How green are your fingers?

How green are your fingers?

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? All the usual ones about getting fitter, saving money and giving up smoking spring to mind, but what about making your garden a bit greener? 

I’m not suggesting that you grow more foliage plants. I’m thinking more about upping your environmental credentials as a gardener, and those of your plot. 

As gardeners, it’s easy to be a bit smug and complacent when it comes to our favourite hobby. After all, aren’t we the nurturers, the ones who plant things, grow our own food, and fill the garden with pretty flowers. And that’s not all: lots of us feed the birds, put up nest boxes and dig ponds for water creatures, as well as adapting when we prune and cut back our plants so that wildlife can benefit. 

But, while we may think that we’re doing our bit for the environment, we’re not as ‘squeaky green’ as it seems. OK, so gardening and the environment is a huge and complex issue, something it would be impossible to sum up here, but let’s just touch on three aspects that could help with my proposal for you to make 2017 the year when you become a greener gardener.   

For a start, as with food miles, it pays to think where your plants come from. Mass-produced cuttings, bedding and a huge range of perennial plants come from Europe and around the world. This may help to cut the monetary cost to the consumer, but in many cases ignores the environmental cost of burning fossil fuel to raise plants under glass and transport them to the garden centre. Growing at least some of your own plants from seed, cuttings and by division at home, in their natural season, will be kinder on the environment, as well as your pocket.

It’s also crucial to think seriously about the waste plastic that results from your favourite hobby. How many of us relish the thought of accumulating yet more plastic flowerpots, carry trays, picture labels and packaging, but it continues to be the scourge of plant buying. And, while the majority of local authorities provide recycling schemes, relatively few of these horticultural plastics are of a type that can be widely recycled. When you think of the bedding and seasonal plants that are bought in such quantity, it’s hardly surprising that we produce masses of landfill waste in the form of trays and small pots. There are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of biodegradable plastics and coir pots, but they’re still not widely used. Bare-root nursery stock – available in the dormant season, between October and March – is an alternative to buying trees, shrubs and perennials in pots, but mail order packaging all too often involves polystyrene chips, plastic shrink wrap and yards of plastic packing tape. So, where possible, check the environmental footprint of any new plants to help you make an informed choice of whether you are prepared to buy them.

And what about compost? No, not the debate over the use of peat, I’m talking about ANY of the bagged compost that you buy whether it’s peat-based or peat-free. It’s mass produced and you most certainly get what you pay for. But here again there is a hidden environmental cost of sourcing the raw materials, producing and transporting the compost to where it is sold. However, the ultimate, top quality compost can be made at home, in your back garden, using waste materials from your own plot – surely the pinnacle of green, environmentally friendly recycling. It’s always struck me as odd that we produce masses of green leafy growth, woody prunings and kitchen peelings, yet don’t see this as personal ‘wealth’. That wealth lies in the potential of these raw ingredients to be recycled into compost and back into our garden plants. After all, you’ve invested money in feeding and nurturing the plants that produce the compostable waste so why take that investment to the dump or send it off in the green waste bin?     

As with all matters to do with using the earth’s infinite resources and our impact on the natural environment, making green gardening choices is simply about thinking about the consequences of your actions. There are plenty of other things that gardeners can do to reduce their contribution to global warming. But, like any New Year’s resolution, those who succeed tend to be people who set achievable targets and change their habits gradually. Imagine if we all did a few small things in 2017 to help our planet and, ultimately, each other.