‘The plastics’ – mean girls of gardening?

The use of plastic is a huge debate in gardening right now. Us gardeners create wonderful gardens for wildlife and grow our own vegetables to avoid buying too much plastic but we sow our seeds in plastic trays and buy plants in plastic pots? This should change!

Plastic has filled our oceans and landfills. It takes hundreds of years to break down and we use it for the convenience.

Module trays, flower pots, compost bags, seed trays, compost bins… the list continues. I’ve heard that Monty Don has commented on the over-use of plastics however, as he hasn’t mentioned any, here are some alternatives.

I won’t suggest using terracotta pots as they are expensive; they are also heavy; people with limited mobility need lighter materials that can be handled easily. On the other hand, they are worth the money if they are available to you.

  1. Flowerpots:
    • Make your own 9cm pots using a paper pot maker and newspaper
    • Recycle cardboard tubes from toilet/kitchen rolls
    • Buy biodegradable peat-free fibre pots
    • Buy The Hairy Pot Plant Company from local stockists, link here. Great company and great plants! They also sell hairy pots without plants in; look here!
    • Make your own using cement mix, vermiculite and coir. Blog to follow on this soon.
  2. Seed trays:
    • Biodegradable coir seed trays, available here.
    • Wooden seed trays
  3. Plant labels:
    • Try to use plant labels made of slate, bamboo, aluminium, copper or oak. Interestingly, pencil becomes permanent when used on aluminium.
  4. Compost:
    • Best peat-free compost I’ve ever used is Dalefoot; check it here. It does come in plastic bags but these can be used to make your own leaf mould compost.
  5. Compost bins:
    • Make your own using wooden stakes; hammer these into the ground and staple chicken wire to it to create a wire frame
    • Use old pallets for an entirely wooden bin
    • Reuse one-trip bulk bags
  6. Dibbers:
    • Wooden or metal dibbers are available to buy
    • You could whittle your own wooden one (be careful when using sharp knives)!

Thought of anything else? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram @eogardening.

I’m told I’m ‘good at my job’ as long as I stay in my gender assigned role

What type of person do you picture when you hear the occupation ‘gardener’ or ‘landscaper’?

A middle-aged, well-built white man with a van who mows the lawn, cuts hedges and is very capable of doing jobs you can’t do yourself?

What type of person do you picture when you hear ‘female gardener’?

An older, white, partly-retired lady with a few hand tools and who loves flowers?

I work in a white, middle-class town in West Sussex that lives by social norms and conforms to gender stereotypes. Attempting to work as a young female professional can be difficult as my knowledge, strength and capability is disputed everyday. I’m told what I can and can’t do; this is very frustrating.

I often lose out on work as people believe that I am not up to the task because of my gender and age. Regardless of this, if you are a gardener, you are already kick-ass; we are clever people that aren’t easily intimidated by larger, more complicated tasks.

These outdated views are not always held by my ‘older’ clients and it’s refreshing to be encouraged/trusted by these clients to do my job.

Although these comments aren’t meant to be malicious, assigning stereotypical gender roles causes unequal and unfair treatment; it can also cause difficulty in relationships.

A few of the comments that I receive on a daily basis:

  1. “You’re only a gardening lady”
  2. “Don’t hurt yourself, we’ll get a man in to do it”
  3. “That task is too big/complicated/difficult for you, we’ll get in a professional”
  4. e.g. I split my own wood, “Does your boyfriend help you with that?”
  5. “Is gardening just your hobby… something to keep you busy?”
  6. “Do you know any men that will do that for us?”
  7. “It’s a cute, little gardening business”
  8. “Do you know what you’re doing?”
  9. “Are you alright reversing your van out the drive? *client walks behind van, chaotically waves arms, gets in the way*
  10. “You want to buy a van..ok..here’s our most feminine model van” *points to a nondescript white van in a row of white vans*
  11. “Don’t hurt yourself trying to use this power tool, we’ll get a strong man in to do it *winks*”
  12. “My sister likes gardening too, pottering about the the garden, deadheading and weeding”

If you feel you’re in a safe space, you can challenge these stereotypes and speak up; often people don’t realise they are stereotyping or conforming to bygone social norms.

A new wave of gardeners are appearing; people of every age, gender and ethnicity. I am excited that learning to garden is becoming more enticing; house plants and GYO are especially popular at the moment.

Front Gardens

Utilising space is hugely important when it’s limited. Front gardens are a wasted space that aren’t viewed as a ‘garden’ and only a driveway or place to put the bins. However, understandably, we need a place to park our cars; not all front gardens can be completely ‘green’.

The simple solution is unimaginative. Front gardens are just paved over with concrete, slabs or tarmac; this creates drainage problems and makes urban areas look grey and dismal. The idea of low maintenance is too popular.

Gardeners around the country are crying out to see thriving front gardens that are bursting with colour and wildlife!

