Teabags: Plastic not Fantastic

The Growers were puzzled by the little ghost teabags we were retrieving from our compost, which refused to break down, and then discovered that this was plastic. We had thought the bags were 100% paper.

WE SENT queries to Tetley, Clipper, Taylors (Yorkshire Tea) and Twining, and got swift replies saying they put polypropylene in their bags to enable heat sealing, but are looking for alternatives. Sally Cunningham at Garden Organic then sent this useful summary of the situation. Essentially, if you don’t want microparticles of plastic in your soil, hold off on composting teabags – with the exceptions below. Read on…

Previously, Garden Organic’s thinking was that the amount of plastic in a tea-bag is negligible compared with other sources of plastic, and so could be safely composted, but in view of new research on the impact of plastic microparticles, and that teabags are the largest part of UK tea consumption (nearly 2kg a year each!), this advice needs to be revised. We are in the process of reviewing our guidelines and will release these once we have come to a conclusion. 

Meanwhile: Pukka teabags, pyramid bags and string-and-label bags are free from plastic.
Alternatively, use leaf tea and a teapot, or cut open the used teabag to release the contents onto the compost heap before putting the teabag itself into waste.
Hope this helps

Best wishes
Sally Cunningham

Garden Organic Members Advisory Service
Email: advice@gardenorganic.org.uk


Hot Bulbs

THAT’S tulip bulbs, and also the little lightbulbs above the Glazebrook Growers’ heads as they reflect on the 2017 growing season and look ahead to the spring. Read on for the Growers’ midwinter thoughts and wishes, shared over Christmas. Then enjoy pics of the rainiest Garden event ever, our bulb planting session. That, weirdly, we enjoyed.

An abundant midwinter, and Growers’ thoughts…

Mine are bigger than yours. Jeannine’s Trump-style challenge to Raissa. Below: a commuters’-eye view of the Kitchen Garden from the railway platform, and some fine chard, winter 2017


I really enjoyed the day in April we all spent working together in the Pleasure Garden, we accomplished a lot that day and it was a good feeling.


I enjoyed having a rivalry with Jeanine over the height of her black kale.


I’m just amazed that we are going to have beds full of healthy (ish) plants on Christmas Day – definitely a lesson learned for me..!


As for wishes, I would like to improve on my growing skills,  (this year my tomatoes didn’t show themselves). It was nice to have the great additional beds and to bring in more folks with all the busy energy that entailed from those involved.


I’ve enjoyed the Paul Richens workshops – particularly about fertilising soil and worms etc. Also satisfying to eat home-grown Kale in the middle of winter.
2018 we hope to grow some sweet potatoes and having richly composted soil!


Highlights of 2017: Workdays with neighbours and visitors from other estates and growing projects – somehow it’s always been a pleasure, even in the drizzle. Paul & Harry manoeuvring massive timbers in spite of dodgy backs. Seeing Growers who only started a year ago become more confident gardeners, and their plants suddenly a lot more happy. Does moving to a whole bed to yourself give you a boost? It seems like it.
For 2018: My wish is  for more confident gardeners, more happy plants, insects, birds. Hope to be welcoming new faces and putting down deeper roots for our group.


A thought… ‘Feeding the soil’ was the lightbulb moment for me and I loved Paul’s workshop teaching us about all the different ways of doing this… the beautiful circle of using our homemade compost to create compost tea and add further nourishment with what would have been prior to this garden just more waste going to the landfill.  Since learning about compost tea, worm tea, comfrey tea and seaweed my vegetables have grown like the weeds I love so much (as a herbalist)… and the bounty of food even moving into the winter darkness has shown me just what magic can happen when we work with the seasons and prioritise feeding the soil.

Wish for 2018… I’d like to bring more awareness of the weeds all around us that are medicine to our estate / gardening group… so I’m planning to offer a medicine walk around the Kitchen Garden and into Bel Air park in late Spring / early Summer.  Perhaps if there is a spare bed we can dedicate it to growing some ‘weeds’ and do a medicine making workshop come Autumn…

Bulb planting & close of season celebration

LAST NOVEMBER we welcomed familiar and new faces from Croxted Road Estate, as well as guests of honour from One Tree Hill Allotments and Rosendale Estate (thank you Martin, and Elaine and family) for a day tending the Pleasure Garden. 110 tulip bulbs were planted – their fiery colours will complement our Hotbed flowers – and leaves raked and stashed away to make leaf mould. Then fire, mulled wine and marshmallows provided an antidote to the damp, damp weather…

martin nov 17

Ali & J bulbs nov 17
Winter Style, fashioned by Martin (top, with Raissa’s Super Rake), Ali and Jeannine. All clothes models’ own.
Bulb planting & wine nov 17
Why so cheerful? Good honest work and community spirit! Or mulled wine and a sugar rush
rafi & j nov 17
Do marshmallows count? Rafi and Jeannine preparing one of their five a day

Want to Learn More about Growing Food in the City?

