Helping the environment, one plant at a time…

On the latest RHS gardening update I have just read that, according to Sally Nex, the more plants you grow the more carbon your garden can store away, which is therefore another way of helping to create a more sustainable environment.

This suits my gardening philosophy just fine!

I am so often tempted at plant fairs to buy another addition for my garden, but often without any clear idea of where the plant will go. (And how wonderful to be able to buy plants at the Chelsea Flower Show this year!) Now the idea of packing yet more in makes me feel positively heroic!

Photograph of plants in pots
An example of the ‘always room for one more’ school of gardening outside the back door.

Vija

Musing on poisonous practices

In his book The Flower Yard, Arthur Parkinson writes lovingly about his grandmother Min and her gardening practices, typical, he writes, of an older generation of gardeners. He describes the kinds of plots tended by Min and her neighbours and how ‘there was no acceptance of insect life, as proved by the cupboard of death in the garage, its shelves packed with poison, weed killers and bug spray’[1].

My Mother’s death bequeathed to me not only her gardening tools, but a similar shelf’s worth of gardening aids. I have very vivid memories of the shed she and my Father had in their garden, the tools neatly lined up and clean, sweet jars ready for pickled vegetables, saved seed in envelopes and plant labels ready to be re-used. But alongside all this were also the toxins.

And it is not only a younger generation of gardeners who believe in far more environmentally friendly gardening practices. In a recent online talk given by Fergus Garrett, he argued that ‘gardening and ecology have to come closer together’ and devoted one whole lecture to how gardening at Great Dixter has become much more sustainable in recent years and delighting in the huge quantity of species that the gardens are home to.

Driving somewhere in the 1970s meant cleaning the windscreen and headlights of bugs on arrival home. That no longer happens and is a sure indication of how much insect life has been destroyed in a very short space of time.

Vija


[1] Parkinson, A. The Flower Yard (2021) Kyle Books p.119.

New Year’s Resolutions

I hadn’t really thought about a New Year’s resolution for 2021, apart from the one that most of us have in the forefront of our minds at the moment: test negative, stay positive. (Sent to me in a Christmas card by a friend). But as we get closer to the end of January, to move forward into the year without one seems a bit neglectful.

I was therefore interested to read about the drive to encourage people to save seed and to encourage seed saving communities to develop. One of the few upsides of the lockdowns over the past year has been a huge boost in demand for seed. The argument is that this “grow your own” revolution re-diversifies seed crops and provides more security for not only our seed supplies, but food in general.

Josie Cowgill, one of the women who works with the Stroud Community Seed Bank in Gloucestershire sums up the impact of seed-saving in the context of 2020: “It’s difficult times we are living in. We have got a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, we’ve got biodiversity loss, habitat loss and economic collapse as well. It might feel quite small, just saving beans and growing your own food, but actually I think it is really fundamental. By doing something infinitesimally small like this tiny little gesture in a tiny little group, in a tiny little country somewhere, you are working towards something that makes you feel more hopeful. It’s a positive step. I’m not saying this is a magic wand or a cure-all, but it’s a positive step.”

Former ‘Bake Off’ winner Nancy Birtwhistle claims we have been ‘brainwashed’ into believing we need harsh chemicals to clean our homes. In an interview with her, what caught my attention was the amount of plant-based materials she used. It sounds miraculous, but she swears by ivy as a laundry detergent (about 60g, cut up and put in a muslin bag, then put in the drum). “It excites me so much; my husband thinks I’m crackers. I knew in the depths of my memory something about ivy and saponin [a natural foaming detergent], so I Googled it. Conkers have it as well.” (Although we should remember that ivy can be a skin irritant for some people.) In the autumn, she collects conkers and boils them up to create a creamy laundry liquid. (Nancy Birtwhistle’s book Clean & Green is published on 21 January by Pan Macmillan £12.99).I’m prepared to give this one a try, but have visions of a ‘green’ wash in a way I did not intend.

Food for thought.

Vija

No Mow May – Every Flower Counts

Plantlife are running their No Mow May campaign again this year. Don’t mow, then between 23 and 30 May, count the flowers in a random 1m square of lawn. Send in the results to Plantlife and they will calculate a National Nectar index to show how our lawns are helping pollinators.

Wildflower meadow

Go wild gardening

CABAHS Committee member Paula, reminds us that even the smallest urban garden can attract and help wildlife. She suggests you can select a small space in a patch of lawn to sow wild flowers as well as well-known plants. Plants such as Echinacea, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks and Lavender – there is a huge choice to pick from, or how about letting the grass grow and think of the time you will save in not mowing! It will attract insects, bees and who knows what else will show up. Check out the RHS tips for creating a wildlife garden

Has your ‘wild bit’ attracted any unusual wildlife? Let us know!

Member Angela B has submitted this article about her concerns for the environment and her ideas on how gardening, even in flats, can help:

“The Extinction Rebellion demonstration over the Easter Weekend has dramatically brought to the public’s attention once again the problem of Global Warming and the abuse of the planet by humans. Gardening, which we keen gardeners all do for pleasure, can make a small but significant contribution to mitigating these effects.

Take one example: pollution. It is a major problem in London, including in Greenwich, parts of which are above the legal limits.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and secrete oxygen, which helps purify the air. Greenwich residents should be encouraged to garden and plant as many pollution-absorbing plants as possible.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing shortage locally of gardening space. Many residents have paved their front gardens to provide space for parking their cars. Also many back gardens are now astroturfed or covered in decking which does not help. Nor has Greenwich Council’s policy of building high rise flats in the borough rather than houses with gardens.  And what few of the latter are built usually have small gardens.  For example, many thousands of flats have already been built in the borough and many thousands more are planned for the Thames Riverside site between the Thames Barrier and the Yacht Club and around Woolwich Town Centre.

Given this situation, one solution if gardening is to be encouraged locally, is for blocks of flats to become a focus of balcony gardening in the borough. Greenwich Council and its Planning Department is apparently in the process of declaring a climate emergency. That being the case they should encourage  developers to build all flats with large wide balconies which would allow for a significant amount of gardening.  Also the Council might like to encourage the managing agents of blocks of flats to set up residents gardening clubs.

Flat dwellers are already showing an interest in gardening as it has become very fashionable to grow indoor plants, especially succulents. So if they were provided with sizable balconies they are very likely to start growing other plants as well.

If any of you are interested in promoting these ideas. Perhaps you could spread the word and if you come into contact with Greenwich Council Councillors or staff you might bring up the subject of promoting gardening in flats.”

Additional thought: Perhaps we should copy Stefano Boeri’s fantastic apartment blocks in Milan which won many awards when it was built in 2014.  Here is Bosco verticale, the ultimate in balcony gardening!

Milan flats 1

Milan flat vertical forest