Currently:

  • Paved over
  • Place to park cars
  • Identical to the neighbours
  • Boring
  • Untidy

Goals:

  • Wildlife friendly
  • Productive
  • Useful
  • Unique
  • Permeable surface

Front gardens are often very small; container planting is popular in urban areas where space is limited. There’s a huge list of plants that can be easily grown in pots that will also provide for bees/birds/butterflies! List here. I recommend plants such as lavender, salvia, achillea, nepeta and annuals e.g. sunflowers, cornflowers etc. Vegetables are also easily grown in pots; these will provide for you as well as wildlife. Make use of vertical space. Use trellis to allow climbers to grow; runner beans, sweet peas etc are easy to grow and crop perpetually throughout summer.

Larger front gardens are great for small ‘allotments’. An allotment is productive, wildlife friendly and it’s aesthetically pleasing! Vegetables, cutting flowers and fruits can be grown easily however always check the aspect and plant accordingly. If you desire a low maintenance garden, there is a healthy list of perennial plants and shrubs that attract wildlife and don’t need much attention. List here.

GROW: Samphire

Samphire has an impressive nutritional value, packed with essential minerals and almost no fat. It is a popular ‘superfood’ that is often used to accompany fish dishes or in salads. It has a lovely fresh taste!

I live too far from the coast to get fresh samphire. Like FRESH samphire, the crisp salty young growth that has been harvested that day. Samphire bought from a supermarket is often expensive and disappointing. I saw Sarah Raven were selling samphire seeds and I’ve bought some! They are the best value samphire seeds I’ve found that you can buy.

This samphire should be grown in a pot. Choose a wide but shallow pot that it’ll live in few a while as it self-seeds each year.

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Use a mixture of seed compost and gravel (70:30 ratio) to obtain a moist but well-drained soil to sow your seeds onto the surface of. Then sprinkle a light layer of soil on top of the seeds.

Sow indoors: March-May or September-November.

Sow outdoors: May-June.

Place the flowerpot onto a windowsill or in a greenhouse to start then leave on windowsill or move to a sunny patio.

Water from the base only (into a saucer). Use a mixture of water and salt (1 pint: 1 tsp). Use real sea salt, not table salt or it’ll kill the plant.

Harvest from May-July. Treat it as ‘cut and come again’. Cut the young growth once the plant is established. Don’t harvest too late in the season as the plant will self-seed if left and new samphire will grow next year. Leave the pot in a greenhouse/on a windowsill.

 

GROW: Cosmos

Often labelled as ‘dainty’ and ‘sweet’. Cosmos are so much more than ‘easy to grow’. A border/plot filled with cosmos is alive and thriving. They can grow up to 1.2m (depending on variety) and have stems thick enough to withstand secateurs. These plants are great and should never be undervalued!

Grown by sowing the seeds indoors from February-April or outdoors April-May. It then flowers in June-October!

Cosmos attract bees and butterflies, their open flower heads allow the insects to wallow the in the glorious pollen. Make sure to dead-head during June-October to encourage flowering.

You can buy shorter varieties for smaller spaces or pinch out the tops when they are seedlings; this will encourage the plant to become more compact.

These plants are annuals so make sure to dig them up in autumn, when flowering has finished. You can harvest the dry seed heads and sow the seeds next year.

My top 5 favourites for 2017!!!

  • Mixed Sensation
  • Psyche White
  • Double Click Cranberries
  • Double Click Rose
  • Versailles Tetra

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GROW: Edamame Beans

Edamame beans are currently a ‘superfood’; they are rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. You can purchase them in supermarkets however they are quite expensive. They are also packaged in two layers of plastic; this puts me off buying them when I know I could grow my own.

I purchased the seeds from Sarah Raven; these are the best price and quality I could find. The beans are a variety called ‘Elena’; these are adjusted to growing in a British climate.

I will sow 10 seeds into 9cm pots with a mix of seed compost and perlite (50:50 ratio). I will continue to do this every week for 5 weeks successional sowing from April to May.

You can sow the seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up from June -July.

Plant in full sun, in well drained soil. Can tolerate light-ish shade.

As they grow tall, I will use a bamboo cane and tie the plant stem to it, loosely with twine. This will support the plant to prevent any damage.

Edamame will flower/fruit from June-November. Harvest the whole plant once the bean pods grow to 5cm in length and become plump.

If you are restricted by space you can grow edamame in large flowerpots that have good drainage; use a mixture of compost and gravel. Place these on a sunny patio.

I will take photos whilst growing these this year and will post the result in June-November when I will (hopefully) harvest the plants! I am excited to grow these as they taste delicious!

Sow seeds in March

March is when jobs start to build up in the garden. Taking time out to sow seeds is relaxing whilst still being productive.

I have written a blog on what to sow in January. You can continue to sow most of those seeds until April; this will give you a succession of vegetables throughout summer.

My top favourite flowers to sow now:

  1. Cosmos
  2. Delphinium
  3. Scabiosa
  4. Nigella
  5. Helianthus

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Flower seeds that can be sown outside now:

  1. Sweet peas
  2. Wildflower mixes
  3. Californian poppies
  4. Cornflowers
  5. Clarkia

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Vegetable seeds to sow:

  1. Carrots (straight into the ground)
  2. Leeks
  3. Parsnips
  4. Squash

I like this mix of flowers and vegetables. You can also find guides on what to grow at Thompson & Morgan or Sarah Raven.

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