A year of less stuff gardening?
As I was starting to write this blog I read an article by someone who had given away all their belongings and was wandering the world carrying only a rucksack. The idea of giving up any form of long term residence is unlikely to appeal to a gardener but it did make me think about how easy it is to collect gardening tools and paraphernalia whether we need and use them or not. Do I really need three trowels? How many hand forks is too many including one with round prongs that I never reach for? Not to mention years’ of Christmas gifts sitting in a cupboard – clever plant ties when I always use soft string. Having a good clear out may be satisfying as experienced by the original writer but simply throwing things away does not reduce our impact or carbon footprint and neither does the minimal-living mantra “one in, one out” which allows for the regular purchase of new stuff as long as you evict something. My only advice is to resist the temptation of bright new, shiny tools in favour of a deep affection for the worn smooth handles of old faithfuls where the wood grain is filled with soil, to match gardeners’ hands. And to suggest tactfully to friends and family that you do not need more gardening stuff for birthday or Christmas.
But tools and string are not the biggest problem when it comes to making gardening greener. As with so many areas of modern life the damage is done by the amount of plastic that is thrown away, primarily, in this case, plastic plant pots. The problem is that almost every plant we buy comes in a rigid plastic pot and although this has the potential to be used many times, the reality is that most become ‘single use plastic’ once the plant is in the garden or hanging basket. Keeping a stack of old pots in the shed for a few years before eventually getting rid of them does not change the ‘single use’ element and I suspect that I am far from the only person to have done this. Some progress has been made in the last few years with a move from black plastic to other colours that can be added to domestic recycling and garden centres are starting to collect pots for recycling. It would be neat to see pots simply reused by growers but one large garden centre chain explains on their website that possible contamination prevents this. We are also starting to see alternative materials including coir and rice husk, both byproducts from other industries. Coir is intended for single use, to be planted out so that the roots grow through the pot walls as it decomposes. Rice husk makes a totally rigid pot that can be used many times and will decompose when it finally breaks. But although made from waste, neither coconuts nor rice are grown in the UK so either the raw material or the finished product will have to be shipped thousands of miles.
So back to the original article that talked about the sense of achievement in not buying things. The real issue with landfill and microplastics in the oceans does not start when we throw stuff away – by then the battle has been lost. It starts when we acquire things in the first place. If we reduce the number of pots we acquire then we reduce the number that are thrown away; in the words of a mongoose “Simples!”. So maybe it is time to return to slow gardening and grow more of our own plants from seeds, cuttings and division. Of course there is a balance to be struck. If you are planting up a large area then no-one wants to wait ten years to grow a sizeable shrub or tree from a cutting and it seems a fair choice to buy them in. For cottage garden perennials and especially annual bedding then growing your own is most definitely a realistic approach. And you can take immense satisfaction from a garden with so much of yourself invested in it.
From old tools to homegrown plants, perhaps 2024 will usher in an era of less stuff gardening.
Happy Gardening New Year from Alison
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