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Award-winning garden designer Tracy Foster pledges her support for our Plastics Challenge

Tracy Foster has created the conceptual ‘Message in a Bottle’ garden to highlight our Plastics Challenge at the 2021 Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Here, she talks more about her motivations and why she’s already pledged her support for our Plastics Challenge.

Tracy Foster, photographed by David Cole

The severity of our plastic problem

By the time I'd come to start thinking about creating the 'Message in a Bottle' garden, I understood the severity of our plastic problem. It was something that had grown steadily, like music in the background that had got louder and louder until it was impossible to ignore. It was weighing really heavily on my conscience that I felt I couldn't do anything about it.

Everything I tried to do, somebody would turn around and say, ‘that's not a very good thing to do because all of the things you put in your recycling bin don't get recycled', or ‘that's not a very good thing to do because those alternative plant pots you've bought, they've come a really long way and that's not good for the environment'. It just seemed like there were so many negatives and I really needed to focus on some positives.

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It just seemed like there were so many negatives and I really needed to focus on some positives.

From frustration to motivation

I felt sure that lots of other people would be feeling the same, and therefore they wouldn't be doing what they could to help the problem. They'd just be feeling overwhelmed, like me.

I'd developed lots of bad feelings about our plastic consumption. Shock and horror, and shame and anger in that we've just moved over to using plastics for absolutely everything without having good ways of disposing of it, and that this has just been allowed to continue.

We have been producing something that never rots down, and we haven't been thinking about where it is going. We should all feel ashamed, and we should all feel some responsibility. These feelings have motivated me to want to try and make as much change as I can myself, and served as inspiration for my ‘Message in a Bottle' garden.

Message in a Bottle conceptual garden

Plants are power

When designing the garden, my first thought was that we needed something that's really going to grab people's attention and open up the whole conversation about what people actually can do. My original concept started about three years ago. It seemed a good fit to use plants as a vehicle to talk about how some could be used as plastic alternatives, and tie in all of the other things people were doing. The initial design took around two years to complete, and the implementation has taken the final year. For the physical building on site, we get two weeks.

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In my garden and at home, I’m reusing everything ... there’s really no need to get rid.

I've come to the conclusion that some plastics can't be replaced yet and they possibly never can be. But in my garden and at home, I'm reusing everything, like plant pots. There are lots of plant pots that can't go into normal recycling because they're the wrong colour, but there's really no need to get rid of them at all. It's just a case of looking after and reusing what you have.

Repurposing household plastics

I also do a lot of repurposing. So, rather than going out and buying seed trays for example, you can just wash and reuse containers that you buy mushrooms in. I also use toilet roll middles to grow seeds in, which are particularly good for plants with a long root system, like sweet peas. These ideas work fantastically well. And they're completely free, so they're actually saving you money too.

There are also a lot of plastic items you can do without. There are so many around the house that I've come to realise I don't need, and that they've just been marketed at me. Like water in plastic bottles, our tap water is absolutely safe and fine to drink. For me, it's been a gradual process of stopping buying things like that. It feels good on lots of levels. You're not just generating the same amount of rubbish, but you're also saving lots of money and not missing the product at all.

Award-winning gardener Tracy Foster, photographed by David Cole

Small actions can have the biggest impact

It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but I think everyone can make a difference because there are a lot of us. So, if we all do something, even if it's a small action like saying no to an unnecessary plastic item, like a ketchup sachet, it will make a massive difference.

None of us can be perfect. I don't think there is a template for the perfect way to deal with plastic. We've all just got to do what we feel is right. That could be talking to your MP about what you think the government should be doing, it could be refusing to use things, or being careful and reusing the plastics you have as many times as you can. It could be taking part in the Plastics Challenge! I think there are loads of things that people can do that don't have to cost anything.

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I don’t think there is a template for the perfect way to deal with plastic. We’ve all just got to do what we feel is right.

Pledging my support

I don't live within walking distance of a canal, but during the lockdown periods when I was allowed, I did do a lot more walking on the towpaths. And it's so easy to just pick up one piece of rubbish. For my Plastics Challenge pledge, I just pick up one or two pieces when I take the dog out and put them in the bin. It's impossible not to do it once you start, it's a good habit to get into.

In this last year, I've learnt a lot about canals. I've learnt how used they are and how they're embraced as green spaces by so many. They're always busy with people, busy with wildlife. It's a playground, a garden really.

Tracy's ‘Message in a Bottle' garden will be open to view at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in the Global Impact Garden section from 6-11 July 2021, 10am-7pm.

Last Edited: 22 June 2021

photo of a location on the canals
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