Garden products

Issues and suggestions

If you visit a garden centre, you may be struck by the sheer volume of stuff that we buy for our gardens. Gardening consumes astounding quantities of plastic, bamboo, wood, and metal. Not all garden products are toxic or have a high environmental impact in themselves, but everything has to come from somewhere, and everything has to go somewhere once it’s outlived its useful life. Stones and aggregates are natural products, but your tranquil gravelled area may have been made possible by an intrusive quarry somewhere else. And stone is heavy – the energy needed to transport exotic pebbles from overseas will be quite considerable. Pondliners made from low density polyethylene may be marketed as “recyclable” but as there are very few plastics recycling facilities available in the UK, most will probably end up in landfill.

As with all green thinking, a balance is needed. All of us need beautiful places which make us feel good about ourselves and our lives, but some of the loveliest garden corners are simply grown, not bought, or put together with time and thought and love, from bits and pieces that come to hand.

Greener gardening is becoming easier as there are quite a number of specialist gardening suppliers who retail an increase range of products. These include peat-free composts, plant pots made from coir fibre, natural pest controls and organic seeds and plants.

  • Compost and soil improvers. The really big issue here is peat. Peat bogs are a rapidly vanishing natural habitat; wetlands which support diverse wildlife, which help to stabilise groundwater, preventing droughts and flooding. They are also a vital natural carbon sink. Yet 94% of UK lowland bogs have been damaged or destroyed and 60% of peat compost is bought by gardeners. The good news is that you really can make a direct, immediate difference: simply buy alternatives instead – or make your own.
    • Check the label: if it’s peat free, it’ll say so.
    • Look for products made from waste/recycled material (i.e. bark, coir or some other natural by-product). See it grow has a range of grow bags – great for children
    • Some of the available products work beautifully, some don’t. As with anything else, choose the one which works for you and don’t be put off the whole idea by just one brand.
    • Join the ‘I don’t buy peat‘ campaign
  • Wood products:
    • Amazing as it may seem in this day and age, fragile forest ecosystems are still being plundered to provide us with mundane consumer goods – furniture, decking, planters, bird tables, fencing and so on. Always look for the Forestry Stewardship Council label, especially when buying hardwoods. Try the FSC product search facility – all your favourites should be there, and most are available from national retail chains. Be wary of vague claims about “well-managed production forest”, and “from managed sources”, as these may be doing no more than cashing in on your concerns. The FSC standard is the only one endorsed by major environment charities such as WWF, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust.
    • Wooden garden products are often ‘tanalised‘ – impregnated under pressure with highly toxic substances such as arsenic. Look for a pale green stain soaked into the outer layer, typically on roughly sawn softwood which otherwise wouldn’t last any time at all outside in the wet. We advise against buying such products: at the very least, don’t burn them! Burning releases arsenic, a cumulative poison, into your immediate atmosphere.
    • You may not immediately think of barbeque charcoal as a wood product, but that’s exactly what it is. Again, check for a FSC label. Or go the whole hog and look for Bioregional Charcoal, helping to support UK wildlife and to make traditional British coppiced woodland viable once more. Local Wildlife Trust often produce there own or see The Dorset Charcoal Company
    • Barbecue lighter fuel? It may be just one more toxic product you don’t need.

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