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Gardens & Greens 3 ~ environment & gardening news roundup

February 2, 2013

News from the Eco and Gardening WorldThis week I spotted so many interesting news articles and links in the environmental/gardening world, it was difficult to choose which ones to share with you.

In the end I’ve chosen a mixture of seven links and hope that a few at least may be of interest, starting with some light reading about the shrub Sea Buckthorn.

Sea Buckthorn

Also known as Siberian Pineapple, this isn’t a shrub I’m overly familiar with so read with interest that the berries are full of health giving properties. It seems it’s a hardy plant and will grow easily in most places, from windy to coastal areas. If you’re thinking of growing Sea Buckthorn do bear in mind it’s very thorny (so would be great if you’re trying to deter people from climbing into your garden, but not so good if you’ve children with footballs that will be constantly punctured or if you’re trying to pick the berries!).

Al Gore Publishes New Book “The Future”

I have a lot of respect for Al Gore and his efforts to tackle the issues surrounding climate change. His first book, an Inconvenient Truth had a huge impact in my life, not least because it highlighted how people can really can make a difference once informed and motivated. When we changed our shopping habits and stopped buying aerosols containing CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer reduced. I was therefore delighted to see he’s published a new book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” which is now top of my book shopping list. Al talks about it here:

Hazardous Gene Discovered in GM Crops

I’ve written about GM in the past, raising my concerns not only about the science but also the lack of interest from the majority of the population. Alarm bells started ringing when I read this latest headline Hazardous Virus Gene Discovered in GM Crops After 20 Years. One of the main concerns for many who campaign against genetically modified food is the lack of research of long-term effects caused by genetic modification. These findings bring home those concerns. I’m always slightly wary of “news” in this field as there are a lot of contradictions around though it does appear to be substantiated if this article is anything to go by. Take a read and see what you think.

Tsunami Debris

Would you be shocked to discover that 30% of debris cleared up from Alaska beaches consisted of Styrofoam that had originated from the Japanese tsunami in 2011? I was. This polystyrene is an environmental disaster – it’s very difficult to clean up, animals and wildlife are eating it, and to cap it all it’s not biodegradable so could last forever – something to think about next time you’re arranging your flowers.

We are connected

Have you ever considered just how interconnected we are to the world we live in?  A thought-provoking post from Lindsay Abrahms writing for The Atlantic looks at the phenomena When Trees Die People Die. Lindsay finishes:

“There is something fascinatingly mysterious about the entanglement of our health with that of nature.”

Felled Trees Call For Help

Staying with the theme of trees, I was intrigued by the headline above from Mark Avery so had to give it a click. I don’t want to give the game away, just to say the story involved illegal logging and using technology we’re all very familiar with to track down the culprits – mobile phones!


photo credit: DCSL via photopin cc


Are You An Eco Cleaner or Do You Suffer The Guilt?

January 9, 2013

Eco Friendly Cleaning ProductsAre you using environmentally friendly cleaning products or have you ignored them in favour of cheaper alternatives?

I must admit that when the housekeeping budget got tighter a couple of years ago, along with the named brand ketchup and cereals, most of the Ecover cleaning products were abandoned too. We simply couldn’t afford to pay the extra cents demanded. Or so we thought.

I’d love to say I immediately dug out the baking soda, lemons and essential oils and made bottles full of home-made cleaning solutions (as I had when searching out natural pesticides for the garden) but like several other good intentions, I never did. I meant to google household recipes and where they work best, but never got around to it. It was so much easier to pick up a bottle in the shop. We did manage to stick with the Eco toilet cleaner as we have a septic tank and are extremely cautious about what goes into it and I’ve been using watered down distilled vinegar for many years on my glass and windows so those angles were covered (one-third distilled vinegar to two-thirds water in a spray bottle cleans and shines windows up a treat with little elbow work). However, the surface and bathroom cleaners, the washing liquids and powders have all been hit and miss.

Nevertheless, I have never been happy with the ‘ditch the safe cleaning solutions’ decision. I was saving some money by switching to cheaper cleaning alternatives but in the grand scheme of things, not very much.

