Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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Plastic, not so fantastic

It’s hard to believe it but avoiding the use of excess plastic already appears to be ‘so last year’.  The Coronavirus pandemic may have given us clearer skies and cleaner air but it’s done absolutely nothing for plastic pollution which must surely be on the rise again?  So what can we gardeners do to try to tip the balance in the other direction?

Agapanthus – not planted in plastic! (c) Elizabeth Malone

I confess that this isn’t an area of environmentally responsible gardening that I’ve fully embraced.  If I’m quite honest, it’s because it’s so difficult!  I’m writing this sitting on a hot patio surrounded by plastic pots; in the shed behind me reside several plastic bags of compost; and I’m about to water the garden (it is parched) with a plastic hose sitting on a plastic reel.

Echinacea – also not plastic! (c) Elizabeth Malone

One thing that I’ve noticed about being ‘plastic conscious’ is that my shed is in danger of filling up with bits of plastic that “may come in useful” one day – a bit like my Dad used to collect bits of wood!  I’ve always kept the plastic pots that new plants arrive in.  I re-use them every spring for seedlings and potting stuff on.  There’s quite a lot of them in every size, shape and, since the need to make things more recyclable, colour.  When I re-use them, I do enjoy it if the label is still on the side and I can see what originally came in it.  Sometimes it’s a sad story of a plant that didn’t make it but on other occasions it’s astonishing how small the pot now looks compared to the thriving plant!

Potting on involves a lot of plastic re-use (c) Elizabeth Malone

Re-using plants pots is an easy thing anyone can do but, in my desperation for plastic not to be ‘single-use’, I’ve started to acquire a stack of strangely shaped trays that have usually come from biscuits or fruit or other foodstuffs in the hope of repurposing them for the garden in some obscure way.  This spring I had great success growing cosmos seedlings in plasticised fruit-juice cartons.  Plenty of gardeners extol the virtues of cardboard loo-roll tubes for sowing long-rooted seedlings such as sweet peas.  I did try this once but the cardboard went a bit weirdly mouldy on me.  I will try not to let this put me off giving it another go.  Fashioning pots for seedlings from newspaper is also another alternative but, as we all buy less and less printed newspapers, this might actually cease to be an option in years to come.

Seeds germinated in old fruit juice cartons (c) Elizabeth Malone

‘Re-use’ has to be the keyword when it comes to reducing plastic in our gardening.  If you’ve got something that is plastic, don’t replace it for the sake of it, just keep using it until it finally bites the dust!  Seed trays would be a good example.  You can buy wooden ones or trendy bamboo, but if you already have old-fashioned plastic, keep using it for as long as possible.

Extremely well-used plastic seed tray (c) Elizabeth Malone

Plant labels are another good example.  Plastic ones can be re-used time and time again.  However, I know that each year I lose a few!  Eventually I will need to buy some more.  I have some rather nice slate ones waiting in the wings but a simple alternative would be to use something like wooden lolly sticks.

Entertaining but plastic! (c) Elizabeth Malone

The other heap of stuff that is in danger of overflowing in my shed is old compost bags.  It is possible to buy compost in non-plastic containers but generally speaking I’ve found that this either applies to bulk-buying or requires time that I simply don’t have.  This spring, I think most gardeners were happy to take any compost they could get, such was the impact of the lockdown.  So whilst my compost might tick the ‘peat-free’ box, sadly it fails on the plastic free front.

No, it’s not autumn yet, but a good re-use of old compost sacks (c) Elizabeth Malone

Which leads me to consider other packaging.  Organic liquid fertilisers, such as seaweed extract, are fantastic for feeding your plants and keeping them health but, inevitably, they come in plastic bottles.  In the spring I do use chicken manure pellets which also come in giant plastic tubs.  Some of these get re-used for storing bird-food and keeping it safe from the mice, but I am thinking that I need to consider purchasing more of the dry types of feed, such as blood, fish and bonemeal, that come in cardboard boxes. 

For the time being, my watering arrangements will remain unchanged.  I have two plastic watering cans that are almost certainly more than 20 years old.  If one of them suddenly gives up the ghost, then I will think of buying a non-plastic alternative.

More trusty old friends – the can is at least 20 years old! (c) Elizabeth Malone

One thing I’m not guilty of is using plastic ties.  I prefer old fashioned green garden twine.  At the start of lockdown I needed some urgently and included a ‘ball of string’ as part of an order to a local garden centre.  The most enormous ball of garden twine that you’ve ever seen arrived!  I won’t need to buy twine for quite some time to come!

Look at the size of that twine! (c) Elizabeth Malone