Char­lotte Philcox re­alises there is too much plas­tic on her plot

Is it pos­si­ble to rid our plots of plas­tic? Let’s Talk’s gar­den­ing writer Char­lotte Philcox re­alises she has work to do to be­come as eco-friendly as pos­si­ble.

Let's Talk - - Contents -

J une is a glo­ri­ous month in the gar­den, but right now there’s some­thing more press­ing on my mind than plants. That’s be­cause be­hind nearly all the glo­ri­ous dis­plays of flow­ers and veg­eta­bles to be seen across the re­gion, there lurks a dark se­cret. And that se­cret is plas­tic. For when it comes to the use - and waste - of this head­line­hit­ting ma­te­rial, hor­ti­cul­ture is one of the worst cul­prits.

We’re all guilty, me not the least. Un­til re­cently, I thought I was one of the green­est peo­ple around. I grow a large pro­por­tion of my own fruit and veg, don’t eat meat, buy most clothes, books and house­hold items sec­ond-hand or from char­ity shops, and re­cy­cle, mend or re­use al­most ev­ery­thing else. I even dry pieces of or­ange peel, which make very ef­fec­tive fire­lighters. I’m also a firm be­liever that the best thing any of us can do is not buy items we don’t need in the first place, and avoid plas­tic pack­ag­ing.

How­ever, a re­cent foray out­doors proved that ev­ery­thing within my gar­den was far from rosy - or should I say, green.

I thought I’d been do­ing well, and had been quite proud of my rep­u­ta­tion for us­ing other peo­ple’s throw-outs. Un­wanted blue water pip­ing has been cut into lengths and placed to span my veg beds, where they serve as ready-curved sup­ports for pro­tec­tive tun­nels. Re­cy­cled net cur­tains pro­tect soft fruit bushes from the birds, and

are clipped to­gether with (wooden) clothes pegs. My water butts are sec­ond-hand, or else those blue, re­cy­cled juice con­tain­ers you see on most al­lot­ments.

I have an army of stack­able wire bas­kets res­cued from a shop re­fit, which are per­fect for pop­ping over rows of young plants to keep the pi­geons away. And my col­lec­tion of old oven shelves, used to stop cats and black­birds de­stroy­ing re­cently pre­pared seed beds, has to be seen to be be­lieved. Added to this, I make pa­per pots for seedlings, and have even con­structed a hang­ing bird ta­ble from an old seed tray.

But then it struck me. Be­cause whether re­cy­cled or not, apart from the wire shelves, pegs and pa­per pots, ev­ery­thing listed above is, of course, plas­tic. And what will hap­pen to it all when I’m gone? Plas­tic might be very use­ful, but it cer­tainly isn’t a legacy I want to leave to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

As the (non-plas­tic) scales fell from my eyes, I felt a sense of hor­ror. My dab­bling around in the gar­den wasn’t as eco­log­i­cally friendly as I’d thought, and the more I looked, the more I saw . . .

To be­gin with, there was the pro­tec­tive net­ting used as a cov­er­ing for my fruit and veg cages to keep the birds away - all plas­tic. My poly­tun­nel doesn’t bear think­ing about, as it will have to be ‘re-skinned’ after just six or seven years - and what hap­pens to all the old cov­er­ing after that? I’m de­bat­ing whether it might be best to use the struc­ture as another fruit cage, but then I’m back with the plas­tic again. Of course a glasshouse would be more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, but I was given the tun­nel by some­one who - you’ve guessed - didn’t want it.

And what can I do about the plas­tic la­bels which come with nearly every new plant? Surely it would be bet­ter for sup­pli­ers to stick plain la­bels on the sides of the pots, but then I sup­pose this isn’t com­mer­cially vi­able. And the flow­er­pots them­selves hardly bear think­ing of. Mod­ule trays are al­most worse, as there must be tonnes of them sold with an­nual bed­ding and veg­etable plants every year. There might be sev­eral dif­fer­ent types of biodegrad­able pot avail­able, but how many nurs­eries or gar­den cen­tres do you know which can af­ford to use them?

While I’m hav­ing a good rant, I might as well men­tion the tough plas­tic sacks used for pack­ag­ing com­mer­cial com­posts - which ad­mit­tedly are very use­ful, as I keep and re­use mine un­til they split apart. You can grow pota­toes in them, and they are great for mak­ing leaf-mould, or clear­ing up hedge clip­pings and other gar­den waste. How­ever, there’s a limit to how many the av­er­age gar­dener can use.

And what about the sturdy poly­thene tubs and buck­ets in which soil ad­di­tives are sold? I’m cer­tain that there’s a stack of empty ones lurk­ing in the cor­ner of many a gar­den.

Plas­tic might be very use­ful but it isn’t a legacy.

Of course, in the past, peo­ple didn’t buy nearly so much gar­den ‘stuff’. They were much more self-suf­fi­cient, mak­ing their own com­post and grow­ing ev­ery­thing from seeds or cut­tings. Flow­er­pots were unglazed ter­ra­cotta, which, if they broke could al­ways be reused as drainage ‘crocks’, be­fore even­tu­ally be­ing ground up and used in home-made pot­ting com­posts.

Glasshouses were just that: made from glass, not UV re­sis­tant plas­tics. And no-one had heard of so-called ‘hor­ti­cul­tural fleece’, us­ing nat­u­ral hes­sian or sacking in­stead to pro­tect their plants from frost.

Talk­ing of which, per­haps there’s a keen crafter out there who could cro­chet a nat­u­ral hes­sian string cover for my poly­tun­nel. Now there’s an idea.

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