9 Ways I’ll Improve My Gardening in 2018

Happy new year! No, I’m not Chinese, but I have come to realise that I forgot to wish you all a happy new year at the beginning of January, partly because I was too wrapped up in revision for my RHS exams, and partly because I was in a rut with wanting to write a post about my gardening year in 2017, but didn’t know where to start. The reason I didn’t know where to start was because 2017 had mainly been characterised by not gardening, or at least, not enough, and that wasn’t going to make for very good reading. New Year, then January, slipped by in a flurry of snow and studying. Now that the exams are over, it’s far too late to start talking about 2017 (what a relief) so let’s move swiftly on and look ahead to this year. This year, my garden is going to be very beautiful, and here’s what I’m going to do differently this year in order to achieve this:

Be tidier (but not too tidy)

When I confess to you that my garden is a mess, I am not just talking about a few stray seed heads or the inevitable pile of plastic pots that all gardeners accumulate in dark corners behind sheds. My blind spots include: discarded plant labels lying on paths; empty plastic compost sacks blown into hedges; piles of topsoil that I have no idea what to do with; the four-foot stalks of last year’s Salvia ‘Amistad’ left on the terrace because there’s no room in the compost bin; empty seed trays collecting stagnant water; uprooted Everedge lying like dismantled bear-traps on the grass. When I wanted to find my root trainers to sow my sweetpeas, I had to scour the privet hedge for the inserts (I found all but one of them). None of this is beautiful to behold. But this year I will be tidier. I vow that I will be able to take photos of the garden from any direction without having to crop out the ugly parts. Conversely, it should hardly need pointing out that healthy gardens are not too tidy, nor heaven forbid, sterile. Gardens with wild areas, where nettles grow, and insects hibernate in old logs, and the seedheads are left on for the winter birds, are gardens with reverence for the ecosystems that make them what they are.

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Avoid plastic

You can’t have missed the current debate around plastic, unless you come from another planet, perhaps one that is not mad enough to have designed single-use items out of a material that lasts for ever. Plastic garden villains include: pots and trays, compost sacks, plant labels, polypropylene ‘fleece’ (a sad misnomer), netting, modules, plant supports, rabbit guards, bird feeders, the ‘lights’ of a cold frame, the protective packaging around plants sent by post, and even the plastic cover around gardening magazines and seed catalogues. As well as hanging around undegradable for hundreds of years, clogging up waterways and damaging wildlife, plastic is ugly, and gardens are for beauty; therefore, ought plastic to have a place in the garden? We gardened successfully for centuries before the invention of plastic; could we return to a life without it? The June 2017 issue of the RHS’s The Garden magazine (which arrived in its polythene wrapping) carried an article written by Sally Nex about her attempt to eliminate plastic from the garden, which inspired me to try doing the same. Like Sally I have started with wooden seed trays and terracotta pots as well as copper labels; I will report back with more ideas as they come.

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Improve winter structure

Eager to cram in as many delicious herbaceous perennials as one can discover, it’s easy to forget that for six months of the year the garden is essentially bare of herbaceous perennials. This is undoubtedly a lesson that many beginner gardeners learn to their cost as they gaze out at the garden of a frosty January day and see only the sad emptiness of a garden without bones. My experience in this regard has shown me that a garden ought to be designed primarily with the coldest months in mind — the gaps can always be filled in later. Luckily, it’s not too late for me to correct my early mistakes, and there’s a variety of ideas that I can add to my garden to get it looking good in winter: patterns of topiaried box and low hedging, arches, and neat edges along elegant or intriguing paths.

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Educate myself…

Well, I am already deep into this one, having followed my Certificate of Practical Horticulture straight into the RHS Principles of Horticulture Level 2 course. The improvement in my horticultural and botanical knowledge has been intensely satisfying — but talk about the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more to learn, and there always will be. I intend to carry on learning as much as I can, firstly by trying to attend further a further course once my current one is completed (I haven’t decided which yet), and by reading my steadily multiplying collection of gardening books as I go. Then there are gardening shows, magazines, the blogs of other gardeners …

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… And do things the proper way

When I do things the proper way, the way I have been taught on my various courses, taking care and paying attention to the small details — using the correct type of compost, labelling my seed trays, pruning each plant at the appropriate time in the appropriate way, and so on — the garden rewards my efforts with better-looking and happier plants, improved yields, healthier soil, more diverse wildlife: a better and more beautiful garden. I have noticed that since applying the techniques and skills that I have learnt on my practical horticulture course, my seed germination has become much more reliable, my cuttings root successfully, and I waste fewer plants by keeping them happy and healthy. A seed tray that has been filled and tamped properly and evenly sown with an appropriate quantity of seed not only germinates more successfully but looks good too. Sometimes doing things the proper way seems to take more time, but this time is often saved elsewhere later on.