Isn’t that the ongoing environmental dilemma for us all too? We want to do our bit, our best to help our ailing planet but when it comes down to it, when the decisions we make affect our time, comfort or wallets do we bail out at the slightest inconvenience or do we dig in our heels and brace ourselves for harder times? Do we make the necessary sacrifices that our planet needs, or do we take the easy way out as I felt I had?

Every time I threw cheap surface cleaners laden with chemicals into the shopping basket it was with reluctance. I knew they weren’t great for my family’s health or for the soakaways that our waste water drains into, but my house needed cleaning so I bought them. The guilt this financial choice had left me with was made a lot easier by the fact that less and less supermarkets have been stocking alternatives so when I did try to search out Eco washing liquid or dishwashing tablets, they were nigh on impossible to find.

I guess I wasn’t alone when I switched to cheaper products either… its simple economics, if there’s no demand the supply will stop. This may not concern us when we make the initial switch, caught up in our own daily dilemmas as we often are, but what happens when we change our minds or decide to switch back and the product or retailer stocking it is no longer there? How many of us consider the long-term impacts of our shopping habits?

An unfortunate and direct result of the budgetary choices we have either been forced or out of choice made, has, as we can all now see, led to many shop closures. On this occasion it ended when the doors closed to an excellent, local, health shop. Aislinn’s not only stocked herbal remedies and wholesome food to suit all dietary habits, they also filled a bottom shelf with every Ecover product an environmentally friendly shopper could dream about. Aislinn’s became my first teaching venue (setting me on the path I’m now travelling), introduced me to some inspirational women and was an enthusiastic supporter of local therapists and suppliers. Many of us were sad to see this once thriving business close down. Why did this happen? Because many people, like me, looked at the short-term savings rather than the bigger picture. I’m sure that several genuinely couldn’t afford to shop there any longer, but surely not everyone?

Stop there for a second and think about that. If we’re not careful the same may happen to other favourite local retail outlets as shoppers think they’re picking up bargains elsewhere (if they check the prices they’re often not). Have you been buying all your garden supplies from low-cost supermarkets or do you still support your local garden centre? I guess you’re reading this blog because you have an interest in gardening – imagine your local area with no garden centre to visit on a bright, spring day… 

The impact of our retail decisions in our homes and high streets is palpable and has happened over a relatively short period of time.

However, we’re only recently becoming genuinely concerned about the noticeable effects our actions are having on our environment. Extreme weather shouldn’t be a surprise – Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were warning us about global warming almost thirty years ago.

So where is this post going you may wonder (as am I… )

I recently spotted an advert on Facebook for Lilly’s Eco Clean. I first came across Lilly’s at the Irish Green Awards in 2011. I liked their green ethos, that Lilly has tried and tested the products, that the company is Irish and was doing their best to survive and succeed in such a difficult economic time. Lilly’s were advertising an excellent pre-Christmas deal for their Detox kit that could be ordered online and delivered directly to my door. Perfect.

The Facebook post also coincided with another by Wholesome Ireland where Caítríona suggested we thoroughly stocktake before we go shopping to help us budget and prevent wastage.

I love this sign from Jennifer Pugh over at

So I did. Not only did I find that I needed to purchase almost all of the items that were in Lilly’s Detox Box, but I also thought about how often I used and needed to replace each item. Yes it seemed expensive to splash out all that cash in one go on cleaning products yet realistically I would only need to replace a couple of them regularly, the rest would likely last quite a while in my cupboards.

It’s not that I’m a domestic slut, I do run a cloth and hoover around my house on a relatively regular basis. What I am not however, is  an obsessive cleaner – there’s more to life than cleaning, our house is a loved and lived in home, not a showroom.

That said, I’m delighted with Lilly’s products. I love their natural aromas, the fact that they really do work – everything is squeaky clean and sparkles – and the one thing we instantly noticed was that there were no chemical residues or smears on sinks and taps that needed copious amounts of water to rinse free. Each and every one of Lilly’s products have been made with care of the environment in mind, and they wont harm your health and well-being.

Not only that but the washing up liquid can be used to make soap sprays and fungicides in your garden as it’s phosphate free.

So with the Christmas decorations down and spring cleaning on the horizon will eco cleaning guilt be weighing on your mind? Has the recession made you consider your budgetary decisions verses the environmental?

Disclaimer: I have written this post with no bribes, freebies or offers from any cleaning companies. I genuinely love Lilly’s products and want to share the love!


