So sustainable: How to be a more eco-friendly gardener
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Columnist Debbie McMorran looks at the ways we can all be more environmentally friendly in our gardens
It’s absolutely impossible nowadays to avoid sustainable living - and thank goodness for that.
Whether you have always lived in an eco-friendly way, or are only just getting to grips with what goes in which recycling bin, our society is becoming more and more focused on sustainability and the avoidance of single use plastics.
In my local Waitrose this morning, I was interested to see a sign which said that people could bring reusable containers for use at the delicatessen counter - a far cry from the days when I worked there as a teenager when I had a Saturday job, and all items were wrapped in deli wrap, before being placed in a plastic bag.
The state of the planet and the impact of single use plastics has become an increasingly urgent issue on the world stage.
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With politicians and celebrities making calls for change, and David Attenborough’s hugely popular Blue Planet programme drawing attention to the plight of the ocean, and the creatures that live on and in it, we have seen thousands of people pledging to cut their own contribution into landfill by changing their living and shopping habits.
Taking all of this into consideration, I have been giving some thought to how we can start to garden in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way.
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It seems like a strange thing to talk about, when you would assume that a) all gardeners would be eco-friendly/environmentally aware, and b) that by gardening, you are already helping the planet and delicate eco-systems to survive.
Unfortunately, there are still some aspects of gardening culture which leave a lot to be desired when it comes to caring for the environment, and these are a few of the ways that you can change how you garden to cut down on waste.
1. Consider going organic
It goes without saying that there are pesticides and weed killers that many people use in their gardens which have a negative impact on the environment. The desire to keep your prize-winning roses looking perfect and free of aphids might be enough to tempt you towards certain sprays, but it pays to do your research about which product you use, to be sure that it is doing as little damage as possible.
Although the EU agreed a near ban on neonicotinoids in 2018, we can only hope that, following Brexit, the government will choose to continue to uphold a similar policy, for the sake of the bees which we so desperately need to protect.
My own great-uncle was a huge supporter of organic gardening, and used to personally remove all pests from his vegetable crops - he was in his mid-nineties however, and had a lot of time to do this. Many of us would struggle to find the time to go looking for every caterpillar and slug each day - but his crops absolutely boomed, and he always had prize-winning veg!
2. Reuse plant pots
Wherever you buy your plants from, it’s likely that they will come in plastic plant pots. There are various hessian or coir versions, but unfortunately we are probably a way off these being the norm in the UK. If you are potting up your own seedlings, do consider buying the biodegradable coir pots. If you have bought plants rather than growing them from scratch, make sure you keep the pots for reuse - if you look after them (washing them out after use and stacking them once dry) they should last for a good few uses, reducing your single-use plastic impact and saving you money!
You can of course also make single use plant pots out of old newspapers, with the help of a wooden plant pot “dibber” which are widely available. They look divine, and are a great way to reuse any newspaper which would have otherwise gone straight in the recycling bin!
3. Reuse your seeds
If you have somewhere that you can grow your own plants from seed then you can cut down on plant pots and seed trays by saving seed from one year to reuse the next. This is a great way of being able to sustain your own crops without having to spend money on buying more seeds, but also means that you can select and save seed from plants or vegetables that have done particularly well, or those which seemed to thrive better in your particular growing spot. We have saved seeds from the biggest and best pumpkin that we grew last year, in the hope that we will be able to grow something similar this year - time will tell, and I’ll be sure to report back later in the season!
4. Reuse and retain water in the garden
It seems strange to be talking about saving water - as I write this, it’s drizzling outside, and the snow has only just thawed from earlier in the week. But thinking back to the long hot days of last spring/summer, when we really struggled for water in the garden - now is the time to start thinking about how to conserve the glut of natural water. Investing in water butts or water tanks at this time of year, and arranging your guttering to overflow into a butt or tank is the perfect time to get them all filled up for use in the dry days which will possibly lie ahead. Most councils will have a scheme for purchasing water saving devices, and it’s a great way to save both water and money if you happen to be on a water meter - as most of us are nowadays!
Hopefully this will give you some ideas for how to make your own methods of gardening more eco, and budget friendly - but if you have any particular hints or tips for how you garden in an environmentally friendly way - we’d love to hear from you! As the days start to get longer and the weather gets milder - it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy your garden! Have a great month!