anyone else to tell you what to buy. But I do find it useful to have a simple way to assess the overall impact of anything that I am considering buying and compare it to the benefit that I and my garden will get. So this is how I look at it.
- What is the object made from, how is it made and how far has it come?
This is about raw materials being non-renewable or the extraction causing permanent damage, peat and hardwoods above are good examples. For a manufactured item do you know how much power or water is needed for the process and what happens to waste products? It may mean a choice of bbq charcoal from a local woodland coppicing scheme instead of hardwood charcoal shipped in from China or South America.
- Does it need power to operate, are there waste products?
I am not suggesting that power tools are not useful but there are choices to be made: rechargeable battery versus petrol hedge trimmer, a rake may be as easy as a leaf blower in a small garden. Gas patio heaters are hard to justify in terms of fuel and polluting gases, but I was brought up in a ‘put another jumper on’ household and you may think differently. The point is to think about it.
- How long will it last and what happens when I dispose of it?
This is where I finally mention plastic! Plastics can be great materials used appropriately and in fact the environmental debate on plastic is very complicated. One thing that is clear though is that single-use plastic packaging, even if technically recyclable, is generally best avoided. After all you are buying what is inside but both you and the environment pay for the moulded plastic container.
When it comes to plastic plant pots it is difficult to imagine growing and transporting all the plants bought in the UK each year without plastic pots. Many more are now recyclable in theory but it is doubtful how much waste plastic is actually recycled in practice. The best way currently to minimise the impact of plastic plant pots is to use them as many times as possible and avoid buying new (empty) ones. If you have excess then donating them to a growing project, community garden or garden therapy unit might be an option.
A good New Year’s resolution for a gardener might be to pause before buying and decide if there is a greener choice that would be just as fabulous.
Happy Gardening from Alison
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