As a landscape gardener I am aware that the landscaping industry could go further in promoting a more environmentally responsible way of how we create gardens. There is much information out there on eco-friendly gardening – how to encourage wildlife and what plants to grow, but I am turning my focus on the materials and methods I use to build and maintain my garden. Anyone thinking of making changes to their garden, large or small scale, could incorporate these into their schemes.
This week I’ll be focusing on how best to buy and care for new and existing plants. Next week I’ll write about how you can make structural changes to your garden as eco-friendly as possible.
Plastic: no one can escape the damage that plastic is doing to the environment. The shocking statistic that 800 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year and more recently the news that China will no longer be processing a large percentage of our plastic waste is at last making this headline news. Hopefully this will kickstart more soul searching as to how we can do our bit towards protecting the planet. Black plastic seems to be the scourge of the plastic world as so few councils accept it for recycling and yet a high percentage of plants are sold in black plastic pots or trays. One way to avoid plastic pots is to purchase shrubs and trees that are bare rooted or root balled. These can be ordered online, delivered by post and planted when the plant is dormant in the winter. Because they are bare rooted not only do they eliminate the plastic pot but the absence of soil also ensures that they are delivered peat free. I’d encourage anyone who is growing plants from seed to try alternatives to plastic pots – make them from newspaper or even from the insides of toilets rolls.
Peat: peat bogs take thousands of years to form and create unique environments meaning they are often Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Once peat is mined the ecosystem it provides is destroyed. Garden compost accounts for 60% of peat bought in the UK so by switching to a peat free alternative you can do your bit to help protect the bogs. Peat free composts have improved greatly over the past few years and provide a viable alternative. There is talk of a government ban on the use of peat in the next few years. Nothing is confirmed as yet but watch this space.
Fertilizers and pesticides: blood fish and bone is a great organic general purpose fertilizer with no hidden artificial chemicals. A good alternative to chemical pesticides are nematodes which are microscopic worms and provide a natural 100% organic solution to pest control. They are simple to use – select the correct nematode for the pest you want to target and order them online. Then mix with water and apply with a watering can to the area to be treated. Nematodes can be used to control slugs but what really works for me is either beer traps or going out after dusk and collecting them up.
If you live in Bath you will have recently taken delivery of a new wheelie bin which must now be used for your council rubbish collection. This got me thinking about the many old bins that are now redundant and what uses they can be put to in the garden. Here are some suggestions.
Grow some spuds. Plastic bins are an easy way to grow potatoes in a small space. Simply drill some holes in the bottom of your bin (3 holes of roughly 2cm diameter should do it but it doesn’t have to be precise), place a crock over each hole and fill to 30cm with compost (a general peat free compost will be fine). In January/February buy some first early seed potatoes from the garden centre and chit them at home. This means putting them somewhere indoors with lots of daylight so that they start to grow shoots. I tend to put mine in an empty egg box (stops them rolling around) on a windowsill. In March place 3 seed potatoes on the compost, shoots pointing up, and cover to about 3cm with compost. Leave outside in a bright but not direct sunlit place and keep an eye on progress and once leaves form add more compost so that only the tops of the leaves are showing and keep doing this until the compost is nearly at the top of the bin. What you’re trying to do is create a very long stem as this is where the potatoes will form. Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged. To harvest tip the bin out in early June and you should have a lovely crop of salad potatoes. I promise you they will taste better than any you can buy at the supermarket and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you grew them.
Create a flower pot. This is perfect for any aluminium/galvanised steel bins you might have. Again form some holes in the bottom for drainage. I then use old packing polystyrene to build up the height and place some polythene over the top with some holes punctured in it. This is cheaper than filling with compost and the polythene prevents the compost that you place at the top filtering down into the polystyrene. Then fill with 20cm of compost, place your tulip or daffodil bulbs on top and cover with another 10cm of compost. Keep the soil moist and sit back and wait for your spring flowers to bloom.
Use as a water butt. Place under a downpipe from the roof to collect rainwater which is perfect for watering the garden. You can either use a bucket to get the water out or fit a plastic tap. Make sure you keep the lid on to keep leaves out and make it safe for children.
Store compost. Cut the bottom off your plastic bin and place on level ground. Fill with garden cuttings and fruit and veg peelings. Keep mixing it up as you add new waste. In a couple of months lift the bin and the oldest waste will have formed into a homemade compost for your garden.
Use it as a rhubarb forcer. Every year I get an early crop from my rhubarb by forcing it. In January put horse manure or compost around your rhubarb plant and place your upturned bin over the top of the plant and weigh it down so it doesn’t blow over in the wind. The lack of light blanches the stems to make the rhubarb sweeter and more tender. Check it weekly and, depending on the variety, from February onwards the stems will be of an edible size and ready to harvest. The plant needs to be at least 3 years old for this to work successfully and not damage it.
Use as a root barrier. Some plants are very vigorous and will rapidly spread so if you fancy some bamboo in your garden an old bin will form a great root barrier to keep it confined to one area. Cut the bottom off the bin and place in the hole that you’ve created in the ground for your bamboo so that the top rim of the bin is about 5cm above the soil level. Then plant your bamboo within the bin. The bin will prevent the roots from spreading.
Create a pond. Cut the bin down to the depth you want and place in a hole in the ground. Place in a few dwarf pond plants and to speed things along add a jug of water from a friend’s pond. Make sure you create a shallow area or ramp for wildlife to get out.
I hope I’ve given you some inspiration here. Remember to take care when making any holes or cutting the bins.