At first glance, it might seem obvious that in a battle between real and artificial plants, real plants would win every time. After all, unlike artificial plants, they readily compost into the soil without a trace – right?
Whilst this is certainly true of composting at home, a little digging (excuse the pun) into the life of a real shop-bought plant quickly reveals why it is far from carbon-neutral.
Many plants are grown in environments that are simply not warm enough and require artificial heat.
This is not always the case – plants grown in warm environments will not need additional warmth – however, they may need temperature control, and this results in carbon emissions.
Worse still, plants will typically have endured a long journey before they arrive at your garden centre and the environmental damage caused by transport is significant. As an example, a 2007 study by Cranfield University demonstrated that raising 12,000 Kenyan roses generated 13,200 pounds of Co2 – and the equivalent number of Dutch roses generated a staggering 77,150 pounds.
Each year, we replace our bedding, container and hanging basket plants with new because these are after all annuals with a short lifespan. In fact, many gardeners will replace the plants more than once a year, planting both summer and winter bedding plants as these don’t survive for more than a few months.
Silk plants by contrast have practically an indefinite lifespan. Contrast their carbon footprint (which will include just one journey from the factory) to the twice yearly replacement of real bedding plants, and the saving is obvious – thousands of pounds of CO2 according to experts such as Tim Hennessy, a designer of silk flower arrangements.
Tim’s company Office Scapes Direct serves business environments with maintenance-free greenery that’s kinder to the environment. Whilst many offices will instead choose live plants with a service contract, silk plants do not require weekly visits to keep them looking great, further saving on environmentally harmful emissions.
What of the benefit that real plants can be composted? Surprisingly this is not altogether accurate. Whilst plants can be composted at home, more often they are sent to landfill and because modern day landfills do not allow the contact with the air that is needed for effective composting, the waste biodegrades anaerobically and produces methane.
Silk plants by contrast can be gifted to churches or charitable organisations when the buyer wants a change, and even in landfill, they do not break down and give off harmful emissions.
What of the psychological benefits of greenery – are these lost with artificial plants? Simply, no. Scientific studies have shown that the appearance of greenery helps boost our mood, reduces stress and boosts our mental processing power. It is not the plant itself causing this but the appearance of the plant – so it doesn’t matter whether we choose real or artificial.
With all these benefits, you’d be forgiven for wondering why we didn’t title this article, ‘Why artificial plants are always a better choice for the environment’? The reason we’ve stopped short of this is clearly there’s a way to make real plants trump artificial. For example, you might grow all your bedding plants from seed, carefully saving the seeds that the new plants produce year after year and returning all spent plants to the compost heap. You might use the home-grown compost to fertilise your plants, rather than shop-bought fertiliser, emissions from which contribute to the quantity of greenhouse gases present in the environment. Perhaps you use fresh manure as a compost accelerator, rather than buying chemicals which again are environmentally harmful. All these things would mean that your garden plants are trumping silk plants from an environmental perspective.
However, few gardeners will follow all of these steps (if they did, garden centres wouldn’t be quite as popular!) and for the rest of us, we think artificial hanging baskets and plants offer a very real environmentally sustainable and low-maintenance alternative to real plants which is worthy of any gardener’s consideration.
Featured image: Artificial flowers trough