The Glazebrook Growers have been taking a break from organising workshops while we build raised beds and daydream about sheds. However! Capital Growth’s Training Calendar is hot off the press with all sorts of sessions between now and October. Scroll on for full details…

CAPITAL GROWTH is a fantastic organisation that supports food growing in London, connecting thousands of food growing spaces around the city. It supported the Glazebrook Growers in our early days through their ‘Growing Leaders’ programme, and they also run one-off workshops open to all.

IF YOU GROW with a community project signed up with Capital Growth (membership is free), quote the name and number of the space to get discounts on workshops. See below for a list of workshops, costs and a map of venues. (Or go to http://www.capitalgrowth.org/ if you’re not so much into the wobbly phone pics.)

Zoë Petersen

cap growth training 1

cap growth 2

cap growth 3


The Kitchen Garden Grows a Bit (How did we do that?)

Build crew 17
The dodgy-backed crew with two new raised beds for the Garden, built using the bespoke Glazebrook design for maximum friendliness & tea

LAST YEAR we assembled 30 people to build and fill seven raised beds for the brand new Kitchen Garden on Croxted Road Estate. This year, with two new beds to build, and a lot of garden to maintain, there was an outbreak of injuries and paid employment among the Glazebrook Growers, and we were thinner on the ground. Could our creaky-backed carpenters and hobbling gardeners make it happen?

OH YES we could. Scroll on to see how.


High on community spirit and prescription painkillers, Harry and Paul get off to a cheery start…


…and create some very stylish foundations.

Meanwhile, and not to be outdone, Ali redesigns our (somewhat trampled) wildflower beds…

Forensics identifies the culprits: we’ll be matching prints to footwear

…with a turf crossing point, making two separate wildflower areas.

wildlflower bed july 17.jpg
After a couple of hours with Ali, the flowers are all paying attention

The raised beds progress…


…with the aid of an ingenious system of slings, rollers and ramps.


Gina invents some impressive moves with the wheelbarrow while shifting a good half tonne of topsoil.

All our timbers were cut to size by hand this time. Paul does most of the cutting, but Zoë proves more skilful at hogging the camera.


By the end of the day our carpenters need emergency transfusions (of Doombar and Peroni).


Zoë Petersen

Watering Plants: How Hard Can it Be?

PHEW it’s hot. Paul Richens, Gardens Manager at the Skip Garden in Kings Cross, shares some topical thoughts on how to get watering right.

WHAT IS IT about watering plants that people find so difficult? We often see two extremes: houseplants overwatered and drowned – troughs and outside pots not watered at all.

Is it because people don’t understand why plants need water? Let’s briefly look at how plants use water.

Actually, all living things need water because life requires a lot of chemical reactions to take place; for these to happen the chemicals must usually be dissolved in water.

Plants mix water together with carbon dioxide to make sugar. This takes energy, which plants get from sunlight; a process called photosynthesis. Water also helps plants stand up straight, even when they aren’t made of wood. They don’t have bones, but they do have cell walls and water pressure. A mature houseplant can transpire its body weight daily. This means it gives off a lot of water! If people needed that much water, an adult would drink 20 gallons of water a day.

Watering practice. We’ve always preferred that our skips and plant containers in the Skip Garden be watered using watering cans rather than hoses – it’s very hard to judge exactly how much water your hose has given, whereas you know exactly how much you’ve used with a watering can – but using a hose is quicker. So just take your time and really soak the soil.

The Skip gardening team joke that there are three recognisable stages of water stress:

1./ Dry soil – soil dry to touch, plants seem unchanged. Action: Water

2./ Flagging – leaves become soft and droopy. Action: Water

3./ Crispy – leaves and stems completely dry and shrivelled. Action: Compost

Rainwater is best. London tap water is okay, but is alkaline with a pH of 8 to 8.5. Rainwater has a pH of 6.5, which suits plants better; but don’t let that stop you using tap water if necessary.

You’ll find more info on the Skip Garden here, and on Paul here.

Big Dig for the Growers

ON 22ND APRIL, the Glazebrook Growers tapped into Capital Growth’s Big Dig day, Kew Gardens’ Grow Wild initiative, and the support of our Tenants & Residents Association to get together and plant up our new Pleasure Garden. Anne Cleary reports.


FIFTEEN ADULTS and lots of children turned up to make a wonderful Big Dig Saturday in the Croxted Road Pleasure Garden. The sun even came out! Sam, Paul and I erected the big gazebo which was fun, and under it Gina organised all the hospitality, with sandwiches, cakes, crisps, drinks and a homemade cake from Georgina.

Sam and Paul did a lot of the digging, but the women were magnificent too: Madeleine proved to be a very strong digger, as did our Grow Wild mentor, Jess. We created a large, curvy bed for the wildflowers, which Jess then taught us how to scatter correctly.



Madeleine did much of the digging for a Tunnel of Beans with Harry, and new Grower Paul then assisted Harry in erecting the canes for the runner beans to climb up. Gina started planting up our new Hotbed of Flowers with young plants raised from seed on the estate, and Zoë oversaw everything, giving advice and instruction as needed.

