So, what's new?
The latest greener gardening products
Every year a slew of new products arrives on the garden market. New brands of compost; gadgets and gizmos for your garden hose, or winkling out weeds, or raising seeds more efficiently; fancy new bubble fountains or barbecues or bird houses to catch your eye and tempt you to part with your cash.
The Garden Press Event, held in London each year for gardening journalists to display what’s new in gardening, has a lot of pretty pointless stuff on show. But lately, the stands are tinged a deeper green with every year that passes. This is a a big and profound shift for the industry. When I first started going to the GPE in 2006 the environment was barely even mentioned.
It has to be said that there is still a long way to go, mind you. Much of what is claimed is sheer greenwash, and I have taken to grilling the stand holders to find out what is not green about their product (there’s always something: everything we do has some impact on the environment, after all). Then I weigh that against its credentials as a genuine innovation which will help to make us all greener gardeners. This year five new environmentally-oriented products caught my eye – so I thought I’d share them with you.
Plastic-free insect-proof mesh I use insect-proof mesh cages in my garden every year to keep the bugs off my brassicas. I use woven plastic Enviromesh: mine actually predates my campaign to get plastic out of my garden and I’ve been reusing it every year for nearly a decade now. Secondhand cotton bedsheets work fine as substitutes, but tend to droop rather dramatically in the rain: this looks like it might be a good alternative.
It looks and behaves just like Enviromesh but it’s made from non-plastic cornstarch PLA. This has its detractors: it’s the stuff which doesn’t break down in home composting so needs industrial waste processing, and the corn used to make it takes up fields which could otherwise be used for food and is also grown in a particularly intensive agriculture kind of way. But on balance, it’s still better than plastic: not least because it’s not made of non-renewable fossil fuels.
Peat-free houseplants Nearly every houseplant you see on sale in most garden centres, supermarkets and sheds is grown in peat. You won’t find this fact on the label: conveniently, the growers neglect to mention it. The houseplant craze may be good for influencer ratings on Insta and Tiktok but it is not, as it stands, good for the planet.
This is starting to change. First there was Harriet’s Plants, from the wonderful Harriet Thompson who grows her own peat-free, home propagated houseplants in a greenhouse in Staffordshire. Now Geb and Green are the latest peat-free houseplant suppliers to set up an online sales outlet (they’ve been selling wholesale for some time). They’re not perfectly peat-free: they propagate about 15% of their stock themselves and the rest is bought in as small plug plants from Denmark, grown in peat since the number of people producing peat-free plants of any sort in mainland Europe is vanishingly small. Hence the 97% peat-free tag. They are intending to squeeze this to 100% by finding someone to supply them with tiny micropropagated plantlets supplied free of any kind of soil – so expect improvements. Oh, and the pots are plastic, but they’re from Elho – so 100% recycled.
Compost in boxes This is the first time I’ve seen boxed compost on show at a major event and the sight fills me with hope: I think this may be the way forward for bagged potting mixes, which have really been struggling to find a way to shed the plastic sack. We’ve had Melcourt’s Bag for Life – a reusable (plastic) compost sack which has been taken up by about 50 garden centres but failed to get the big boys on board as it was too cumbersome to manage in store. And now we have dehydrated compost, packed in a box, which you can simply rehydrate with water as required.
I know of just one brand so far: Fertile Fibre DIY multipurpose compost, sold in blocks plus paper bags of additives to stir in once rehydrated. Now there’s this one, though I’m not sure it would be my choice: it’s 100% coir (high carbon footprint right there) plus artificial chemical fertilisers (that’s even higher). I don’t care how well it performed in extensive trials: using these materials cancels out the attraction of the eco-friendly packaging for me. However: the idea is sound - now all we need is a good mainstream, properly sustainable compost manufacturer to grab it and run with it…
Wool pads I think sheep’s wool is the wonder material of the future for gardening. It’s totally biodegradable, makes lovely, water-retentive compost, and the slugs don’t like it much. One product at the show, and winner of best new product, was a biodegradable wool pot, a bit like a large sock into which you plant your seedlings. I have some to trial – unfortunately they’re made in Egypt which rather undermines their green credentials, but the idea is really interesting.
Wool suppresses weeds, too, so you can use pads like these to protect plants or even, if you can afford it, as a membrane to plant through, making it a great substitute for the nasty plastic stuff. I have tried garden felt, made of sheep’s wool and jute, as weed-suppressing membrane for my garden paths and it’s worked a treat – they’re still in good nick two years later. These sheets are also sized for lining larger hanging baskets: what a great idea.
Bird feeders for containers Perhaps this tips over into the realm of unnecessary garden gear, but I thought they would be lovely if you rent and have to garden in containers, yet want to do your bit for the local garden bird population. They come on long sticks which simply poke into your containers: one had a petal-shaped dish to catch water for an impromptu bird bath, one was a very stylish feeder, and another was designed to take a fat ball.
If you’ve spotted any truly sustainable gardening products which have caught your eye, do share them here: it would be great to test them out on these pages. In fact I am feeling another strand coming on all about greener shopping for the garden… now there’s a thought!
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Reading about the wool pots made in Egypt gave me an idea as I crochet and the last project I made I sourced the wool from as short a journey from my house as I could find. The wool comes from Yorkshire and I’m in the midlands. Anyway I have off cuts and making a wool pot is very similar to crocheting a hat. My only concern now is the dyes or maybe better off trying to find undied wool?
Very interesting, thank you. You have the coir down as high carbon but I've always considered it not so considering it's an otherwise waste/bi product that's very light, transported by sea etc - am I being naive?