Recycling in the garden has been increasing in popularity for more than a decade. In July 2008, Richard Reynolds and his team created a Recycled Garden at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The creators explained, “Everything in this garden would have been thrown away if we had not intercepted it. Reusing and rejuvenating old plants is one tactic guerrilla gardeners deploy when transforming neglected patches of public space. In this way both land and plants are given a new lease of life - sustainably and cheaply.”
In the United States, more than 600,000 tons of discarded material were recycled by landscaper and artist Richard Pocopalia for garden use. Items used in his designs include old guardrails, driftwood, broken crockery and other waste. What an achievement to reduce landfill by 600,000 tons whilst creating beautiful places!
Garden recycling is a great way to inspire interest in the environment especially with kids. Finding creative ways to help our earth is not only fun but also easy to do. And when you put these two things together, fun and easy, you’re sure to grab the attention of kids. The Kids' Garden
Despite living in a society seemingly devoted to consumption, children usually have an innate interest in their natural environment, gardening and recycling. A recycled garden is also inexpensive, which increases its accessibility to children whilst appealing to their desire to be more eco-friendly.
Choosing and creating recycled containers, compost bins, edging materials, fencing and paths to establish a garden takes time and imagination, but is incredibly rewarding. Sources of reusable and reclaimed materials include your own home and yard, the rubbish tip (many have specific sections for recycled objects to take or to buy), designated recycling centres, freecycle and similar sites, neighbours, family and friends, building sites and demolition yards.
Some tools can be derived from discarded objects. I have seen a fabulous garden cart made from an old pram to use in moving buckets of soil, plants, water containers and more. The suspension and steering were second to no purpose-designed garden cart I’ve ever used! Kitchen items can be useful for digging, planting, watering and measuring, especially for children who often can’t easily handle regular garden tools. Labels, stakes, pots, ties, shade and more can all be re-used items. If directly re-claimed items aren’t available, gardeners can at least seek out new items created from post-consumer waste at hardware and garden centres.
Outdoor furniture can be created with old tyres, pallets, or offcuts from timber yards. It can also be purchased second-hand or made from heavy-duty recycled plastic. Alternatively, build something from brick, stone or concrete that will last through so many more seasons, be aesthetically pleasing and is more sustainable than furniture with a shorter lifespan. Garden art can also be crafted from unwanted items and other more sustainable options. Or maybe you can build a cubby house or other building from PET bottles, like this?
Compost, fertiliser and mulch are all vital in maintaining healthy soil. Children enjoy collecting ingredients for these, adding them to the mix and watching the results over time. Draw their attention to the earthworms and other mini-beasts assisting green waste to decompose and they’ll be even more excited! Leaves, pine needles, shredded bark, lawn clippings, weeds and similar organic materials from your garden, neighbours’ gardens and local park can be collected for compost heaps and to use directly as mulch or in a worm farm. Most newspapers, plain cardboard and shredded plain paper can be recycled and used as mulch or an addition to compost as well.
Watering containers can be old jugs, teapots, buckets and more… Often, regular watering cans are quite large and heavy, so a reclaimed vessel is perfect for children in helping to water pot plants, seedlings and garden beds. Automatic irrigators can be created from plastic bottles which can take up to 500 years or more to break down. Drill (or melt) a few holes into the cap of the plastic bottle. Then, remove the bottom of the bottle by cutting across with a sharp knife to create a funnel for you to easily pour water into. Bury the bottle cap side down at least one third to one half in a plant pot or amongst a group of plants. Once securely in place, pour water into the bottle until it is full, as required. You can also add fertiliser to the bottle to feed the plant right down at the roots.
Rain collection is important, especially in these times of uncertain weather patterns. Harvesting rain from downpipes or even directly from the sky is a sustainable way to provide your garden with the water it needs. Recycling water from the laundry, kitchen and some bathroom fixtures are other ways you can reduce the use of potable water in the garden. Methods for doing this include complex greywater systems, extending or diverting outlet pipes and hoses, or simply catching the excess water in buckets and carrying it to the garden area. Children love to be involved in water recycling – sharing scoops of precious water onto each plant.
Plants and seeds can often be obtained for free or very low cost from a local garden club or Seed Savers group. Family, friends and neighbours might also have some to share. There are many good books on plant propagation and seed saving, describing how that with some time and patience you can grow your own seedlings, plants and even trees. Once a garden is established, propagating more plants to expand or share is easy, inexpensive and fulfilling.
Re-evaluate everything you do in the garden - every home grower can enjoy their experience at a sustainable level. Look at your options through the eyes of a child who will inherit this planet when we’re gone. Rediscover the importance, magic and rewards of simplicity by including more recycling in your garden.