Ali drew on her gardening experience to lead the group potting on flower seedlings, showing Theresa, Charlotte and some of the children how it’s done. Sarah from Capital Growth had dropped by to see how we were doing, and also lent a hand. The children were magnificent, enthusiastic, willing to help with everything and to take instructions from the grown ups. As you can see from the photographs they were involved in every task and didn’t flag. I was very impressed.

It was a great day; I really enjoyed being out in the fresh air and having fun, doing something positive with my neighbours.

group pic small 2.jpg

Photos: Anne Cleary, Jo Corrigan & Zoë Petersen

Does Your Houseplant Know You’re There?

Oli and Adi report back on Paul Richens’ latest session

OLI: I had never considered plants to be remotely similar to humans. Perhaps that explained the sorry state of my houseplants – a Money Tree, and a Dragon Tree – that had withered in dark corners of my room for many months. But, on leaving Paul Richens’ workshop in March, I couldn’t help but think: plants are closer cousins to humans than I had ever imagined.

Paul & Oli's plants March17
Doctor, is there any hope? Oli’s plants see daylight at last

As Paul explained with characteristic vigour, plants sense the world in a manner not so dissimilar to our own. Of our core faculties – sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste – each can be ‘experienced’ in some parallel way by plants.

Moreover plants each generate a slight electromagnetic field, as does our own nervous system, though their ‘brain’ might be considered to lie below ground – in the dense interactions between root chemistry and soil microbes. The leaves we see above ground are simply the plant’s food-factory set up to harness the sun’s energy.

Rootbrain: a slide from Paul’s presentation, showing where the plant action really happens

That plants can hear might seem a little far-fetched. But as Paul revealed, great minds as far back as Darwin have hypothesised that plants can respond to sound. Many may be familiar with the (unproven) theory that classical music can make humans ‘smarter’ – but the fact that this too has been tested with plants was news to me.

If plants are indeed so similar to humans, it follows that they should be treated with similar care.  And this meant drastic action was required for my long neglected houseplants. Pruning, positioning and watering all followed in quick succession, optimising the light, heat – and sound! – that they would experience. The results were clear: the plants have erupted into colours that weeks ago could not be conceived of.

So let me conclude by thanking Paul and with the key lesson of the day – treat your plants as you yourself would like to be treated!

Oli Lomer

ADI: THANKS to Zoe for arranging and Paul for presenting a fascinating talk on plants and how ‘perceptive’ they are.

I KNEW SOME of the more obvious ways in which plants protect themselves from predators: thorns on roses, poison in deadly nightshade berries, and of course the good old stinging nettle. I even knew, following a trip to Peru, about the Mimosa plant which has sensitive finger-like leaves which close up when touched to ‘appear dead,’ so Darwin believed, and less appetising to would-be predators.

plant reactions
There’s more going on than you might think: a slide from Paul showing some of the things plants react to

BUT I HAD no idea about chemical signalling. Plants that are under attack, when set upon by a herd of hungry elephants, or subject to drought, can warn other nearby plants of the impending threat by releasing a chemical warning signal. This can kick start a defensive reaction in other plants – for instance to increase production of a bitter-tasting compound in their leaves to put off would-be attackers, or even to release a chemical of their own to attract their enemy’s predators.

NOT TO BE outdone, the crafty elephants have learned to eat the plants ‘upwind’, so that the airborne signals blow away from neighbouring plants, and the leaves remain sweet and edible.

Evolution never ceases to amaze me!

Adi Sayles


Where in the World is Your Plant From? Paul’s Tips on Making Your Plant at Home

CLIMATE ZONES: Tropical Rainforest ~ Tropical Grassland ~ Dry Grassland ~ Desert ~ Mediterranean ~ Temperate Forest ~ Mountain ~ Boreal Forest ~ Polar Tundra

OUR COMMON houseplants, from orchids to yuccas, come from very different environments around the world. Take advantage of the different conditions in your house to mimic the environmental origins of your plant.

ORCHIDS and SWISS CHEESE PLANTS originate in tropical rainforest, where there are low levels of sunlight under the forest canopy, and conditions are warm and humid – try your bathroom as the nearest equivalent.

YUCCAS are found across different different regions, but generally in arid conditions with plentiful sunlight, such as desert and grassland. Depending on the aspect of your house, your living room might be the best place (though we all know living rooms that are more like polar tundra…)

FERNS originate in forest and generally hate direct sunlight, so may be happiest in north-facing rooms, or at least away from sun and radiators.

DO a little research into your plants’ origins to decide what will be happiest where.

FINALLY: WATERING! The easiest way to know whether your plant needs watering is to touch the compost. Get into the habit of checking regularly. If it’s dry, water thoroughly, preferably with rainwater; if it’s wet, leave it alone. Roots need oxygen, so drowning is as bad as drought.

Paul Richens has provided moral and practical support to the Glazebrook Growers since the Kitchen Garden was just a twinkle in some of our eyes. Find out more about Paul and his gardening life at http://bluedomesynergies.co.uk/