Category Archives: In the garden


We live in an old house with a garden, both needing regular maintenance and constant care. We enjoy making home improvements and gardening, but we found it surprisingly difficult to switch to doing it plastic-free. Plastic has a necessary place in many permanent fixtures in the house such as electric cabling, to give but one vital example, but the proliferation of polymers, non-recyclable plastic and unnecessary packaging associated with products for the home and garden is truly staggering. Everything from paints and varnishes to fertilisers and weed control is subject to highly industrial production methods and much packaging. Regardless of whether you garden organically and take pains to choose natural DIY products, single-use plastic prevails in the shape of bottles, buckets, pots, trays, tubes, bags, handles, liners and labels, most of which are probably heading to landfill or incineration.

The big DIY chain stores and garden centres tap into our innate desire to make our homes and gardens beautiful and productive, whilst at the same time maximizing on our hapless fixation with convenience shopping. For years, I’d bundle the kids into the car to buy plants and garden accessories whenever the fancy took me (usually at the point of Spring having arrived) without much planning or thought about the environmental impact of the items I would buy. I might have fooled myself into thinking that I was making good choices by selecting the more natural sounding ‘seaweed fertiliser’ over ‘miracle grow’, but I didn’t think about the burden of industrial production and the problematic disposal of the packaging of either of those two products. And it was so easy to buy cheap things when I wanted them, rather than save up, plan ahead and wait. Which seemed fine until it dawned on me that plastic packaging and transport of cheap, mass produced products from far away countries is a problem and that I was supporting it.

I am thinking that not so long ago, people swapped seeds with each other, took plant cuttings, lent each other tools, grew their own fertiliser, controlled weeds by hoeing and made their own soil by composting. Not so long ago, building materials were sourced locally, carefully preserved, repaired and reused, tools were chosen for quality and durability and packaging was not really a thing. In short, there was little waste and probably not much of a carbon footprint. All of this is still available to us now if we can care enough to say no to convenience and yes to things that take time and effort. The reward is huge!

One of us is a capable DIYer and the other an enthusiastic gardener and so we keenly set out to find less wasteful ways to tackle home and garden. We had to research, learn, plan ahead and apply a little more ingenuity. We had to be willing to forgo some things and spend more money on others. This year we bought brass fittings for the water hose instead of the cheap plastic fittings which break so easily. We bought well-made, used tools at jumble sales. We discovered a local seed swapping scheme. We exchanged plants grown from seed with friends and neighbours. We built a small porch from recycled materials and refurbished the kitchen with cupboards made by a local artisan. It took time and effort but we accomplished it with very little waste and on budget. We live in an area that teems with light industry – when we need a sheet of metal, a pane of glass or planks of wood, we can go downtown and buy directly from the supplier. The same goes for unpackaged loose top soil, sand, gravel, paving stones and many other items. Once we stayed away from the big chain stores we were free to discover much better ways to do the same things. Occasionally the new ways were irritating (such as losing all cabbage plants to insects and all soft fruit to birds one year) but most of the time they are incredibly satisfying.

Depending on where you live, your challenges and needs may be different from ours. We don’t all need the same solutions, but everyone benefits from cutting down plastic waste and avoiding chemicals that burden our environment. We found that it was a matter of taking time over finding the alternatives which often stared us right in the face. Oh how I wished we had started this journey years ago!

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I used to have a line-up of Pukka teas all along the top of my kitchen dresser. Attracted by the colourful packaging and enticing names, I believed that these tea bags were plastic-free until a reader pointed out to me that the sachets each tea bag is sealed in is lined with a polymer for gluing the paper together. Many herbal tea brands, if not all, use plastic in some way or another so I decided to look around my garden to see if I had any herbs, apart from the obvious peppermint and lemon balm, that would be good for making herbal tea. I counted 11 additional plants: chamomile, purple and green sage, rosemary, thyme, elderflower, comfrey, yarrow, nettles and dandelion. And that was just the ones I instantly recognised. How had I missed this opportunity for fresh tea straight from mother nature? The answer of course is because of shiny beautiful packaging of ‘bought’ tea and how easy it is to pop a pack into the shopping basket.

Fresh herb tea tastes beautifully subtle and alive and is easy to make – simply pour hot water over a few freshly picked leaves and let them steep for five minutes. Drying bunches of herbs for making tea for the winter months is also very easy to do. Hang a bunch of herbs upside down for a few days, rub the leaves or flowers off the stems, and store them in a jar or paper bag. You can combine different herbs to suit your taste or try recipes for soothing colds and other ailments. Another wonderful type of herbal tea is hot water with a shot of homemade elderflower cordial.

You don’t need to grow a great quantity of herbs to make a lot of herbal tea – which came as surprise to me. Just one yarrow plant yielded much more than I could possibly use. There are also many wild herbs and weeds that make great tea, such as nettle and dandelion leaves. If you don’t have a garden, growing peppermint in a pot on your windowsill or collecting wild herbs on a walk are good options. You can of course buy loose leaf unpackaged tea from Neil’s Yard and other tea shops – but do take your own paper bags and ask them not to put a plastic sticker on the bag.

Useful links:

• Herb teas for healing:
• Best herbs to grow for tea:
• Neil’s Yard shops for loose herbal tea:


Heeding the advice from even the most staunch defenders of all things homemade, you  will stay out of the sun or buy a good quality sunscreen with pure ingredients rather than attempt to make your own. I have put sun cream down on the list of unavoidable items in plastic packaging. I was therefore over the moon to come across NOT THE NORM sunscreen in a tin in three different sizes, made in the UK from just four pure and organic ingredients. The company also guaranteed to send mailorder items without any plastic packaging. To top it all it arrived on the hottest day so far this summer and I put it to the test straight away. Unperfumed and easy to apply it feels lovely on the skin and if I follow the directions for safe use on the website to the latter, I think this one is a winner for me. I have read so many scathing articles about the ingredients and side effects of ordinary sun cream and sun block that I would rather stay in the shade than expose my skin to these substances – I am not including any links here as the topic is so ‘hotly’ debated that it is hard to know what is real and what isn’t. You must decide for yourself whether this all-natural sunscreen is for you and how safe you believe it is.