Liz Dobbs: how green is your garden centre?

Liz Dobbs ponders plastic remains in a garden and calls on garden centres to help their customers be more sustainable.

It seems strange to question garden centres? environmental credentials. After all, what can be greener than selling plants to create gardens? Yet the critics are there, and parts of the horticultural industry are a tad defensive about their green policies ? possibly due to bruising from decades of the ?peat versus peat-free? debate.

Critics are often dismissed with the sneer ?they aren?t even horticulturists?, but do they have a point?

The end result

Granted, if you start at the beginning of the supply chain you could be led to believe that this is just the way it is. Commercial growers and garden centres face major challenges striving to source, grow, deliver and display plants and products, so perhaps there really is no cost-effective alternative to lorry loads of impulse-buy plants in plastic pots with plastic labels and the usual suspect sundry suppliers.

However, when you get to the end of the supply chain, gardening doesn?t seem as green as it could be.

Having recently had to clear an aged relative?s garden, I?ve quite literally seen the end of the chain.

Stacks of plastic plant pots, piles of plant labels, years of empty compost and growing bags, flimsy ? and therefore broken ? plant supports and screening.

Not to mention a polycarbonate greenhouse that had seen better days. Inside the shed there were unrepairable tools and all manner of garden chemicals.

Of course all of this needed to be responsibly disposed of, but surely the answer is to not generate so much plastic waste in the first place, especially when the pots and labels hang around longer than the plants they first came with.

You can always do more

Even otherwise ?green? garden centres don?t seem to get it sometimes. Just before Christmas I noticed lovely plants on sale from The Hairy Pot Plant Company complete with their wooden bar coded labels in wooden trays, so why then add plastic labels?

Your garden centre may have environmental policies about being a sustainable company based around ?Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?. Apart from anything else, the cost savings of such policies makes good business sense. But what about providing your customers with options so they can do likewise?

In recent years, show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show have explored and embraced sustainable gardening themes. There are high profile ?real? gardens too, including the new Heritage Garden championed by Raymond Blanc at Le Manoiraux Quat?Saisons. The garden?s designer, Anne Keenan MSGD, found solutions that were both sustainable, elegant and in keeping with the surroundings.

It has mainstream appeal

Anyone with the budget to engage a professional garden designer could select one just by searching for ?green design? on the Society of Garden Designers website (www.sgd.org.uk). But the vast majority of garden owners will have to wade through the maze of options themselves. And if you?re wondering if your customers are all that bothered by this, all you need do is look to BBC Gardeners? Question Time.

Eighty per cent of the audience recently backed organic methods, so we are talking about mainstream trends. Garden centres are well placed to help gardeners enjoy their gardens in a more sustainable way. Many of you have a family nursery heritage, you are embedded in your communities and can provide local knowledge, personal advice and a wide range of plants and products.

And wouldn?t it be great if clearing someone?s garden simply meant spreading out the contents of the compost heap onto the borders?

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