The Wise Blog

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  1. As I stand at the sink doing the dishes, I look out into the garden to see Mrs. Blackbird hopping across the lawn, busily plucking up tasty worms from the ground. Our Blackbird ‘couple’ are out there every day along with a friendly robin, a noisy crew of sparrows and some dopey looking pigeons.

    Our garden is typical of suburbia, a modest 70ft long and less than manicured due to years of garden football and a northerly aspect. I’m a keen gardener, and whilst my flower beds look in pretty good shape, our grass is a long way from being a utopian striped green lawn!

    Buoyed by endorsements from ‘celebrity home-makers’ like Sarah Beeny, artificial grass is enjoying booming popularity. It appeals to a desire for an ‘easier’ life, highlighting the time and money saved, reduced maintenance, and people’s aspirations for the perfect lawn. But would I swap our unkempt patch for fake grass? Never in a month of Sundays, and here’s why;

    I’d be saying goodbye to Mr. & Mrs Blackbird
    ...Woody Woodlouse, Willy The Worm and Madame Butterfly. We might not be able to see all of it, but there is a microscopic world at large beneath our feet. Our gardens support an amazing ecosystem of bugs and beasts; from bacteria and worms to frogs and birds. When you lay down plastic grass, you are smothering the soil and its millions of inhabitants who all have a role to play in our fragile ecosystem.

    'A Teaspoon of soil contains billions of souls' Craig Sams, Green & Blacks Founder

    Our local wildlife population needs us
    Since World War Two much of Britain’s countryside has been turned into a nature-free zone due to intensive farming and the use of pesticides. Whilst you might think of your humble patch as unimportant, our gardens provide an essential refuge for all wildlife. Only this week I found a newt and a stag beetle in our garden.

    ‘These days gardens are very important, they are a haven for wildlife. Creatures can’t survive in the countryside because it is so full of chemicals.’ Joy Wallis, Dorset Wildlife Trust

    We all need somewhere to go wild
    As a nation we now spend more time staring at a glowing screen than being outside in nature. The American writer, Richard Louv, coined the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ a growing separation between people and nature. Our gardens offer an important escape from the digital world, with a host of health benefits for the mind, body and soul. Plastic grass isn’t natural, and you have to ask yourself whether your garden will offer the same retreat when the nature part is largely removed.

    ‘Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships.’(Study: Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009).

    Up to 15 years in your garden, 100s of years in landfill
    Artificial grass will only last up to 15 years (at best) after which it will be ripped up and deposited into landfill, where it will take thousands of years to decompose. If you have pets then you'll no doubt be replacing it sooner. As a friend testified to, the grass starts to smell of pet faeces after a while, no matter how good the built in drainage. Fake grass just does not have the natural mechanisms for cleaning and renewing itself. Your ‘perfect’ fake patch will inevitably become unhygienic and unpleasant...and yet another disposable commodity.

    No more bare feet in the summer
    Our summertime is all too fast and fleeting, so when it’s here we spend as much time in the garden as possible; chasing each other with water pistols, practising gymnastics, playing badminton, sprawling on the grass - all activities enjoyed best with reckless abandon and bare feet!

    Unfortunately, it is strictly ‘shoes on’ if you have fake grass; unlike the cooling effect of the grass and ground beneath your feet, fake grass reaches such high temperatures in the sun that you will be unable to walk on it in bare feet or lay on your back on it to contemplate the sky.

    A natural lawn helps keep the air we breath cleaner
    Grass lawns soak up carbon dioxide and so, like trees, grass is good for the planet. We talked to Craig Sams, Organic Pioneer & Green & Black’s founder, who told us a bit more about the carbon footprint of fake grass;

    ‘Every year every square metre of lawn is capturing 250g of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing some long term in its root system that sequesters it in the soil and storing some that becomes grass clipping that, if composted, keep the carbon out of the atmosphere for not such a long term. Set that off against the carbon footprint of fake turf and it’s win win.’

    We're going down the same path as we did with paving front gardens.
    No matter how technologically advanced it has become, artificial grass does not drain nearly as well as a natural lawn (nature’s sponge). This means that less rainwater reaches our natural aquifers, where we desperately need it, and more remains as surface water, where it can cause flooding.

    Yet more plastic in our lives
    No matter which way you cut it (pardon the pun) fake grass is made from plastic, an unnatural fibre and petroleum- based product that creates pollution and waste in the manufacturing process. At a time when we know we should be reducing the amount of plastic in our lives, we are introducing it into one of the only plastic-free places in our homes.

