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Garden designer Hana Leonard on Planet vs Plastics

by | 22 Apr 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads, Sustainability | 1 comment

Horticulture is creating a “sea of plastic”, says garden designer Hana Leonard – and it’s not the only one. Greenpeace reckons nearly two billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away by UK households on a daily basis, after carrying out The Big Plastic Count in 2022. 

Seeking to put this waste to good use, Leonard – director of Secrets of the Garden Ltd – created the Plastic Fantastic Garden for last year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. 

Inspired by the overwhelming quantity of plastic left behind when trying to create green spaces, Leonard believed that people had become too reliant on plastic packaging and were too blind to what happens to it once it has been thrown away. Therefore, the Plastic Fantastic Garden was formed to tackle the issue of plastic waste in horticulture, using creative alternatives to landfill such as upcycled plastic waste for hard landscaping elements including surfaces and seating, as well as fencing and artwork displayed throughout.  

“We buy for buying sake, even plants and compost, because it is readily available and wrapped in plastic for longevity,” says Leonard. “Could we not slow down and think more about what we are buying?” 

Only 16% of plastics and plastic packaging are being recycled properly across the globe, with the majority finding its way to landfills, incineration sites, or ending up in our rivers and oceans, according to “Even properly recycled plastic has a limited life span because the more you recreate plastic from previous plastic products the more brittle the next product becomes until it’s pretty much not fit for purpose,” says Leonard. 

Demonstrating just some of the ways in which the industry can better its carbon footprint through garden design, Leonard encouraged designers and landscapers to try to remember how things were before the boom of the garden centres. “By educating clients and the public about possible ways of reducing the packaging issue and growing gardens more sustainably, we can make a huge difference and help guide the way to a greener planet,” says Leonard. 

Her Hampton Court Garden acted as the ideal precursor for the theme of this year’s Earth Day – ‘Planet vs Plastics.’ First launched in 1970 by charity, the annual event held on 22 April is used to promote environmental protection and climate action, with a common mission to diversify, educate, and activate the environmental movement worldwide. This year, it’s looking to raise awareness about plastic’s harm to human and biodiversity health, with the aim to increase research transparency, and it’s projects like the Plastic Fantastic show garden that help to push word of mouth and recognition across the globe.  

Visitors to the garden could wander over composite recycled plastic material decking and through a meadow and birch grove resembling restored landfill. Leonard chose to display meadow turf from Lindum Turf as it is grown on fabric backing as opposed to the typical plastic. “It was a wonderful meadow mix that performed brilliantly despite being moved around in vans, cut back, slammed down, trod on by wildlife, and so on,” says Leonard. 

Continuing through the space to admire the recycled plastic fencing and containerised flowers, visitors were encouraged to rest on a plant pot bench or take shelter inside the eco-friendly garden pod. 

The garden showcased products in a range of colours that use recycled plastic, such as those from Envirobuild and NBB Recycled Furniture, with the aim of showing the public that even plastic furniture and decking can be pretty, or modern, to look at and very functional. The EnviroBuild decking and cladding alone had diverted 746.6kgs of plastic from landfill, which is the equivalent of 36,398 plastic bottles. 

Those who visited Leonard’s Garden last year may well have been inspired to reconsider their own plastic waste, and this year’s Earth Day is hoping to do the same. The charity is demanding a 60% reduction in the production of plastics by 2040 – a goal only possible if individuals and industries such as horticulture play their part.  

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1 Comment

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    Great initiative Hana. This subject needs a lot more exploration by all of us. Plastic is such a practical material it is difficult to replace. Also people don’t always know they’re using plastic. Geo textile for instance is typically made of polypropylene or polyester, both plastics. And sometimes the alternatives don’t work very well. However if we want to keep our gardens, country and world beautiful and functional we have to reduce our plastic waste and find ways to reuse it. There are great ideas such as Hana’s and for instance Hampshire’s The Hairy Pot Company which uses coir and latex pots, and Chichester Trees and Shrubs which reususes customers’ pots . If you have the space and access, your compost does not need to be delivered in plastic bags. There are also some initiatives which raise questions. E.g. composite decking, which reuses waste wood bound with oil derived resin is long lasting, but what happens to it at the end of its life? Green walls sound green, but actually are made of plastic pockets and require regular maintenance. The Kings Cross development demonstrates an alternative. Steel wires and grids with vigorous climbers rising to over 6m (they are growing in the ground so in normal weather should not need watering). There are ancient wonderful successes like the Cornish Hedge, walls of dry stone and earth which host numerous native species. I have just been working on a build for the Gardeners World Spring Fair at Beaulieu, Hampshire this weekend, and was really struck by something like 15 carpenters, landscapers, gardeners, garden designers and volunteers all working together to make Inbud’s beautiful garden – it was exciting and lovely with different garden teams all helping each other. Similarly reducing plastic, while not quite so glamourous is a team effort where success is about all of us working together.

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