Monday, 31 August 2009

the true price of a posy...

I love to receive flowers. Not only do you have the thought that went into getting them, but the wonderful colour and scent they bring to the darkest corners of the house. They are fleeting, but I enjoy every minute of them.

But, what is the true cost of a bunch of flowers? In monetary value, anything from free up to the hundreds, but the environmental cost? The truth can be a little hard to stomach.

The UK cut flower industry is worth about £2billion – almost the same as our music industry, and yet we are responsible for growing only 10% of them on UK soils. The remaining 90% is imported from areas as far flung as Colombia and Kenya.

In an age where ‘food miles’ are on the tip of everyone’s tongues, surely it seems a bit contradictory to have lovely local cheese, milk and meat in your basket alongside a bouquet of Kenyan roses?

But there are some who argue for the case of buying a Kenyan (or other imported) posy.

It has been widely published that the carbon omissions of an imported bouquet are lower than those of a northern hemisphere grown rose, as less lighting and heating is required in the growth period. But what about the travel, pesticides, packing, even the omissions from decay – the complete life cycle of the flowers – does this still ring true?

And even though the carbon omissions are a very large part of the argument, there are also the issues with worker welfare, wider environmental impact (draining of water from lakes to feed the floriculture industries), and the use of pesticides long banned in the EU countries.

Fairtrade flowers do try and address some of these issues, and of course you are given the reassurance that your pennies are not going to feed some fat cat whilst the workers suffer, but there are still a very low percentage of the imports registered under the scheme.

So, if you are not going to buy an imported bunch, where can you get your hands on some of the 10% that we do actually grow here, and why should you?

The first stop for many will be at the supermarket. Despite how I tend to bang on about how I detest the whole supermarket experience, there are a few that are least trying to support our UK growers.

Waitrose has a great raft of UK suppliers that it works directly with to produce a range of seasonal blooms over the year, and they are so proud that you can read all about it on their website.

Tesco, Sainsburys and Marks and Spencer also have a reasonable selection, and most are marked by a Union Jack or similar. Some even have the county that they were grown in marked on the wrapper.

Otherwise, there are some fantastic suppliers that you can purchase your scented and seasonal lovelies from – mostly directly from the farm itself. Check out Wiggly Wigglers, Country Roses and Scent from the Islands.

So why should we buy British blooms?

It stands to reason that the shorter the time between the picking and the displaying of the flower, the longer the vase life will be. Also, the large scale overseas growers tend to ditch scented varieties of flowers as they are not as productive, so lovely flowers, no smell. The UK growers also tend to be on a much smaller scale than their overseas counterparts, and so are hugely affected by market demand. If we want them, the supermarkets will get them. And, in times of hardship, we are keeping our own economy going. Never a bad thing.

Please don’t just sling a bunch in your basket next time you are shopping. Take a few seconds to look, and see if you can buy British.

Friday, 28 August 2009

a tale of a Brighton terrace...

We all have spots in our gardens, balconies, plots and pots that can be a real pain. What you want to grow won’t grow there, what you want to sod off stays around happily. Too dark, too light, too dry, too wet – you know the spots I mean.

And so, we were full of intrigue that we went to look at the rear terraced area to Jamie’s Italian in Brighton a week or so ago.

As a Brightonian, it is always fascinating to see how the buildings I know and love so well sit beside, amongst and within each other from a different viewpoint to that you see from the street.

This building was no exception. The new building that Jamie’s Italian occupies in Brighton is nestled between some wonderful old buildings. The front view is cramped, yet the rear opens out into a huge internal light well between the new and the existing spaces.

It is a real shame, however, that the terraced area is tucked right in alongside the new and the existing, thus offering a nice enclosed albeit shady spot for alfresco dining. An overhead covering of trellis and reclaimed oak timbers provides even greater shade and makes for a tricky little area.

The whole ethos of the restaurant is on fresh and tasty, local and authentic food, but given the orientation of the terrace (no sun till about 3 and none in winter) the obvious herbs wouldn’t have fared too well.

There was also the problem of maintenance and ongoing care – nothing too needy could be used lest it put a real burden on the staff.

So – easy to care for, can cope with semi shade or a bit of sun (in areas), and will provide year long interest with minimal ongoing costs. Solution?

We were not going to go the same route as a few other restaurants around the area and put in PLASTIC plants (shame on you – you know who you are), so what did we come up with?

Well – our final planting list comprised…
An assortment of Bergenias – evergreen, will grow like the clappers and can cope with a bit of sun or shade.
An assortment of ferns – British of course – for the really stubbornly shady bits.
An assortment of honeysuckles – both evergreen and deciduous, to provide shade when required in summer, but to open up the light in winter, nice smells and lovely flowers.
And for the structure – no plastic, but a few clipped box spheres.

When we had finished, the terrace was awash with lushness, that hopefully (with a little care) will flourish into a right proper jungle over the next year.

I will keep you posted on the progress – just another excuse to nip out for a sneaky meal…

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

the eco home...

There are many ways to a green home. Some are a great deal easier than others, some are quick, some take patience, but all combine to create a space that is as green as the grass outside.

But, when faced with a redecoration project, where do you start to ensure that you are being as green as possible?

This little series of introductory postings will look at different elements of the ‘eco’ home, how and why should and where you can get things from.

This first post will look at…….wallpaper.

Now very much in vogue, the statement wall and the mix of patterns is back. The ‘white box effect’ is long gone, and over the past few years, we have been reacquainting ourselves with the wallpaper section of our local DIY stores.

