Gardeners Shop, the Planet Drops

Why on earth is Garden Organic telling us that green gardening means we must buy more?

By John Walker. Published on the Guardian’s website, 27th November 2009.

When news emerged this week that our leading organic gardening charity is in “detailed discussions” with a major garden centre, I was transformed from a sometimes critical friend of Garden Organic, to a furious one. Webbs garden centres is set to take over running the shop, cafe/restaurant and conference facilities at Garden Organic’s base in Ryton, near Coventry, although the charity will still manage its 22-acres of display gardens.

In tough financial times for Garden Organic, the proposed move is designed to “enable as many people as possible to enjoy organic and climate-friendly gardening”, according to the charity. Webbs say “we understand that many customers would prefer to garden chemical-free, especially those new to the activity”. Here’s to that, but there’s more to organic gardening than just being “chemical-free”. It’s as much about taking a philosophical, prudent approach to gardening as it is about eschewing chemicals – or any other gardening paraphernalia that is constantly foisted upon us. To witness a terrifying, bauble-festooned example of rampant seasonal consumerism, get on down to your local garden centre.

There’s surely a painful rub on the cards when the organisation dedicated to researching and demonstrating organic practice jumps into a four-poster bed with a profit-driven company whose raison d’etre is to flog as much stuff as they can. Us organic gardeners are, by nature, a thrifty lot. We just don’t buy much “stuff”, because organic gardening inherently requires a minimal “take” from our planet’s limited resources. Indeed, it gives plenty back into our embattled biosphere and just by doing it we nurture a greener state of mind.

When you buy something, it sends out the signal “I want more”, triggering a chain reaction that pulls in resources and demands the burning of fossil fuels to power the processes that make it, so liberating carbon dioxide, the main pollutant gas causing human-made global warming. Any gardening is only “climate-friendly” when going about it doesn’t turn up the thermostat of our global greenhouse.

And that’s why I’m a hopping mad friend of Garden Organic. Just as the world opens a bleary eye to the realisation that, by consuming less, we may just put the brakes on resource depletion and climate change, our flagship organic gardening organisation signals that to garden in an earth-friendly way, we need to consume more. However well motivated, surely it’s completely the wrong message coming, in environmental terms, at the worst possible moment.

I don’t envy Webbs. They have the unwinnable job of selling as much stuff as possible to eco-savvy gardeners who, in their guts, know that nurturing flourishing gardens costs next to nothing.

• See the Guardian website for comments in response to the original blogpost.

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