    Grass has become yet another consumer product
    Eek! What next? Fake shrubs and trees (I did google this and they rather worryingly do exist)? Save your pennies and sanity and stick to the real thing.

    With all these issues considered, I’ll be protecting our little piece of green space; warts, worms and all. It might be time to accept the imperfections in your garden, so that you can enjoy the wild perfection of nature with your friends and family.

     

  2. The very idea of an allotment conjures up visions of neat rows of bountiful vegetables, wigwam canes heaving with pretty sweet peas, rustic raised beds and a smart potting shed in the corner. Whilst my Auntie’s allotment is exactly like this (complete with neat picket fence, wooden bench and bunting), my own experience of having an allotment is somewhat different.

    When the children were small, the opportunity arose to share custody of a plot at a local allotment. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time tending the plot, there were certainly more challenges that I expected. Back breaking couch grass, slug attacks, too little rain (and too little watering), too much rain (leading to ‘bolting’ vegetables and no, this doesn’t mean they upped sticks and headed for a better tended plot) and worst of all...whinging small children. The only positive memories that they could recall from the allotment days were the snacks bought en route as bribery and digging up the potatoes (which is something I suppose)!

    Despite all this, there really is nothing quite like growing, picking and eating your own produce and yes, we did manage it! We had success with beans (all sorts), courgettes, potatoes and more. But when I started The Wise House, my poor plot suffered. I had to admit defeat and after 3 years of allotmenteering, I handed back the keys.

    In the years since, I have really missed growing my own vegetables, and so decided to have a go at creating a small vegetable patch in our back garden. I signed up for an Urban Constant Garden from Rocket Gardens. The concept is simple; they send you a diverse range of vegetable and herb plants throughout the year and you do the rest. As I find deciding exactly what to grow and when one of the most challenging parts, this suits me perfectly.

    Prior to the arrival of the first shipment in May, you are supposed to prepare between 5-8m squared of space. We had gotten as far as to build and prepare two raised beds at the end of the garden; with another raised bed, large bean planter and an old sink all in place but sitting empty.

    When the plugs finally arrived in a huge box with a note suggesting that they be put in the ground within 24 hours, I realised I had a serious amount of work to do! It was a baking hot day, which is lovely in theory (and goodness knows I love the sun) but in practice gave an extra layer of sweat and panic to the whole proceedings, as I imagined my beautiful new plugs withering before my eyes.

    The small plants arrived cleverly layered in a bed of straw - it was a bit like playing lucky dip at the school fete. Each batch comes with a label, which is useful if you are a relative novice and struggle to tell your beetroot from your kale (more on that later). After about an hour of unpacking, the first job was to soak them in water for which I used a plethora of plastic containers.
    Rocket Garden Unpacking The Box Rocket Garden Unpacking The Box2

    Whilst they were having a drink in the shade, I gave the soil another quick turnover and raked it flat (a bit like making up the bed for special guests) followed by sprinkling over some of the enclosed wormcast fertiliser (a bit like showering the bed with rose petals). I then set about filling the other containers, only to frustratingly run out of soil halfway through. This necessitated a quick dash to the local garden centre - I heaved those bags onto that trolley like a contestant from World’s Strongest Man and whisked them home to finish the job.

    Unpacking1 plantsinwater

    Time for planting! You are sent a very clear instruction sheet, with useful information on planting depth and distance. First in were the leeks, which I planted to the letter, only to later come across...the leeks. It was in fact the onions that I had planted first, so I hope they don’t respond unkindly to being planted a little deeper than usual. I got my kale and beetroot jumbled up (they look very similiar to my untrained eye) so they are integrating with each other nicely in a neat little line.

    ready to go 13254237_1009038992543655_4727232797800049040_n

    Other than that the planting went smoothly; in between school pick-ups, club runarounds, cooking dinner, trying to keep the rabbit away from my new tasty guests. It was actually all rather exciting, as a vegetable patch emerged before my eyes. When my husband arrived home he found me covered in soil and wrestling the bean planter (don’t get saucy now).

    The first 10 days of ownership have gone relatively smoothly. We did have to erect a tall rabbit-proof fence after Tilla compromised the existing defences in approximately 2 minutes and was found happily devouring the strawberry plants. The slugs and snails have also munched their way through some of the cabbages and courgette leaves; I have tried placing holly leaves around them (which I think is a clever ploy but my dad clearly finds ridiculous).

    I shall report back on progress every few weeks; the good, the bad and the ugly. Visit www.rocketgardens.co.uk to sign up for your own allotment.

    plot final Beans