Friday November 24 was Buy Nothing Day. If you ever suffer from that increasingly common ‘stop the world I want to get off’ syndrome, then this is a day made for you. Initiated several years ago by the Canadian-based Media Foundation, which puts out the very cool ‘journal of the mental environment’ Adbusters , Buy Nothing Day has been well-supported by other groups that question the consumerist lifestyle that is destroying environments and communities all round the world. Last year an Auckland design student caused quite a stir with her billboard that just said ‘Buy Nothing’. Everyone wanted to know what nothing was and where they could buy it!
Buy Nothing Day is a good day for tending our organic gardens and thinking about how organics is much more important – and much more meaningful – than just swapping dangerous chemicals for safer means of pest control, important though that is. A core principle of organic growing is to make the farm or garden self-sustaining and sustainable by cutting down on outside inputs. This means that instead of buying in artificial fertilisers we make our own compost, mulches, liquid manures and so on. If we can’t be totally self-sufficient then the next best thing is to utilise the waste from someone else’s productive system, such as the droppings in the fowlhouse or woolshed, or the dead seaweed cast up by a storm, and recycle it productively. That way only small amounts of essential ingredients that can’t be produced on site, such as lime, need to be brought in. ‘Waste not want not’ is the organic gardener’s motto. How my halo glows (and my purse fattens) when I pile up dead leaves for a leaf mould heap, use grass clippings as mulch, or wash plant pots for another go round.
It is worth doing an audit of your gardening practices to see if you are fluent in the three Rs of sustainability – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Start with Reduce – how many things do you buy in that you could make or do for yourself, from mulch to plants? Combine Reducing with Reusing – this can be as simple and effective as raising pumpkin plants in reused containers. If the containers you are using once held something other than plants e.g. yogurt, then you are Recycling. Don’t forget that some of the things that come into a garden come for free – but that doesn’t mean they are not valuable and deserving of conservation or recycling. Water is the obvious example – is your garden designed and managed to conserve water? Check out a good permaculture design book for ideas on how to maximise water use and retention.
My favourite garden freebies are the self-sown or bird-sown plants. OK, so lots of them are weeds – but then weeds are just compost that hasn’t hit the bin yet. A valuable resource, not a waste. And among the weeds you’ll find trees and flowers for free, if you know what you’re looking for and weed carefully. The charming cottage garden effect is achieved not through rigid control, but by giving the plants their head. I will never forget taking a tour around the organic gardens at the Christchurch Polytechnic Seven Oaks site, and hearing a woman exclaim at the beauty of the vegetable patch. Broad green lettuce leaves and feathery carrot tops contrasted delightfully with the orange and yellow of marigolds, the red of poppies and the blue of borage and cornflowers, and ‘I wish I could have a garden like that! ’she cried.
Well, I could have charged her a fee and designed and planted such a garden for her.
Or I could have said ‘Buy nothing – let the flowers go to seed.’