Plastic Waste is Bad for your Soul

A conversation with Hannah Genders, sustainable garden designerwritten by Philippa Hibbert.

Hannah Genders grew up on a small, self-sufficient farm in Somerset, UK. She uses her love of sustainability to influence her work. We had a conversation about her love for nature, living a sustainable lifestyle and how we can exist sustainably, one garden at a time.


P: “When did you start to become more aware of sustainability?”

H: “My background gave me a real love for the environment and it just felt completely normal to go out and pick things and eat them!”


P:” That’s my favourite thing, to go into the garden and nibble on some chives.”

H: “Yes, I like cooking but what I like the most is going and picking the food and doing something simple with it and it tastes absolutely amazing.”


P: “Yes it’s lovely, finding things you can use there and then. When did you start getting into sustainability?”

H: “I suppose I’ve started wanting to design gardens sustainably about 15 to 20 years ago. I came across it by getting involved with a project which was the first eco-house down in Cornwall about 15 years ago. I learnt more about the whole ethos of an eco-house, recycling water, using solar gain. Then I wanted to really make sure that the garden fitted with that. It was very new. The local authorities hadn’t seen anything like it. Everything is organic and there’s no toxicity. A lot of European countries have developed really good systems.”


P: “It’s interesting because I’ve never heard of that, you tend to think everything we do as humans goes against nature. That’s hopeful to hear things like that, but also makes you realise how far we have to go…this is a very broad question but how does sustainability effect your life?”

H: “It massively affects my life, I’m absolutely passionate about the planet. I am compost queen”

P: “I know! I’ve seen your compost it’s like muesli”

H: “I love making compost. I’m the only women who makes compost in her car, as in leaving apple cores in there ha-ha. I love making compost, which is incredibly sustainable. I’ve just given up a second vehicle for an electric bike and that’s a deliberate choice to use a bike, public transport when we can, with a view to the future of the planet, for my grandchildren. I hate plastic waste, it’s bad for your soul. It’s so depressing. But yes, I think it’s fairly integral to who I am.”


P: “How do you go about your life being sustainable when things are built not to be sustainable?”

H: “I think you’re a fish swimming against the tide. It’s about the constant, so for instance recently I had some clients and I told them it’s good to mulch the garden and get some soil and they went and bought a peat-based compost. Because they weren’t aware of peat and so it seems to me in my work, without preaching, it’s a constant re-education of people. So, don’t buy that one, ask for that one. You shouldn’t be able to buy peat really, it should be banned already, in my book, because it’s so bad for the environment. It’s also things like not being bothered about the image of cars and turning up on a bike. You know, I’m doing these eco houses so why would I just drive everywhere? If they want a swimming pool I’m going to talk them into a natural swimming pool, like a swimming pond instead of something with chemicals. But also, it’s just a very enjoyable way to live. I’d rather go on my bike, I’d rather go on the train. I’m not desperate to go on a plane right now, but it’s trying to not live so restrictively so you’re not fun anymore. But I just think it feels good. I think if people are challenged on things quietly, they’re interested.”


P: “How would you advise people in general to become more sustainable?”

H: “I think there’s a real hunger for it, certainly in younger age groups there’s a massive hunger for it. But even an older couple I did a garden for I got them into no-dig gardening. I got them making compost. So, it is about helping people make those decisions in a way that’s not threatening.”


P: “I suppose like you said, education as well. How has it altered your life as time has gone on?”

H: “I think I’ve just wanted to do it more and more. I wouldn’t have gardened completely organically to start with, I do now. Because, if you love birds, you wouldn’t use slug pellets. Because it goes into the food chain. If you love owls, you wouldn’t poison a rat or a mouse, do you know what I mean? I think the more you’re in touch with the natural world, which for a lot of people is through gardening, the more you don’t want to harm it, hopefully. So, you’re always going further and further down that route of wanting to live in harmony with other things. I just think there’s a massive re-education we need to do. You know, being overly neat isn’t great for gardening.”


P: “Yeah, I think people are sold the idea of wanting neat and slabbed perfect gardens.”

H: “It is glossy magazines. You know, in marble and slab, where do the hedgehogs live? Is it moving away from that? I hope it is.”

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