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Gardening without the plastic

Gardening without the plastic

Gardening without plastic. Sounds easy to do but it’s actually very hard to achieve in practice! Horticulture is full of plastic, both visible and invisible. I was asked by Sustainable Overton to share what I’ve learned about reducing and removing plastic from my horticulture practice over the years.


First off, just avoid bringing plastic in your garden in the first place. If it’s not there, you don’t have to manage it! For me, the easiest (and cheapest) way to do this is to buy plants as seeds rather than in pots. Seeds come in paper packets, are cheap to transport and tend to be fully recyclable. It can feel intimidating to grow things from seeds. However, at the very basic level it involves chucking seeds on the ground and giving them enough light and water to start them off. So, for the cost of a quid or two you can experiment fairly risk-free, and certainly without plastic. Good “starter plants” for this type of gardening are foxgloves, honesty and cosmos - as well as a whole load of veg seeds like beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

Seeds in paper packs from Higgledy Garden - one of the best in my opinion


However, in the real world we sometimes just want to buy something in a plant pot. There are an increasing number of non-plastic pots on the market - there are coir based pots, recycled cardboard pots and even ones you can make yourself from newspaper! These all have advantages and disadvantages. I’ve found cardboard ones ok for things which are only going to be in a seed pot for a short amount of time, otherwise there’s a tendency for mush and rot to set in. It’s a fairly low-cost low-effort experiment to see what works.

Cardboard seed pots - I find these are good for quick vigorous seeds which won’t be in the pots for long. The used pots then join the great compost heap in the sky


But if you are really, really lusting after a plant and you are buying from somewhere without sustainable options, the way I would suggest reducing plastic here is to buy perennials. This is a technical term for plants which will last more than a year. If you buy annuals (which is what a lot of bedding plants are), they will only last a season - normally the summer. These are the really, really tempting things in front of supermarkets with tempting “buy 3 for £10” labels on them. Quite often, bedding plants come in un-recyclable black plastic, so if you are buying 3 plant trays this year, and 3 the next, the plastic soon piles up.

Perennials by contrast, come back year after year*. So you buy it once, and that’s it. Just one pot to reuse.

Everything in this shot is a perennial. This means they come back bigger and better each year without more plastic. You can edit where and how the plants look.


Re-use the plastic you do have! Here, the sky is your limit. I use peanut butter pots for sweet peas: grape containers for seed beds; and old butter spread trays for seed sowing.

My best find this year is repurposing online plant packaging donated by a client into mini-propagators: perfect for getting runner beans used to the outside after starting life inside.

The invented mini-greenhouse, complete with french beans and scabious (pincushion flowers).

I find starting off sweet peas in really tall plastic cartons with the tops lopped off works well. They have room to grow long roots. All you need to do is stab some holes in the bottom with a corkscrew.

I use these old fabric conditioner pots (again with the tops lopped off) for storage of various bits and pieces in the shed.


Finally, remember it’s impossible to be perfect and completely eliminate all plastics all the time from gardening. It’s been used for decades for understandable reasons! So try and see what you can eliminate getting into your garden, and reuse and recycle the rest.

*Normal gardening disclaimer: plants die, sometimes for the most bizarre of reasons. I have killed many many many over the years. It’s a numbers game so the more you grow the more you’ll keep!

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