Monday, May 19, 2008


1967 brought us "The Graduate" and the movie quote voted #42 (out of 100) by the American Film Institute. "Plastics" is also a line that's been running through my head a lot lately when I've been playin' outside. In spite of my love of rocks, wood, and other things organic, I've noticed a number of plastic items have become workhorses in our little garden.
This is my plastic "Trifecta": the greenhouse, rain tank, and some GrowBoxes.

Probably best known to anyone reading this blog is the big green rain collection tank. Made of polypropylene and piped with PVC, it's undeniably a big plastic statement. Of course the lovely rock, mortar and wood cisterns we've seen at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or in the James David garden would be preferred for their aesthetic appeal. But our big plastic tank is doing its job well and would be much easier to pack up and move if needed.  What's more important - avoiding something made from petrochemicals or collecting rainwater?  It seems so many of our choices are complicated. 

Less obvious, but essential in my world, is the heavy plastic liner of the pond. Rugged but flexible enough to follow the shape we dug in the hard clay, it allowed us to completely change the way our garden looks and feels, and the way we feel about being outside.

Probably my least attractive plastic garden components are the "Grow Boxes". Initially, I was attracted to the possibilities these self-watering containers offered in making gardening accessible to school children. The boxes are inexpensive to construct, can be broken down at the end of the growing season or school year, and allow kids a way to learn about the source of their food, butterfly gardens, or just the magic of a seed transforming itself to a plant.

Here they are last winter lined up in front of the greenhouse that's made of PVC and heavy mil plastic sheeting with its fiberglass shade cloth.

As I used them, I also found out how convenient it is to be able to leave on vacation and know the tomatoes won't die for lack of water. It's also an easy way to keep food crops out of the "reach" of two large male dogs when they lift their legs.
The funny thing is how much I've learned to appreciate them through the process of teaching people how to make them. Folks are always telling me how much they like them and why. Number one reason for most is that someone with no yard or depth of soil can grow homegrown tomatoes and other vegetables. Older folks enjoy gardening at an elevated height, and that there's no need for hoeing or heavy work involved in gardening with them - just planting and dragging the occasional (plastic) hose over for adding water to the reservoir.  With so many advantages, should they be avoided because they're fairly "tacky" and again, made from a petrochemical product?  If a child develops a love of nature or a better diet and appreciation for vegetables because a teacher grew something in a GrowBox for the class one year, does that benefit outweigh the negatives?

Also built from a plastic storage bin is my vermiculture (that's worm composting) bin.
Although it took a while to really get going, now I'm wishing it were bigger. Guess I'll just have to build another one.  Does it being made of plastic negate the act of composting?

As I've mentioned, many of my plants were grown from cuttings gathered from friends. My success with propagation increased dramatically when I began using cut off soda bottles to increase the humidity for the cuttings. (Since cuttings have no roots, at that point all moisture must be taken in through the leaves.) I couldn't begin to afford enough of the lovely glass cloches traditionally used for this purpose - especially when it's time to prune the roses and I find it impossible to waste all of those potential rose plants. Then it's not unusual for us to have as many as 25 "test tubes", as my husband likes to call them. The primary downside to these is that I've been seen scouting my neighborhood recycling bins since we don't even empty 4 soda bottles a year.

On one of those dog walking/scouting trips, I found two large plastic pots that were being thrown away. They now house the Meyer lemon and a Mexican lime.
The newest plastic additions are the raised bed corner supports I just used to build 3 vegetable beds in a sunny side strip of our yard. Even though I could have constructed simple raised beds without them, they made the project even simpler and offered angles that would have complicated the process by hours. It was during the building of the beds that now famous single word of dialogue from The Graduate began repeating in my mind.

So, give me some feedback: other than the little nursery pots and trays we bring plants home in, what are the ways you're using plastic in your garden? Please tell me I'm not alone in this dirty little secret.

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...