My Irish Road Trip & Thoughts on Plastic

I’ve just returned from a mini road trip via Scotland, to Northern Ireland. I’d longed to see The Giants Causeway and surrounding coastline for years. This wasn’t really a trip to visit gardens, more about taking in windswept landscapes and striking seascapes, interspersed with bookshops and cosy pubs.

IMG_9475

We drove through the Peak District, The Lakes, and then Galway Forest Park stopping in Wigtown Scotlands book town. Next we crossed the Irish sea to follow the Causeway Coastal Route. Coincidentally, I was reading Mary Reynolds, Garden Awakening. Mary is Irish, a fellow garden designer, permaculturist who writes about the land having its own personality, when we learn to observe and increasingly work with it, how we can be custodians, rather than rulers in our gardens.

IMG_3792

On my journey I marvelled at the scale of the landscapes, noting where and how it had been shaped by man, either with forestry, farming or building. I saw where the sheep pastures stopped and the moorland started, lines drawn in hedges or stone walls. I noticed how the presence of the roads we drove on disrupted the ground water drainage routes.

We’re lucky in Britain to have such a wide range of landscapes, so many micro climates, varied eco systems and weather; Sandy beaches, rocky shoreline with thrashing waves, clifftops, scalloped bays, the mono culture of forestry plantations, babbling streams, mud flats and estuaries, glens, sensual rolling green hills, massive brown mountains. This road trip had it all.

IMG_3788

I got my much needed ‘sea fix’, the cost of living in landlocked Derbyshire. As a holidaying child I competed with my sister to be the first to see the sea when we drove to the coast, and now my children do the same. The clear green blue sea around Carrick a Rede (above) was especially uplifting and I was relieved not to see much litter or plastic floating anywhere along this tourist attraction coastline, but on our return journey we stopped near Port William where there was plenty of plastic waste on the beach.

We spent our sunset walk picking up plastic – bottles, lids, toothbrushes, toys and straws, some of it was broken and unidentifiable. It was food for thought. This coincided with another big push in the media about the single use plastic issue and ocean pollution. They say every bit of plastic that was ever made still exists – somewhere. The irony of gardeners, nature lovers, producing a material which is not digestible by the earth makes me ponder the plastic plant pot issue which plagues the industry.

IMG_3760.jpg

The horticulture industry was revolutionised by the plastic pot. Strong lightweight pots meant that plants could be bought and sold at anytime of the year, rather than during the dormant season when traditionally plants could be bought bare rooted locally.  Growers could grow plants anywhere and transport them easily, and the industry has built up around this.

Our pots are, in the majority, ‘single use’ – used once then discarded; amongst other reasons to avoid spreading pests and diseases (especially as such a lot of plants are imported). The system is a linear one, pots are not designed or standardised to allow for collection, cleaning and re distribution. Black plastic is especially challenging to recycle so while some pots get sent for recycling and some passed around and reused, the vast majority end up in land fill.

I grow a small amount of the plants I supply – which allows me to reuse old plastic pots. I also grow a few plants in the ground for transplanting in spring or autumn in the old school way. These often do so much better than the pot grown ones.

There are alternatives to plastic; coir, bamboo, cow manure, rice hulls and wood fibres are also used to make plant pots, and new products are continually being launched and marketed – Modiform, a plastic pot and tray manufacturer, who make pots from recycled plastic, also announced recently, a new 100% recycled paper based system of pots and trays.

I feel that we need to take time to build up our local growers again, where pots potentially need be less robust and alternative materials can be used. Also, where the scale allows for old plastic pots to be reused.

What can you do to help?

  • Use biodegradable pots, seed trays – either bought or homemade, for growing seeds and cuttings. Wooden seed trays are lovely to use and loo roll inners & paper pots are also great.
  • Consider where your plants come from. Try to support local growers, & smaller nurseries.
  • Buy bare rooted plants in winter and avoid the pot all together. Ask for no plastic packaging.
  • Ask at the till in nurseries & garden centres about pot recycling schemes, and suggest they start one. The industry will have to respond customers make enough noise.
  • Reuse the pots you have, post surplus on freecycle – or see if any local schools, allotments etc can make use of them.

More information on the effects of plastic pollution see this article and on reducing your waste the zero waster site has great tips.

I’m back to work after the break now, busy tree planting, pruning roses and wisteria, also cutting back my favourite grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, wondering about what this year has in store.

 

How To Create A Mindful Garden? Just Be Mindful.

Mindfulness is still a hot topic, but why is the garden the best place to practice mindfulness? And how do you make your garden a mindful one?

So what is Mindfulness? The benefits are numerous, It decreases stress and improves cognition, physical health and emotional resilience. When the NHS endorse, it we know that its not only official but mainstream. Our brains spend much of our time with a constant train of thoughts; our ‘to do’ lists, replaying yesterday’s meeting – using our ‘default mode network’ as neuroscientists call it.

How do you do it? Mindfulness activities invite us to become aware of our senses or our breathing, tuning in to the here and now. Mindfulness centres on focusing our awareness on the present moment without judgement. By practicing mindfulness we can learn to observe our thoughts, familiarise ourselves with our thought patterns and the more we practice the better the results. More Info

“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

Washing the dishes, gardening, or any task, in fact can be done mindfully, if done deliberately with focus, as if a ritual. Of course, a garden is a space, it cannot actually be mindful but it is a space which we can practice mindfulness, pause and breathe.

There is a definite added dimension to outdoor mindfulness, nature is known for its restorative benefits. Such is the value we now calculate ‘natural capital’ to validate investment in green spaces in cities and hospitals (see article on London Parks ). I personally can vouch for the therapeutic benefits of gardens, I only discovered my love of gardening when I realised losing myself in the garden was the best way to forget about the stresses of the office. Gardening became my practice – a focus – before I’d ever considered mindfulness or meditation.

Tetrapanax
Sun through my favourite tetrapanax leaf

Design Ideas? A mindful garden would be a space to grow favourite plants and there really needn’t be a grand design. In my tiny garden I enjoy the sun filtering through the leaves of my tetrapanax (above) and also my philadelphus which also smells amazing in blossom.

  • The traditional Zen garden, of pebbles, rocks, trees and mosses symbolising the elements certainly provides a restful space. Pureland Meditation Centre & Japanese garden is a lovely example (below).
  • Introducing sound from a water feature is a lovely idea, but sound also comes from grasses rustling, birdsong, the buzz of neighbours mowing and children playing.
  • Thought should be given to seasonal interest, to our senses, and perhaps a carefully positioned seat, or a shelter.
  • Different textures to experience underfoot – ‘grounding’ or barefoot walking is a lovely way to be present.
  • Planning a garden with different routes to explore where space allows, with opportunities for catch glimpses of views framed by arching branches.
Pureland Meditation Centre
Pureland Meditation Centre & Japanese Garden, Newark

How to garden mindfully

  • Enjoy a daily morning stroll in the garden, notice the temperature, the breeze, the rain.
  • Take time to sit and smell the roses, observe the changes in the season, the goings on of the wildlife.
  • Gardening on a Sunday afternoon? Leave your phone, simplify things, lose track of time.
  • Watch the sun set, change your viewpoint. Lie on the lawn and look up thorough the canopy.
  • Accept the imperfection, and let it go. Don’t rush to tidy everything, perhaps allow the wildlife to have its influence on the space.
Look up through the canopy
Look up through the canopy, change your perspective.

My design process has changed since discovering mindfulness, I take time to be silent in a space when I survey it, I find it allows space for me to understand the landscape, notice its rhythms and details.

Mindfulness enriches my life and my work, and I hope some of these ideas inspire you.