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Try new seeds

Although I never get tired of my old favourites (Cosmos ‘Purity’, cornflowers, Ammi, ‘Café-au-Lait’ dahlias) it’s good to try new varieties and discover new favourites. Last year I successfully grew heartsease violas for the first time, cheerful little faces that kept my spirits up throughout autumn and winter. This year I’ll be trying sunflowers (Helianthus ‘Claret’ and ‘Double Dandy’), poached-egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii), Dill, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Sahara’, two new sorts of gypsophila, and two new dahlias, ‘Linda’s Baby’ and ‘Penhill Watermelon’.

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Protect my soil

A healthy garden begins with a healthy soil. Preventing the erosion and capping of topsoil by protecting it with mulches, ground-cover plants or green manures is one of the simplest things to be done to keep a garden healthy and beautiful. I started this year as I mean to go on, by mulching my herbaceous beds with heaps of delicious home-made compost. This will protect the surface of the soil and feed the soil organisms, providing nutrition for roots and organic matter for moisture retention. My raised beds are mulched with mushroom compost, which again protects the soil and provides organic matter and good weed suppression. But there are still areas needing improvement, places where I ran out of mulch, spots that have been neglected: an area of bare, compacted soil underneath some trees, patches that shouldn’t have been walked on (but were). Taking care of soil means being kind to earthworms too, and this will be of even more importance since last week’s discovery of two small New Zealand flatworms near my compost heap (a total scream-mask moment).

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Keep better records

Detesting plastic as I do, I’m not the best at labelling my plants. My record keeping is patchy at most, because it’s not easy to write things down on paper while wearing muddy gardening gloves, especially if it’s raining, and because I enjoy planting things spontaneously, grabbing the nearest suitable pot and kidding myself that I’ll remember what tulips I planted in six months’ time, an effect that is ruined by pernickerty record-keeping. And often a lovely surprise awaits: a terracotta jar of ‘Apricot Beauty’ suddenly appearing in April is no bad thing. And I can usually tell what my seedlings are by the leaves. However, records help us to learn from our successes and failures, and can be a pleasure to read back to oneself after a year or so. On top of blogging, I have started keeping a handwritten diary of the garden: what I tried that day, what I did, what was in leaf or flower or died or looked awful or sprang like Lazarus from the bare soil. What the weather was like, what birds were singing, what it felt like to be out in the garden on that cold morning.

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Just garden!

In the end, all these improvements will come about only if I step outside and actually garden. Life is very good at getting in the way: emails that need sending, laundry to attend to, husbands that want something (almost always involving having to stop whatever I’m doing to admire a piece of carbon-fibre cycling equipment). Then there are the excuses: weather awful, too cold, wrong sort of leaves on the ground, don’t know where to start. By prioritising gardening wherever possible I am hoping that the garden will respond in kind, and I have been inspired by Laetitia Maklouf’s ‘Five Minute Garden’ because there is so much you can do in five-minute bursts if that is all you have time for, and those seemingly insignificant bursts will eventually add up to a great deal of improvement.

So these are the things I will be doing better in 2018, in the hopes of a new, improved garden and a better gardening year over all. I’d love to know what you will be doing this year to make your garden a better place, or to hear about any changes you made in the past that had a fabulous impact on the health and beauty of your garden.

