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Gardening – the ultimate green and sustainable occupation. Or is it?

How sustainable is your garden habit?

As part of nature, plants themselves are perfectly balanced. They grow organically, they bear fruit and seed and some of this is eaten by animals and humans. Eventually they die and return everything and more back to the soil. Plants in their natural surroundings are in harmony with nature. Plant matter which is farmed or grown for pleasure can eventually be composted and fully re-used. Even water that is used to help plants thrive is recyclable in terms of photosynthesis, evaporation and rain.

sustainable world green earth held in a hand How natural and sustainable is your garden?


It’s the things we buy that can pose a sustainability issue. Plant pots, for example, are generally made from single-use plastic. We don’t need David Attenborough to tell us how environmentally unfriendly this can be. Plastic transporting trays are often made from similar one-use-only plastic too. Then there are seed trays, fertiliser containers, watering cans and plastic-based wheelbarrows. Not to mention tools, compost bags, containers designed to hold green waste, wellies, garden furniture and a whole host of other useful plastic goods.

plastic bottles single use So many items are thrown straight into a bin when they have been used just once


Next, there’s the issue over peat-based compost. Our buying habits are beginning to change, but progress is slow. The majority of ‘multi-purpose’ compost offered for sale contains between 70-100 per cent peat. Environmentalists agree that we need to protect our precious peatbogs. These rare places provide unique habitats for insect, plant and bird life that is found nowhere else.

peat bog with sun going down with flowers A peat bog is a magical place for many different reasons.

Positive plastics

It is perfectly possible to garden sustainably. It’s also important to realise that not all plastic items are bad. Some can last for decades. Watering cans, strong seed trays and wheelbarrows, for example, provide a useful service for many years. Their life expectancy fully justifies their existence.

wheelbarrow made of plastic

There's nothing wrong with well-made plastic products that are long-lasting

What can be done?

The greatest area for improvement lies in those throw-away items. The National Trust is now on a pathway to replace environmentally unfriendly containers with more sustainable alternatives. They include bio-based and recycled paper pots that are biodegradable. Also re-usable plant pots and trays. Several garden centres have introduced recycling schemes whereby their customers can bring back pots and trays for repeated use. Many nurseries are now on a pathway to use peat-free compost.

pot maker using recycled newspaper This paper pot maker is a great way to recycle newspaper and make something useful

Defra now has a long-term environmental plan which aims to stop plastic from entering the ocean. Retailers are being encouraged to adopt more sustainable practices. There’s still a long way to go, however. Consumer demand could do much to speed up the process.  So how could you, as a gardener and garden-lover, make a difference?

Start at home

wooden pallets for recycling Take a wooden pallet... and what could you make?

The first place to start is at home. Gardens are a great place in which to practice recycling. Pallets are a case in point. More than 60 million pallets are thrown away each year in the UK, either by sending them to the local tip or many end up on a bonfire. So, for those looking to create a more sustainable garden, look to use products that would otherwise be discarded.

a compost bin made using a recycled pallet Wooden pallets can be used to make compost bins

Pallets can be used to make compost bins. They also make excellent kindling wood for a barbecue or wood fire. Or how about making pallet-based nest boxes and simple feeders for birds?

bird boxes made from recycled wood Bird boxes and feeders can be made from recycled pallets

Keeping the birds away from your seeds and produce

Bird-scarers can be made from unwanted CDs tied onto old bamboo canes and scarecrows can be created from old fabric, stuffed with hay. Plant labels can be formed from plastic cartons and ‘micro ponds’ could be created from plastic containers. If you’ve already collected an array of plastic pots, make sure you re-use them or take them to a nursery that practices recycling.

scarecrow to frighten off the birds Scarecrows are great fun to make, using recycled materials

Shop carefully

Then you can adjust your buying habits and choose only outlets that support sustainability. If you’re feeling pro-active you can message the managers and highlight your feelings about the matter. Grow more plants from seed or cuttings, thereby cutting out the need for retail pots. You might justify getting a (recycled) greenhouse in order to extend your propagation efforts. You can even buy sustainable garden furniture, with some of the latest designs being made from plastics recycled from the ocean.

propagation of a plant Propagate your own plants - you get plants for free without using any additional plastic

Once you get into your eco stride, it all becomes an established way of life. Enjoy turning green this summer!