Linda McGivern’s “guilt nursery”

by Linda McGivern

There I was: at my favorite local garden center eyeing some of the most alluring begonias I had ever seen. It was a warm day in late April; people in masks were merrily social distancing, happy to just be alive and at this Place of Plants that had finally opened its doors to customers after a spring that seemed to go on for years.

I reached a hand toward the beguiling begonia and gritted my teeth from behind my mask. Would I buy this plant? Yes! I picked it up, placed it in the cart and moved a few steps forward. No! I backed up, took the plant from the cart, placed it back on the greenhouse shelf and forced myself to walk away, toward a different area of the store where the plant I had actually come for—a witch hazel shrub—was waiting to be taken home.

In any normal year, I would have bought the begonia with exactly zero thoughts beyond “how many.”

But this is not a normal year—and I am not talking about Covid-19. 

I am talking about sustainability. With the departure of the last kid for college in fall of 2019, my husband and I had embarked on a year of trying to do better environmentally. Reducing our purchasing of plastics was at the top of the list and, let’s face it, it is next to impossible to buy a plant without the attendant plastic pot.

It’s remarkable—in a bad way—that an industry that is about beauty and joy and nature is so persistently and steadfastly wedded to plastics that are largely unsustainable. There has got to be a better way or, at a minimum, research and development toward more sustainable plant potting materials. It has become clear during this year that the only thing that is going to change these industries that rely so fully on plastics is for us consumers to demand change via our wallets—by withholding them.

In the meantime, my plan with the offending pots is essentially “take one, give one.” Every unsustainable pot I bring home, I fill with soil and a baby plant from my extensive gardens and put the refilled pots out by the road. Last summer, within hours of putting out the free plants, they were gone. This year I will have a jar for optional donations to the local animal shelter. This is but a small sustainability measure; nevertheless, it makes me feel better and we can all agree that two different plantings in one pot is always better than one.