– but hats off to the organisers for their goals of environmental responsibility. So as the curtain rises on the world's greenest Olympics, it's an ideal time to ask if your garden is green enough.
In its recent sustainability report, the Olympic Development Authority (ODA) outlined plans to create a zero-waste Games and encourage a responsible approach to biodiversity. The ODA wants to protect and enhance the biodiversity and ecology of areas like the Lower Lea Valley in London and has created the largest urban park for 100 years out of 45 hectares of industrial wasteland.
This is impressive. A brownfield site has reed beds for roosting and breeding birds, otters and voles; 20 hectares of grassland are now suitable for insects, beetles and bees; and another disused site has lizards, moths and linnets, while four new ponds are havens for rich aquatic life.
Turning the green spotlight on our own gardens, the starting point is the number of CO2-hungry plants we have. An individual garden won't slow down climate change, but a million green gardens in Scotland would make a difference. Living gardens provide habitats for the countless creatures that keep the planet healthy. Trees and shrubs, flowering and seeding plants, tangled growth, compost heaps and ponds encourage wildlife and make gardens vibrant places.
You should have a green checklist for the plants you buy. Locally grown ones are more likely to thrive than those brought up from Eastbourne. And carting plants from one end of this island to another is environmentally damaging and often unnecessary.
Minimising waste is also important when buying plants. Check a plant will suit your garden; that the soil and light levels are right. Otherwise, you'll end up with a candidate fit for the compost heap. If you have the space, reduce food miles by growing some food for the kitchen: it tastes better too.
When designing the layout of the garden, greenery is just as important. Grass paths are invaluable for invertebrates and feeding birds. Unlike slabs and patios, grass soaks up rain and reduces the risk of run-off and flooding. Grass stabilisers, like Hebden 401, made from recycled plastic, reinforce and protect heavily used paths. Most of us find hedges more appealing than brick or stone walls, as do many of our resident birds.
Encouraging biodiversity is important to the organisers of the Olympic Games, but their ethical sourcing policy is just as commendable. Although we plan and design our gardens on a much smaller scale than the ODA, we should take their purchasing criteria to heart.
The organisers want to know all about the materials they buy: sources, constituents, packaging and what will happen to them after the Games. They want to be sure any products they buy have been manufactured to meet internationally acceptable environmental, social and ethical standards. Wherever possible, recycled materials should be used, packaging and environmental impact should be kept to a minimum, and an efficient use of energy is taken into account.
When I see tarmac fields crammed with cars round garden centres, I realise gardeners wield great power. You can impulse-buy conservatories, ornaments, lighting and endless products to brighten up the garden. Or you can use the power of your purse to insist your purchases have been ethically produced. Locally sourced and manufactured products are much more sustainable than mass-produced ones shipped from halfway around the globe. Support local, Scottish, growers and manufacturers, not distant factory owners who may be using unsustainable materials and exploiting cheap, possibly child, labour.
At the risk of preaching, I'd urge you to check that wooden tables and chairs are made from sustainable FSC timber, and don't come from tropical rainforests. By and large, solar lighting works well during the summer and is preferable to mains electricity.
Although making plastic products is environmentally damaging, we all support the industry when we buy plants. But at least we can reuse or recycle the containers. My potting shed is crammed with plastic pots I use and reuse until, after years of faithful service, they finally split and have to be recycled. We often end up with more than we could ever use. And pots are often hard to stack because they come in different shapes and sizes, so we should recycle them, not just throw them out. Helpful garden centres, like Dobbies, will take back your pots for recycling so, if you don't want to use them yourself, always check at a garden centre if you can return them.
There are plenty of recycled plastic products on sale now. Large containers, path edging, raised beds and home compost bins are only a few, so choose these whenever you can. On a practical note, I have large compost bays made with recycled boards – they work much better than traditional wooden boxes and will probably outlive me.
A green garden audit looks at lots more too: making home compost, not buying energy-guzzling synthetic fertilisers and pesticides; using leafmould, not peat; burning prunings in a chiminea and never using patio heaters. n
Visit www.askorganic.co.uk. Email your gardening queries to firstname.lastname@example.org
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