Could the American Dream be Wrong?

August 7, 2012
A bit of fun but are children growing up with the right signals?

A bit of fun but are children growing up with the right signals?

Having spent a short time in the U.S. my brain has been in conflict. I’m living the American dream but at what cost?

Thanks to Mr G’s permanent job, we’re living in a rental house with four en suite bathrooms (our own with a shower you could party in as well as a jacuzzi bath), a laundry room, garage that opens with the press of a button from inside the seven seater car (so no getting wet if it rains or arguments over who’s going to open the door) and a truly enormous fridge. The beds are huge, there are insect screens on every window and door, ceiling fans in every room as well as air conditioning and three gardeners that arrive every Friday to trim the postage stamp lawn.

I’m no longer a tutor or a gardener, I’ve become a Desperate Housewife.

Middle Class Albuquerque

The view from my window in an Albuquerque suburb

The sun shines here everyday and even on the odd occasion when the clouds burst and drench us with their thundering monsoon downpours, it’s still very hot.

Shopping is a dream if you have the cash. Malls are full of labelled shops – Vans, Converse, DC and Ralph Lauren, Apple, Samsung and Gap, there are no imitations here – it’s the real thing, it’s inexpensive and it’s impossible not to get caught up in.

1lb Pure Beef Burger

1lb Pure Beef Burger

And food … Well what do you want? Burgers, sushi, ribs or burritos, frozen yoghurt, salads or smoothies – all are available in drive thru – as are the banks and the pharmacies. The longest walk you’ll ever need to do is around the hypermarkets where the aisles are longer than a GAA pitch.

I’m blown away by the friendliness of everyone I’ve met. From genuinely lovely neighbours to helpful but unassuming shop assistants.  America offers the ultimate in politeness. It’s clean, litter free and the people take pride in their surroundings.

angry birds cerealsOur children have noticed the differences between here and our Irish home, “he called me sir”, “is dammit a curse mammy?” “everyone’s so friendly, it’s nice”. Then there’s the small business’… the sprinkler’s broken “see you at 2pm.” Our air conditioning isn’t working properly,“we’ll be there first thing in the morning ma’am.”

This country knows how to look after you and make you feel like you’re the most important customer they’ve ever seen or heard. It’s a delight to be in.

I’ve no doubt there are millions who aren’t experiencing the kind of luxuries we are. We’ve moved into middle class America, but my, what a contrast to recessionary Ireland. A country where you’re counting your lucky stars to be working, where high streets are starting to look like they have more empty shops than full ones and you daren’t mention you’ve had your kerosene tank filled in case someone comes along and empties the contents.

Maybe I haven’t been inside the ‘real’ America long enough yet. The one you hear about where everyone carries guns, where parents are nervous about sending their kids to high school because they’ll be exposed to drugs they’ve so far been sheltered from. Not the hash or coke touted around in Irish schools, but meth or heroin that totally blot out the harsh realities of the day-to-day consumerist lifestyle that the less fortunate miss out on. I’m not so sure though, talking to family and people we’ve met on our travels, or my husband who’s spent several months here already, my perception isn’t too far off the mark. My reasons for feeling unsettled aren’t too unjustified.

So what’s the problem? Why the conflict? What have I to complain about? Surely my new Wisteria Lane world is a heavenly existence? Why can’t I relax and enjoy every second of this kaleidoscopic bubble?

It’s simple. I see very little green.

I’m not just talking about the emerald greens of home. The multi-shaded hues we’re accustomed to seeing when we step out of our front doors. I’m talking about the environmental green. If it weren’t for twitter I could easily forget that our planet’s in turmoil. Granted, NBC news regularly mentions the drought that’s causing devastation for farmers across central America. Corn and bean crops are wilting under the relentless searing heat that beats down daily. Already food prices have increased with threats of further increases in the U.S. and globally in 2013.

The Arizona DesertBut for all the wildfires, droughts and massive storm cells, I’ve not heard a single word about global warming, climate change or the fact that our actions could be contributing to the planet heating up and causing this extreme weather. There’s no mention that almost all the food we’re eating here has been created genetically or that geoscientists are filling the atmosphere above New Mexico with untested chemical treatments to try to cool the planet. Perhaps when wallets feel the pinch people will start to become more aware of their actions and begin to make changes, who knows. To be honest I can’t see things changing any sooner.

