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.


Pam/Digging said...

I have two plastic rain barrels and only wish I had the big plastic cistern you're using.

Lori said...

Vicki - We drink a LOT of soda at my house, and I'd be glad to save you some 2 liter bottles. Just let me know when you need them and how many.

I didn't know that you do worm composting. I've been curious about it. How long did it take for the worms to get established and the whole system to start working efficiently?

As for using plastic in the garden, I'm afraid that the only thing that comes to mind is using old plastic bags and sheets to cover my plants in the winter. I'm tempted to make some self-watering containers to try tomatoes, though. The thought of doing any more digging than I have to in my awful clay just makes me shudder, and I'm awful about watering consistently.

Lori said...

I was going to beg for a step-by-step tutorial in making those self-watering planters, but I just managed to stumble onto one:

Is there anything in this tutorial that you'd do differently?

vbdb said...

Lori - the next two posts will be the info on the worm bins and the how-to for the GrowBoxes. The ones I use are much simpler and less expensive to construct than those in the link you provided, but work in much the same way. Think I'll build one of those and do a comparison of the results, though. In the meantime, I'm e-mailing you the instructions.

I started with 2 liter soda propagators, but for rose cuttings found I preferred the extra room of a 3 liter. It's just a matter of matching pot size to soda bottle diameter, so I use both depending on what the cutting is.

Lee17 said...

I have my hanging plants in plastic pots (I would like some nice cedar hanging pots, but they are too spendy), the hummingbird feeders have some plastic on them, my seedlings are in little plastic pots, I have an ugly (but cheap!) plastic watering can, the reservoir and pump for the fountain are plastic, and the hoses are plastic...Good God! I am so dependent on oil...I am a little distressed.

vbdb said...

Lee - the oil dependence is exactly what I meant when I said my "dirty little secret". Even with all the recycling, composting, and re-use we do at our house, an actual accounting of the products in use show I'm not as "green" as I'd like to believe (unless you count "green" plastic.) Thanks for the confession.

Annie in Austin said...

Since I saw The Graduate on the big screen when it was brand-new, this is one I should be able to answer, VDBD!

We bought quite a few large, $40-$60 terracotta pots when we had the house with the deck. As they cracked and disintegrated one-by-one, the evicted plants were moved into plastic containers that simulated terracotta. Not so lovely, but frostproof.

The fountain is stone, but the tub and grates are black plastic. If I had lots of money our edging would be brick or stone, but it's black plastic until I win the lottery.

Making hypertufa is hard work but it can take heat and cold and it's not plastic, so should be a better choice, right? That depends on who your talking to, since hypertufa is partly peat moss, another controversial substance. No easy answers, are there?

Good, thought-provoking post, VDBD!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

vbdb said...

Just call me Eliza Doolittle ... I do so aspire to be a classy dame, but I'm just a plastic usin' country gal. It does make my conscience ache a bit, though. My carbon footprint really isn't attractive.

Diana said...

Ah, vbdb - we all share your dirty little secret. I use plastic watering cans for hand-work because they are lighter on my arms with tendonitis. Not only do I use plastic - it's one of my newest favorite things -- I have two of those colored, malleable (almost floppy) plastic bucket/tub things with handles that I use for everything: hauling tools and fertilizer and dumping dirt and holding name it. They are so bright and colorful. But now that I've been enlightened and my eyes are open, I realize they are evil, evil petroleum pails. Hey - BTW, I just realized that most of those green light or organic garden fertilizers or gardening potions come in PLASTIC. How green and organic is that?? You've made us all think...

mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

I have two plastic rainbarrels and would very much like to have a huge plastic cistern like yours. (I'm assuming that the metal ones are much more expensive as well as heavy).

Most of my pots are terra cotta but some of the pot saucers are plastic. I recently bought a fiberglass pot because I wanted a large size and it was lightweight.

I use plastic bird netting over the pond and sometimes over the persimmon or tomato plants. Underneath my gravel walkways is plastic (I assume) weed-blocking cloth.

I have also used water bottles to make cloches--but that's a good thing isn't it? Reuse is the best form of recycling.

Bob said...

Well, I certainly feel good now. I looked things over and only have plastic in my PVC pipes and soaker hoses in my raised beds for the vegetables. Our rain water collection tank is fiberglass.[probably not good either] I'm glad you brought this up.

Bonnie said...

Soaker hoses, drip lines, walkway edging, 2 rainbarrels. Just some of the plastic items, although I must admit less than I initially feared. Although you've reminded me of using the soda bottles- I did that in MG class and loved it. I'd like to get back into doing it.

But these plastic items last so much longer than many of the other "natural" items. So are we being less wasteful by using them?

MaralynSpeaking said...

I'm brand-new to blogging and stumbled onto your site with the BEAUTIFUL photographs simply because we share an enthusiasm for Russell's THE SPARROW. Currently taking a magazine writing class for which I've promised to learn about Texas Monthly and share with the class my impressions about it. Have only seen the current style issue and read a couple of articles from past issues. Do you ever read it? It seems to speak to the Texas stereotype which it seems to me you have successfully avoided. I'm just curious to know your impressions.

lisa said...

I like your GrowBoxes! I checked out the link that Lori mentioned, but I like the sound of a simpler/cheaper design! I will be looking forward to your upcoming how-to post! BTW, I like your blog...can I link it? :)

lisa said...

P.S. I have a worm bin too...aren't they fun?

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