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60 thoughts on “9 Ways I’ll Improve My Gardening in 2018

  1. Plastic is a global problem for sure, and it is hard for a gardener to avoid it. Fortunately, there is a farmer that sells bulk compost nearby where I can purchase anything from a bucket full to a truck load. And another blessing is a nursery that accepts plastic pots. Using wooden sticks for labels works short-term and for perennials there are soft metal bands that can be marked by pen.
    I used to keep a garden diary for years, particularly regarding the veggie bed, but that has slid. I keep receipts to remind me of cultivar names and mark where I planted them.
    I continue to try to get away from the ‘chore’ aspect of gardening and focus on the present moment of enjoying the life and beauty I see. It’s an ongoing process!

    1. Eliza, how wonderful that you have a local supply of garden compost! Plastic compost sacks are the bane of my life – there’s absolutely nothing to be done with them but throw them in the landfill, and it breaks my heart. Of course I can’t make enough of my own garden compost to satisfy my needs. I am lucky enough to have a ready supply of horse manure courtesy of my grandmother’s horse Emily … it is 300 miles away, but I try to bring some back with me whenever I visit. For those gardeners without this luxury I am not sure what the answer is. Once again, I ask myself how gardeners came by their compost before plastic sacks were invented. I must ask my 96-year-old grandmother all these questions. She has been gardening far longer than plastic …
      I do agree about the chores. For me, it’s hard to think of a single gardening task I dislike. The trick is to switch tasks often to keep the joints and back from getting stiff, but with a good podcast or else my thoughts dreaming away on their own I can happily weed, sift compost, prune, sweep leaves for hours without getting bored.

  2. I really loved this post! Thank you for your honesty regards to tidiness too. We have the same problem and I am vowing to do better as well. The plastics issue is so pressing, but I also struggle with the availability of other options. Here in the US there isn’t much by way of innovation in gardening tools/implements and most of what is available is plastics-based. I should keep an eye out for the small terracotta pots though- they are both lovely and eco-friendly!

    1. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find those small companies that are starting to make changes, produce more progressive products and so forth. But I’d be most surprised if someone somewhere in the US is not producing garden tools made of natural materials? I do hope you find a supplier somewhere and give them your support. Besides, objects made of natural materials give so much more joy :o)

  3. As usual, a very good post. Plastic is SO difficult, if not impossible, to avoid. Everywhere. And here they give out those horrid little plastic bags…for free…in every grocery store. Too awful. I did go back to plastic plant markers (hiding my face..) as the copper ones just do not hold the writing or I haven’t found the correct pen/ink. Frustrating. Thank you for all the thoughts!

    1. Copper labels need to be written on with a thick blunt implement (a pencil?)
      Look lovely when freshly written.
      A year later I have NO Idea what I wrote.

      Now using bamboo forks and a felt tip pen. They at least have the grace to rot down with the mulch.

      1. You can inscribe a permanent label on copper using a biro – the ink will fade but the name will be engraved. Or a white marker pen? I need to investigate … take my copper labels to the local stationery shop and try out all their pens and pencils till I find what works best.
        What on earth is a bamboo fork? Do you mean the little wooden forks that come with takeaway meals? Someone once gave me beautiful wooden labels, but they absorbed water, started to grow mould, and all the ink ran.

      2. I buy a packet of bamboo forks. The handle is big enough to write on. Not a permanent solution but adequate for a year or two. The elegant permanent solution is slabs of slate.

    2. Yes, impossible to avoid – but I think the world may be turning. We now have to pay for single-use plastic bags in shops. It’s just 5p but this is Scotland and we part with money hard, so now everyone brings their own reusable bags. It’s been a huge culture change. Copper can be egraved with a biro for a permanent label. Not much good for seeds and cuttings though. My mother has an interesting system … she puts a number rather than a name on her labels, then records on a spreadsheet what is growing this year in pots 1, 2, 3 etc. It works for her …

  4. Phew! Does this mean I don’t have to feel guilty about the nettles and brambles growing in my garden? Or the weeds in the gravel parking area? Can I just say that it is an ‘eco friendly’ garden? Love your ambitions for the year and I hope they come to fruition, though as we all know sometimes life gets in the way, even of gardening! I love your little terracotta pots, but will they be suitable for seeds? Will the compost dry out too quickly? Much as I hate using plastic too, it’s going to be difficult to manage without in the garden, though I do reuse my plastic pots until they fall to pieces. The solution may come from making manufactures produce ONLY recyclable plastics so nothing has to be thrown away. Oh, and HNY to you too, Chinese or otherwise 😀