But regular wallpapers are not particularly inspiring on the eco front – most use virgin wood fibres, chemical inks and plastic wrappers to tempt us. Textured blown vinyls are another beast of the wallpaper world, and should never be considered for the green home. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) are rife with the use of solvents as well. Plus, there are the adhesives…

But if you are looking for good eco alternative to the regular wallpaper on offer, fortunately there are many to choose from, and they are not heard to find. Some are probably sitting right next door to the usual suspects above.

Things to spot include recycled paper content, FSC approved sources, water based and vegetable based inks and compostable packaging.

And wallpaper also comes in guises outside of the large DIY sheds – many young craftspeople are now coming to the fore with beautiful hand printed papers, also bearing FSC marks and using vegetable inks.

Of course, patterns, taste and price will pay a great influence on your final choices, but expect to pay anything from £7.99 to £45 a roll from the DIY stores and specialist decoration centres up to £100 or more a length for a hand printed covering.

Remember to use a water-based adhesive, and you are well on your way to creating a green papered wall…

Have a look at these for some ideas…
Focus DIY - FSC and recycled content - reasonable and good, solid colour range
B&Q – FSC paper, water based inks and biodegradable packaging - nice patterns with an expanding range at a good price.
EcoCentric – machine and hand printed - great pattern range and ticks the eco boxes.
Biome Lifestyle – wonderful patterns using water based inks, so no VOC's.
Graham and Brown - plains and patterns - all responsible with water based inks, compostable packaging and FSC content.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

the feet of eco...

I have blogged before about the perils of consumerism and whether it is better to consume and support fair trade, organic and responsible suppliers or to stick your hands in your pockets and save the valuable pennies.

But, eventually, we all have to buy things - some useful, some practical, some necessary, and some just because.

And, all of us have our weaknesses when it comes to consuming - bags, seeds, plants, books, shoes...

I have a distinct weakness for seeds, plants and books, but shoes and bags sort of missed me as a collection. I wear the same boots every day (except when it is REALLY hot, when I revert to nothing at all), and I love them to bits. They are comfy, worn in, and are made so they can be resoled for ever more. They are not footwear to me - they are part of me. I feel as odd without my clompy boots and knee high socks on as I probably look with them on.

But even I have my girly moments, and there is one company who I adore for their beautiful, elegant footwear. They are responsibly made from recycled materials and if I had enough money I would buy a pair in every colour.

So imagine how excited I was when I was waffling through Brighton town centre the other and found a new store dedicated to the glistening heels...

I swiftly found my little sister and educated her in the ways of Terra Plana and converted her to the precious as well.

It is also a joint store with the responsible clothing label People Tree (who also made my favourite dress in the world, but more of that in another post), so now there is another location in Brighton where you can find a whole green outfit in one place.

Fantastic. Just need an event to warrant a posh frock and heels now...

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

food for free...

Not many self respecting eco foodies are without the bible of hedgerow tasties, Food for Free by Richard Mabey.

As I have an obsession with books, I have two copies (different editions and different covers) which move their way around the house, into the car, out and about and back again.

If you have not come across this book before, please seek it out - it really is a classic - full not only of the descriptions and pictures to correctly identify your dinner, but the history of uses and a smattering of other wonderful, mastermind type gems of information.

But, despite the title of this post, I am not going to talk about the book of the same name.

I am going to talk about other food for free.

It is quite right to say that the current recession has left a great deal of people at odds with the super technological, remote and automated world. People are now wary of invisible investments and appear to be reawakening the sense of self responsibility.

Because of this there has been a boom in the crafts trades - knitting, making, mending, thrift. Eco cleaning - scrubbing your taps with a lemon and some bicarb instead of a luminous pink spray bottle with a name fitting a cartoon punch up sketch. Staying in is the new going out, and good clean (and cheap) fun is being made - flying kites, walking, foraging.

And of course, growing your own.

From free seeds given out with magazines, to television programmes and the lifetime wait for an allotment - the grow your own bug has bitten and most of us have been nibbled in one way or another.

Maybe I have never noticed before, but as I was walking the dog the other day I spotted a lone tomato plant in someones porch. One. But the care and attention given to this sole specimen was incredible. It was smothered with tasty looking fruits.

And as I wandered along the road, other edibles sprang up - runner beans up a side wall, lettuces in the front garden, strawberries in hanging baskets, artichokes to die for - all grown on a small patch.

We are all growing our own, and we love it.

But what happens when we grow too much? Well, this is where the title of the post kicks in.

Go into the country and you readily see little roadside stands with produce on and an honesty box. Do you ever see this is in the city? Probably not. So imagine my delight when, on walking the dog once more, we came across a box at the front of a house labelled:

'lettuces. grown organically. free - please help yourself'

The box was full of freshly pulled, wet and tasty little gems. A few slug holes, but hey - free and succulent.

When things are offered for free you do not have to ask me twice, so we picked up two of the little gems to have with some mackerel for tea. Perfect.

This got me thinking - if we are all growing a bit too much, how fantastically we could minimise our food miles by going back to our old swapping, bartering, or, as displayed by a resident in Wish Road, Hove, giving away for free?

Community spirit would be reintroduced - people would talk to one another once more and share not only stuff but conversations. Imagine that.

To waste any food is criminal (apparently we throw away a third of all the food we buy?) but to waste food that you have grown yourself seems to be the worst type of food crime.

So - give it away - have a chat, and just think - you could gain a new chum as well as a free feed.