During our travels I’ve noticed some tentative steps to becoming greener – hotels asking us not to put our towels out for washing everyday (we were in a desert), the odd town mentioning night sky pollution, supermarkets asking us to return the dozens of plastic bags they fill up with our groceries every time we shop, and goods trains with 100 carriages or more, but is it enough in a country with 314 million people?

M & M's

M & M’s anyone?

I should make it clear at this point that I’m not blaming the American population per se for the lack of obvious environmental concern. If we are not informed or encouraged to find out more about the damage we are doing to our environment who can blame us? Who on earth wouldn’t choose to drive a large, comfortable all bells and whistles vehicle given the choice. Never mind that it’s a 3.6 litre V6. When they’re cheap to buy, when there’s no graduated road tax encouraging you to buy something smaller and more economical, when petrol is so cheap you barely blink at the fill of a tank, why would it even enter your mind that you’re contributing to global warming. Running adverts on TV telling us that smaller is better isn’t enough.

Car GraveyardOne could argue that people need big cars to travel the massive distances between cities here, but how many people regularly drive across state?

It seems the main reason people need their cars is to drive them from one out-of-town shopping outlet to another. It’s nigh on impossible to shop here without a vehicle, there are so few town centres as we know them.

Governments have responsibilities. We might not like their decisions at times, their carbon or plastic bag taxes, their town planning, but without them would we be so quick to change our habits? We shout and we argue but have to admit that large car and bag taxes changed habits quickly in Ireland – they hit our wallets. Would we have made those changes voluntarily? I somehow doubt it. If life is easy why change it and make it harder for ourselves? That’s not something we’d voluntarily do, it’s not in our nature.

The Coca Cola Shop in Las VegasThe United Stated is a contradiction. It’s “The Land of the Free” but at what cost? It’s a place were you can do almost anything you want, live the life, dream the dream. It’s a place where you can own a gun to make you feel safe but in doing so you’re more likely to get shot because there are more guns in circulation. Benjamin Franklin said:

“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”

For the past 100 years or so we’ve become more and more reliant on money to give us that happiness, it’s how western economies run, but it’s floundering. The other problem with consumer societies in our non perfect world is that they generally pay little heed to the environmental consequences, it’s not in their financial interest. It’s all about the here and now and not about the legacy we’re leaving future generations. But if countries continue to deplete the earth of its resources, if they continue to sell the idea that we all need to buy more products and own more things, apart from the environmental impact how long will it be before we’ve lost our connection with our planet too (some might argue we’ve done that already)?

RV Towing a Car

RV Towing a Car

Within a very short space of time of living here I have found myself wanting to own the RV that tows a jeep, shop till I drop, gallop on a Palomino across the plains, kayak down the Rio Grande, ride a gleaming Harley Davidson along Route 66 and fill my house with handmade crafts. My table is full of shiny labelled bags having visited shops full of things I “need”. I’d love to live this easy, hot sunny life where I’m no longer struggling along in the dreary grey clouds. When I’m here I want to hold my hands over my ears chanting “lalalalala” loudly like my children used to when they didn’t want to listen to something I had to say. I want to pretend I don’t know or care about what’s happening to our planet.

But I can’t.

However much I think I want it, I know this lifestyle isn’t real, it’s an illusion of happiness, a temporary existence that simply isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later human beings will wake up and realise that material possessions have no real meaning, they’re not important.

When we cast our minds back to our most enjoyable memories they’re about the people we spent time with, the places we visited, the simple activities and pleasures we undertook. Bar one or two items that may have particular sentimental value or make our lives immeasurably easier, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from the things we own.

Albuquerque Botanical GardensIn my Wisteria Lane life I had to visit a beautiful garden to reconnect, I’ve struggled to find the serenity I was looking for in my perfect home. Although I’ve enjoyed this spoilt lifestyle I’ve felt spiritually disconnected.

Life in Ireland might be a struggle, it’s summers may have turned damp and dull, but it’s greener than many of us realise. Like it or not the recession is doing us a favour, it’s making us re-evaluate what’s important, we’re rediscovering old skills and we talk to our neighbours. It’s making us reconnect with our planet and it’s making life real again.

I like real. Do you?