    1. No need for any guilt about any garden – unless it is covered in concrete paving! Terracotta pots are not the perfect solution (excellent point about compost drying out) although they are too pretty for words. I believe you can buy pots made of bamboo that last a long time but are eventually biodegradable. I haven’t manage to find a source in the UK though. Perhaps if gardeners create enough noise, someone will start producing such a thing. After all, I have a bamboo take-away coffee cup – can’t be too much of a leap sideways to make plant pots too. I reuse my plastic pots, but I also accumulate too many to reuse. Another trick would be to stop buying so many plants in the first place, and to grow my plants from seeds and cuttings instead.

      1. I do grow some from seeds and take far too many cuttings, but they still require pots and anyway I like to buy new and different plants. Bamboo sounds like a great way to go.

  5. Love the honesty of your blog. Wanted to let you know of a way to label that I saw in a garden tour here in the US. The home owner used small , smooth, oblong rocks and used a sharpie pen to write the plant name. These were then placed in front and were much less intrusive then plastic labels. Good luck with 2018.

    1. What a lovely idea, to use rocks. I could do with more ideas like this as I am going to collect them up and test them out in my garden. I am wondering if the rocks would be moved around by the naughty squirrels that frequent my garden though. Only one way to find out! (And a good excuse to go to the beach to find smooth pebbles too.)

  6. What a beautiful post! Your photos have such a quiet and gentle beauty. I love your wooden seed trays and terracotta pots. I’m trying to cut down on plastic too, so am on the look out for these.

    1. Thank you Ali for your nice comments. There seems to be a variety of companies selling wooden seed trays online. Mine were from Burgon & Ball, though I am yet to test them. Terracotta pots available from many garden centres, but if you are lucky you can find lovely old ones on eBay and Gumtree.

  7. Thanks for sharing your ideas on planning. I do think very seriously of minimising my use of plastics in the home but I sort of forgot about the garden. I do find I am behind the curve here in rural France so I will be very grateful if you share the ways we can minimise our use of plastics in the garden. I was just thinking I might need to buy more seed trays this year. There must have been something before plastic. What did they use for seed trays? Wood? Amelia

    1. Thank you for your comment Amelia. I am certainly planning to do a future post about reducing plastic in the garden, so watch this space. Wooden seed trays were what people used before plastic. They are still readily available through certain companies online (I bought mine from Burgon & Ball, though I haven’t started using them yet so cannot comment on their effectiveness). If you are handy with a hammer and saw I should imagine they would be easy to make too.

  8. Plastic plastic plastic. Flipping everywhere. The garden plastic is terrible stuff as those black pots are non recyclable. I use terracotta as much as possible but let’s be honest it’s not as good. It drids out too quickly in warm weather. It breaks when dropped and it is expensive. Yet it is beautiful. I for one get very excited when I see pots neatly stacked, awaiting use. I love to see a greenhouse full of specimens and seedlings neat in wooden trays. So it seems the old ways were best. As for getting outside, just do it. Half an hour usually leads to me losing three! Once you get started you’ll quickly find you’ve done other bits as well.

    1. Aesthetics is just as important to me as utility. Those lovely old fashioned things look so much more beautiful, don’t they. We have to think of other things … the water that is wasted when watering terracotta pots … the weight of plants if they were all transported in terracotta … plastic is here to stay; I just think we need to be more clever about our use — and reuse — of this material, which is quite wonderful but also quite dangerous when it gets into the wrong places. I am looking forward to trying out my new wooden seed trays. I certainly won’t miss modules, which did not work for me at all. Back to good old-fashioned pricking out for me.
      I quite agree about those five minutes turning into three hours. I’d like to do 5 minutes in the garden before work every morning but I’m concerned I would forget to come back into the house and get ready for work!

      1. The old gear certainly looks better but has drawbacks hence they were replaced by cheaper more efficient plastics. Us gardeners need to reuse what we have and we need a clever person to come up with an idea to recycle all those black pots and trays. Good luck with the timber trays

  9. Good luck, Joanna. It’s a fine list. I always start the year with good intentions but busy life gets in the way. I tend to be extravagant with my seed sowing, then it’s fire-fighting all the way. This year, I’m going to be more pragmatic and realistic, and, like you, I’m going to try to be tidier! Plus I’m joining in with the ‘End of Month View’ to keep track of the garden and to spur me on.

