Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Peak gardening

As the seasonal tide of merchandise threatens to engulf us, have we reached a tipping point? It’s time to start saying no to stuff.

It didn’t make much of a thud, it didn’t shatter into a thousand gratifying pieces, and it hasn’t done anything for my faith in gardening being a force for good in an increasingly volatile, topsy-turvy natural world. This A4-size ream of ‘gifts for gardeners’ might have dinted my wall, but it’s done zilch for my blood pressure. At least its now ruffled and ragged pages will – unless they’re, oh Gawd, incinerated – eventually be recycled into something far more useful. Loo roll would be poetic justice.

Don’t sink your dosh into ‘insect hotels’ that’ll never take guests; make your own.

Of course, this wasn’t the first seasonal mail order catalogue to wing its way to us, filled almost entirely with what can most politely be described as utter, often pointless, tat (I’ll spare you the expletives as it flew flapping across the room; let your imagination rip). Things got off to a promising start: it didn’t arrive in a plastic wrapper. But despair set in early, with a ‘special gift for mammal lovers!’: an illuminated, solar-powered, weatherproof feeding station for… hedgehogs (lots of plastic, some wood). Honest. Won’t an old chipped saucer, under a propped-up tile or plank to keep the rain off, plus a torch, do the job – and for a fraction of the ecological cost? A pop at seventy quid.

Deepening gloom: ill-conceived (and likely imported) insect hotels at which no invertebrate will ever make a booking; the holes are too wide to attract any self-respecting solitary bees or wasps. Okay, they’re made of wood (and bamboo from far, far away; bamboo miles?), which doesn’t pollute and is renewable. Crow about ‘FSC-certified timber’ all you like, but they still won’t work (except for squatting spiders). Not even for twelve quid.

Don’t get me started on the nest boxes for birds that look just like… our houses. Or like beach huts. As if our feathered friends give a flying… hoot. And do I really need nigh on two hundred quid’s-worth of voyeuristic gubbins (cameras, plastic, power cables, adapters…) to simply enjoy having birds nesting in my garden FOT (free of tat)? Do the energy and resources needed to manufacture these spy-kits make our gardens – or us – any more wildlife-friendly? Answers in an email; expletives welcome (polite ones, mind).

The only way was down, amid plastic, plastic, everywhere. Even the ‘hedgehog key caddy’ is plastic (polyresin, to nitpick). Like us, actual hedgehogs are eventually recycled – thanks, nature – into compost (or, less usefully, cremated on Bonfire Night). But what happens to plastic ones – are they easily recyclable at the kerbside (next to the run-over, non-plastic ones)? Or will they shatter into a thousand crumbs of globally polluting microplastic, which might be eaten by (and can kill) earthworms, which hedgehogs (the real ones) might then, er, eat? Quite probably. Best way to spend a tenner? Probably not. A polyresin cousin, the ‘grassy garden gnome’, swathed in – you guessed it – fake grass, is to wince for. Earthworm stomachs beware.

Treecreepers nest FOT (free of tat) in my garden. No spying required.

Rock bottom (don’t forget this is ‘gifts for gardeners’): a silicone cover for your avocado, to ‘hug’ it and stop it discolouring, so you can cut it open in advance of… when you actually need it. Don’t swear (oh, go on then). Redemption comes in the form of a ‘small plastic gadget with a hole’, into which you can s–, insert your avocado stone, to increase its germination success rate. On second thoughts… get me out of here. Fast.

It ain’t all ‘run for the hills’ stuff. There are some decent stainless steel hand tools, garden knives with wooden handles (repairable, recyclable, long-lived, hand-me-downable), twine made from Dartmoor wool (renewable, compostable), windowsill mushroom kits (food, albeit encased in plastic), and aluminium and glass cold frames (recyclable, give-awayable, lasting forever-ish), all of which help to put a glimmer of actual gardening back into this tatalogue.

Plants? Oh dear. The lowlight (run now, fast) is waxed-dipped amaryllis bulbs sprinkled with ‘snow-like’ – plastic? – ‘speckles’. It’s not clear whether ‘Hazardous to our living world – do NOT add to your compost bin!’ is printed on the big plastic box. ‘Waxing the amaryllis’ doesn’t have quite the ring of ‘gilding the lily’, but it’s the same sad thing. Sigh. And don’t get me started on crassly manipulated images flogging other (unwaxed, phew) flower bulbs. Do they contain bee-zapping neonicotinoids? Who knows (or cares)?

Recyclable, give-awayable, lasting forever-ish. Rehome your pre-loved greenhouse and coldframes.

Stuff, stuff, everywhere, hurtling here and there, in vans of many colours. Perhaps those cooking up this tempting broth of ‘gardening’ tat really do believe there’s another beautiful, liveable planet standing by – ready for when we’ve sucked the life clean out of this one. That gardening catalogues now spookily resemble a visit to an average, tat-stuffed garden centre is sending us a signal of some sort.

Clever me: I’ve decoded it. ‘Emergency! Peak gardening reached! Stop!’ The rest of the message – intercepted, perhaps, by that imaginary other earth – is clear. It’s reminding us that we’ve already put more than enough gardening stuff into our fragile world. Its sign-off implores us to cut down on the click-and-shop, and to rekindle not just the three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – but all of the other gardening Rs going.

Refuse, and don’t buy pointless tat in the first place (see above). Repair and renovate, make good and mend, tapping the collective fix-it power in our communities. When you do buy new, make sure it’s repairable (on yer bike, built-in obsolescence). Rehome tools, equipment and structures you no longer need (pre-loved, weed-incubating greenhouses are ripe for rehoming). Gift ’em. Just let ’em go. Rally round, reach out, and see if you can get something going in your street, or down on the allotment, where you can rev up all of the Rs at once (and keep adding your own). And don’t forget this one: ring the folks who post the tatalogues and say ‘no thanks’. It’ll save some trees. Then rejoice.

Will my wellies fare any the worse without their very own personalised (plastic) wellie bag? I can have up to three characters on it. ‘Git’ will fit nicely. That’s why I fling catalogues around, I guess. One thing I am tempted to do is put in a nice big man-pond. Move over frogs (even polyresin ones); I’m not sure even I can resist a ‘mermaid swim tail’…

Text and images © John Walker

Find John on Twitter @earthFgardener