Saturday, May 30, 2009


“ I just want to say one word.
Just one word.
Are you listening?

If you have ever seen The Graduate, you remember this scene. In 1967 plastics were the future and there was money to be made. Now it seems plastics have permeated the very matrix of life. Do we breath it in microscopically? Do we eat it? I have no doubt. In the future when they talk about us will this be The Plastic Age, just like The Stone Age, the Iron Age?
Plastic is undeniably unavoidable. It takes so many forms making a blanket statement like “I hate plastic” seem unfair. Don’t worry, I will not be stepping forward to say “ Hello my name is Daniel . And I love plastic.” But there is a certain amount of plastic in my life that I do love. The sufi sheik Hafizullah Chisti says the plastic is the only dead matter on earth. He also believes water sings and rocks breath. It is certainly this “deadness”, inertness that makes plastic so useful. So amazingly malleable it can take rigid and floppy forms with equal easy. It has been transformed into everything we use from clothing to car parts, pens to plumbing. And things we never knew we needed like Zip-Lock bags. No wonder we fell in love with plastic.
The downside of plastic is well documented. From how its made to how it’s disposed of plastics are problematic. I have no doubt given enough time the earth will create a bacteria that will eat plastic and return it to more usable materials, but until then there is this mountain of plastic. Here in the Northwest we recycle like crazy and luckily a lot of plastic is getting reused. But there is also a lot that doesn’t.
Though I must admit I hate plastic for aesthetic, environmental and prejudicial reasons, I do use it daily. Even in the garden. So in the spirit of Lily Tomlin’s 1970s bit about our endangered unnatural resources (sorry I couldn't find a working link to this very funny bit) I’d like to wax nostalgic about plastic as it slips slowly (perhaps too slowly) out of use.
It all started this past Sunday. I realized I have been painting a false picture in my posting of a garden filled with flowers and rain showers and birds singing, but never plastic. We moved the greenhouse to accommodate the new critter pad (a giant berm where we can store things during a flood. Heaven forbid we have another flood, but we’d like to be ready.) The finishing touch was covering the metal framing with a new huge sheet of plastic. We had already covered the ground inside with plastic to keep the weeds down. We have weeds reaching giant proportions in our rich bottom land soil. You have never seen weeds grow so vigorously as in a greenhouse. We’ve tried cardboard, burlap, mulch and a combination of the 3, but the weeds we have, creeping butter cup ( Ranunculus repens) reed canary grass ( Phalaris arundinacea ) and Morning Glory ( Ipomoea sepium), eat right through it in time. Black plastic is the only thing that seems to work.

So as I stood in the plastic-covered greenhouse on the plastic-covered ground among the tomato plants in plastic pots I knew I was ignoring the elephant in the room. So I decided to take some pictures of the plastic around the farm. I actually feel guilty about the amount of plastic pots I accumulate by the end of the planting season. A deluge. Fortunately it is much easier to find nurseries who will recycle them. Locally “Flower World” will take any and all pots and flats. “Wells/Medina” will take pots within a certain range of sizes and types. We do hang on to a lot of plastic pots " just in case”. Way more than we need to actually. So if anyone needs plastic pots...

It seems obvious to make this a diatribe against plastic in the garden. After all what do you do with all those plastic labels, or plastic bags that soil or fertilizer come in. Is it all really just garbage? Garbage that won’t go away any too soon?
So as our world grows “Greener”, I want to write, almost nostalgically, in praise of plastic, after all it's here to stay.

These are a few of my favorite plastic things.

Though we harvest our own bamboo and hazel poles for staking on the farm, I love to use these plastic covered wire supports in my clients gardens. They actually last a long time, due to the plastic slowing down the rusting process and I love how easy it is to hook the loop around a lily stem and not have to mess with twist ties (there’s more plastic for you)

I wouldn’t be without my plastic grain scoop, indispensable in the fall when picking up leaves.

This Farman’s pickle bucket is my best friend. It follows me wherever I go when I’m weeding. It the perfect size for tucking into the borders next to me.

More to come...