    1. Yes, life can get so busy! I went completely mad buying annual seeds this year, having vowed not to buy any at all. The pretty pictures in the catalogues have a lot to answer for. A dose of realism would have come in handy this year for me.
      I stopped doing EOMV because I was always so late that it became ridiculous. But perhaps I should restart again this year. Looking forward to seeing yours…

  10. Another thoughtful post and perfect for this time of year. Lovely photos, but the snowdrop one is especially eye-catching.

    Because I wrote and spoke about gardening for many years before I started to blog, I had to come up with a way to keep track of plants. If you show a picture of a great flower, everyone wants to know what exact variety it is. So, as soon as I order plants on line or bring them home from an excursion, I make an i.d. card for them. These are 3″x5″ index cards where I write the plant name, source, date purchased, price, cultural info etc. I don’t allow myself to plant anything unless it has a card. On the back, I write where I planted it: a “named” garden area or general location based on fences, trees, shrubs etc. That is enough to find it when I go looking. Sometimes I add a photo, esp. with dwarf evergreens. The biggest drawback to this system is moving plants and not writing down the new location on the back of the card.

    I don’t use plant tags as they fade or get lost or dug up etc. This way also nothing extra is cluttering up the garden — other than the assorted items you describe! I now have hundreds of cards, filed alphabetically and subdivided in groups like trees, shrubs, bulbs etc. It is a good system for list makers, journal keepers etc like me. Perhaps it might work for you. (I am on volume 22 of my garden journals). Here is a link to where I first wrote about my system on my blog: http://www.lindabrazill.com/each_little_world/2008/10/cataloging-plan.html

    1. Well I enjoyed your two posts on organisation, Linda, and I must say I’m impressed. I don’t put labels in the ground (sometimes a stick to mark where bulbs are) because my garden is far from ‘tour-able’ and the squirrels would just pull them all up anyway. But I do keep all my plant tags, and I am in the slow process of making ‘fact sheets’ for each plant. Instead of storing the sheets alphabetically though, I file them slightly differently. Each sheet has a list of months of the year, and next to the months I write specific jobs for that plant (prune, divide, feed or whatever). I then file the sheets by month in a lever-arch file, and every month I check for that month’s jobs – it’s easy to see what needs doing because all the plants needing attention that month are filed right there. If a plant has jobs listed under more than one month, I simply move the fact sheet to the next relevant month once I’ve done the current month’s task, so I’ll come across it later that year at the appropriate time.
      I do need a good non-plastic way of labelling cuttings and seed trays though.

  11. I so admire your quest to banish plastic from your garden. I have done so in the house and now will follow your lead in gardening. had never even thought about the irony of all the plastic intended for planting, but you stated the case well-best wishes

    1. Many thanks for your comment. It is such a challenge to eliminate unnecessary plastic from our lives, isn’t it? But with more and more people becoming interested in this worthwhile cause I have a feeling that large companies and organisations will hop onto the bandwagon sooner or later, after which it will be easier for those who wish to buy alternatives to do so.

  12. I love your enthusiasm. Now you have a good grounding in the theory, it is time to learn by experience and by making mistakes. You will never stop learning or for that matter making mistakes.
    Try using aluminium plant labels, a Hb pencil works well, but it will fade eventually.
    I look forward to seeing how you garden develops and although I’d urge you to keep pots and the garden paraphenalia under control, a little laissez-faire in the garden is not a bad thing.

    1. Your comment about keeping pots under control sparked a whole train of thought, because I do have an awful lot of potted plants, many of which would be far happier in the ground, of course. Pots can be beautiful to behold, and have a whole host of useful functions, but they can also leave an area looking terribly cluttered too.
      I also agree with your sentiments about making mistakes. As in all walks of life, if we’re not making plenty of mistakes it often means we are not experimenting and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones.
      I will take your advice about using aluminium plant labels, and this year will do a trial of all the labelling ideas people have offered in these comments and elsewhere online, to find out which ones work best. Watch this space!

