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The Socially Responsible Garden

February 26, 2008  By Michelle Brisebois

We’ve all heard that what goes around comes around. Or how about
phrases like be kind to others, don’t litter and always share your toys.

8We’ve all heard that what goes around comes around. Or how about phrases like be kind to others, don’t litter and always share your toys. Such words of wisdom, typically uttered by Grandma, are suddenly in vogue. The marketing pundits have dubbed this “social responsibility” but at its core this movement is about doing the right thing. Environmental issues are top of mind for most Canadians and these issues have leap-frogged right over health care and the economy as a top priority. Social responsibility goes beyond environmental issues – it’s also about leaving the world a better place and many businesses large and small are looking for ways to contribute. If you’re wondering how your business can make a difference, wonder no more. The gardening industry has never been better positioned to make Canada a better place to live.

Global warming is a significant environmental concern. According to Environment Canada, landfill sites account for about 38 per cent of Canada’s total methane emissions. Methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. About one-third of Canada’s waste is paper and paperboard. Another third is yard and kitchen waste. The rest is divided among glass, metals, plastics, textiles, wood and other materials.


While separating the organic waste from the paper and metal waste is a step in the right direction, backyard composting is the most environmentally friendly way to deal with organic waste. According to the Composting Council of Canada, estimations are that about 50 per cent of the total waste stream could be composted! Their website also stresses that composting not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfills, it also produces a valuable soil amendment that can improve the texture and fertility of the soil.  “Environmental issues are all connected,” confirms Susan Antler, executive director of the Composting Council of Canada. “Gardeners who use mulch and compost will find that the soil will retain more moisture, which in turn decreases the amount of watering required. A soil fortified with compost will require less intervention by way of pesticides and fertilizers.”

Garden centres can add value by providing compost drop-off centres to share with other gardeners and to raise awareness about composting. Composting seminars held in your retail space are sure to be of interest. Other eco-friendly gardening ideas are just a click away. 

The Ontario Landscapers Association created a beautiful display at this year’s Canada Blooms show. Dubbed “Garden Utopia” the booth showcased several strong environmentally friendly gardening trends including rain barrels, native plants and roof gardens. The booth will be on display permanently at the Toronto Zoo for all to see. The website showcases several garden designs geared to sustainable gardening practices. The website was constructed by Backyard Ecotopia, an alliance of various private companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations. Their objective is to promote sustainable and environmentally friendly landscape and gardening practices that are easy for homeowners to execute in their backyards. An eco-friendly garden is a good thing; however, true magic can happen when the bounty of that garden helps others.

Another program geared towards socially responsible gardening is Plant a Row – Grow a Row, a non-profit organization spearheaded by the Composting Council of Canada. The program is simply about local gardeners “planting a little extra” to harvest. The vegetables are then donated to local food banks and soup kitchens. Started in 1986 by a couple in Winnipeg who found they had a bumper crop of potatoes one year, the program is well rooted in many communities across Canada. “Plant a Row – Grow a Row has provided 3.9 million pounds of produce to charitable causes across Canada in the last five years,” confirms Antler.

Garden centres are uniquely suited to assist in this type of program. “A retailer could create seed packs in the spring and have a launch party with customers to hand out the seed packs and to determine who will grow which vegetables. During the harvest in the fall, everyone can get together again to show off their bounty and to deposit the vegetables ready for delivery to the food banks. It’s a good idea to call around to confirm which organizations are able to accept fresh produce,” confirms Antler. Scott’s  is a sponsor of the Plant a Row – Grow a Row program and they have created row markers for the garden to indicate which rows of vegetables are dedicated to the program. We know that consumers take pride in their socially responsible activities and why not make your garden centre a liaison for these activities? Tools such as the Scott’s row markers would no doubt be well received. Check out for details on how to get these row markers and for information about how to tap into the network established in your community.

Sustainability is about doing the right thing by our planet and by each other.  It’s not a flavour of the week, just the flavour of the millennium.

Backyard Ecotopia
A few quick ways gardeners and garden centres can act socially responsible:
Rain barrels: Funnelling rooftop rain water into a barrel or pond can help you conserve water.

Shade trees: Shade trees help you to cool off in the summer and block snow and wind in the winter, saving on heating and cooling costs.

Lawns: Grass absorbs carbon dioxide as well as other harmful chemicals and helps to control soil erosion.

Composting: Discarding your food scraps and garden waste in a compost helps to produce rich soil, which you can in turn use in your garden.

Solar power: Using solar lights and panels provides free energy and power to your garden.

Water gardens: Including a water garden and wetlands in your garden filters water runoff. Streams and ponds also act as a good source to store water for gardening.

Source: Backyard Ecotopia –

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