  13. Great blog Jo. plastic is such a problem especially on a commercial scale as in my nursery, but something we are always considering, assessing, thinking about and trying to act on. Recycling as much as we possibly can helps and I think if we all do a few small things and build on that, we can make a difference. I love your list of things to do, I have lists that keep me focused and accountable but firstly in 2018 I’d just like to catch up! With all the winter weather we’ve had this year I’m easily a month behind, hey ho, nothing we can do about the weather. I’m really looking forward to seeing your new garden ideas come together. It sounds like an exciting gardening / learning year for you 🙂

    1. Thank you Rona … you were actually top of my list of people to ask specifically about dealing with plastic pots. I knew they were not recyclable, but some nurseries will accept returns. You must accumulate an awful lot of them though — or do you find that they arrive and leave in roughly equal numbers? I wish there was a better system for getting pots back to the ‘source’ so they could be reused by the growers, and not just small nurseries but larger scale organisations too. Or a way of making plant pots out of easily recyclable or biodegradable materials. I’ll be writing a more in depth post about what we can do with all these pots, so any snippets of wisdom or bright ideas would be most welcome!
      I do hope you manage to get caught up – it must have been very frustrating not to be able to open on Saturday. Let’s hope for a quick melt and a lovely sunny spring!

      1. I’m finding they are leaving more and more and I’m buying in more, but we did have a huge surplace to use up when we bought the nursery. I do try to get as much use out of everything before they have to be thrown out. And as for the weather and catching up …………… not much change, I am so hoping for spring soon.

  14. Such an interesting post, Joanna – good to read about your plans and intentions. I would certainly recommend keeping on top of things like labelling and washing out used pots and trays, as well as record keeping. Despite good intentions, I still haven’t managed to begin logging ‘first flowers’ and the like, which I keep meaning to do, but keeping a detailed record of sowing and germination etc has proved invaluable. And writing a list – such as those 5 minute jobs, is a great help as it is a visual reminder and then by crossing things off you know you ahve achieved something!

    1. Cathy, I too am a great believer in lists, although I find that once I get cracking in the garden I find all sorts of things that need doing that weren’t on the original list, and can spend a whole morning doing tangential good works only to find afterwards that I’ve hardly managed to tick anything off at all. I realise that ticking things off the list isn’t the endgame, but it can be disheartening all the same! Labelling is my bête-noir, something to get on top of for once and for all as soon as I’ve found a workable alternative to plastic labels. Washing pots is something I am quite good at these days, or at least brushing the dry dirt out of them with. I keep meaning to get myself one of those natty little wooden-handled pot brushes …
      Given your beautiful garden maps on RITG, I should imagine your record keeping is immaculate.

      1. Haha – definitely not immaculate, I just happen to like maps!! 🙂 The flowering time of seeds is certainly not often recorded and has to be done from memory, but knowing how helpful my seeds record is is such a good incentive. My perennials are all labelled though, and now I have discovered I can clean permanent marker from the labels of defunct plants instead of throwing them away I don’t really have many qualms about using plastic ones

      2. Do you not find that seeds flower at slightly different times each year anyway, depending on the weather conditions?
        I know what you mean about being able to reuse plastic – but eventually those labels will break or be lost or become unusable. They might last 20 years, but in the end they will need to be thrown away somewhere, and those plastic labels will still exist in some form long after we are all enjoying the great garden in the sky.
        The best implement for marking plastic labels is pencil, I was taught.

      3. Indeed, to a certain degree, but it gives me a rough idea of how long it takes from sowing to flowering as before I had little idea and seed packets don’t all have that info, nor about germination times. The plastic issue is difficult one and I have been fairly ecologically aware since a dire Panorama programme in the 70s (and have been recycling since the 60s when we collected aluminium ‘for the guide dogs’!), so certainly feel strongly about ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ plastics. Can we (speaking generally) do without plastics altogether in this day and age? Unlikely until a new material is developed, I suspect, or recycling methods and habits are improved. what do you think?

  15. A most enjoyable and thought provoking post Joanna. I think that I may well be your rival when it comes to untidiness in the garden. Making improvements in that department is my top priority this year.

    1. Thank you Anna. If you are not a ‘born-tidy’ person, keeping the garden clear and clutter-free can be a challenge. Even more so than keeping a house tidy, in fact, because the garden is always on display to the world and there are fewer closed doors behind which to hide things. Good luck in your endeavours – I think I will write a longer blog post about this in future after I’ve tried a few things – so if you have any tips to share then please tell me!

  16. Your whole post chimes with what I’ve been thinking as I take a deep breath and get ready to reclaim my late parents’ now overgrown garden in the north of Scotland. My father was a skilled and passionate gardener, as was his mother before him, who grew up in a large country house with glasshouses, kitchen garden, orchards and a staff of gardeners. So some traditional things have been passed down, but my Dad also embraced the 1970s passion for plastics in a big way. I now have a garden shed full of every size of plastic pot imaginable. However he also used wooden tomato boxes for seed trays which have rotted and warped, and supermarket cast-offs are so hard to get now. He used ones from our local greengrocer, sadly long gone. I’ve looked online for wooden seed trays, and there only seem to be retro ‘heritage’ ones, or even worse in my eyes, twee ones with writing on the side. I hate the blindly obvious lettering of practical objects, and twee sends me into a rage. I have told my husband I will divorce him if we buys me a sign for the back door saying ‘in the garden’ or ‘trespassers will be composted’.

    1. Many thanks for your comment Linda. It sounds as though you have a long gardening heritage in the family, and a big and rewarding task ahead of you in reclaiming that wonderful-sounding overgrown garden of your parents’.
      I couldn’t agree more about obvious lettering of practical objects. My wooden seed-trays say ‘Seedlings’ on them – presumably to justify the relatively high price of what is effectively a few bits of softwood stapled together at the corners. Or just in case I have a moment of dementia and forget what those small green shoots are, it may be useful to be reminded that they are not cornflakes, or biros, or bowler hats. I did hesitate before buying them, but decided that I could just turn the writing to face the opposite way in the name of my higher objective.
      It is probably very easy to make your own wooden seed trays. Looking closely at one of mine, it consists of seven short strips of wood tacked together very simply. Nothing a reasonably capable person couldn’t manage.

  17. Hello Joanna and thank you for the mention! I just thought I’d drop you a line to point you towards the website I’ve set up all about my campaign (started over two years now!) to reduce plastics in my garden. It’s http://www.gardeningwithoutplastic.com – very much still a work in progress but I’m adding to it all the time with all the stuff I’ve learned.
    I have found non-plastic pots – clay and paper mainly – just require a slightly different approach when you’re using them. They do dry out quicker, yes, but you just water them more regularly. And because they are porous they actually re-wet more thoroughly, unlike plastic which can let the water run down between pot and dried-out rootball and from there out the bottom, leaving the plant as dry as if you hadn’t watered. You don’t have that problem with clay, or biodegradable.
    After all, the Victorians managed very well indeed with nothing but clay pots, and I would love to be as good a gardener as your average Victorian estate worker!
    I’m pleased to have found your blog – what wonderful pictures, a treat to look at. Good luck with getting the plastic out of your garden – I promise, it’s really worth the effort.
    Sally

    1. Hello Sally, many thanks for popping by and leaving a comment. Your original article in The Garden was incredibly inspiring and set me off on a long train of thought. I’m most impressed with your ‘Gardening Without Plastic’ website although your extensive research only goes to show how much further there is to go before our culture of plastic is interrupted and phased out entirely. I am sure there will come a time when we look back at our crazy affair with plastic in astonishment. The more of us that join the vanguard of change, the quicker that time will come. I will add your website’s link to the main article above.

  18. Hello! I found your blog this morning during my search for Scotland based gardening blogs, and very happy I did. Great post! I was just searching online yesterday for a wooden potting tray like Monty’s. I think I may have to make one myself as bizarrely these are not widely available only crappy plastic! …Can you recommend any other Scotland based blogs or any other gardening blogs? Good luck for the gardening year!

    1. Hello Diana – so sorry for my slow reply! Wonderful to have you along and I do hope you enjoy my blog. I too think I am going to have to start making my own wooden seedtrays. Having bought some from Burgon & Ball, I can see that it wouldn’t be very difficult. I am very far behind on my blog following, I must confess … but I always enjoy reading Quirky Bird Gardener who has a nursery in the Borders. If any others spring to mind, I’ll let you know.

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