Gardening has been an activity practiced and enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. Gardens can make spaces beautiful and provide food for us, but this only scrapes the surface of how impactful gardening at home really is. Backyard gardening impacts the biological environments and promotes biological diversity by creating more habitat space for native animal and plant species. Plants also assist in cleaning the air, ground, and water around us.

Backyard gardening has become more popular as we have urbanized spaces, creating a patchwork of flowers and plants moving from yard to yard. As of 2010, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. As more and more natural spaces are removed for development, it becomes increasingly more important to provide a seemingly natural area within our urban spaces for the plants and animals still depending on it. 

Growing vegetables in your garden is rewarding in its own way, and provides benefits for wildlife along the journey, and for you upon harvest. Vegetable gardening can also help offset your’s or your family’s carbon footprint. On average, food is transported 2,400 km before it gets to the store you buy it from. From farm to table, that’s a long journey. Transporting produce far distances means larger amounts of carbon pollution, as transportation relies on the burning of fossil fuels. This is why buying local and growing your own vegetables makes such a positive environmental impact. 

Gardening in your backyard is already much more sustainable than relying solely on the farming industry at large. But there are ways we can make our gardens even more environmentally friendly by how we choose to garden. You can purchase seeds or seedlings from local farmers, buy compost locally or use a backyard compost system, save your starter containers from year to year, or purchase soil locally without the bag. We can also choose the ways we spruce up our garden spaces with accessories and extras, making it seem both more organized and perhaps improve the appearance for us. 

Personally, I love adding little accessories to my gardens. The only problem with many garden accessories is that store bought extras don’t often align with a low waste way of living. These trinkets are often made cheaply, many are made of plastic material that won’t last from season to season, and we purchase them specifically for use as a garden accessory (which is not a necessity item). Thankfully, many garden accessories can be made by hand and from natural materials or materials that can be easily repurposed. 

My favourite garden accessory is a garden marker, marking what you have planted and where you planted it. Now of course, you could just write the names of what you planted on the side of the containers or draw up a map, but that wouldn’t be as fun! Here, I have included ten examples of garden markers that use either natural or repurposed materials to help keep your garden as sustainable as possible.

10 Sustainable & Creative Garden Markers for your Vegetable Garden

  1. Painted Rocks – as long as the paint is not a washable paint, it will weather fairly decent through a season outdoors. You may have to do a few touch ups the following year, but for the most part just usually acrylic paint works well. Sealing the rocks with a light sealant like Mod Podge is also an option, but not totally necessary if you don’t already have it on hand. Painted rocks are a very fun way to mark where your plants are, or even add decorations like garden ladybugs. 
  1. Chiselled Sticks – I received this idea from a friend, who had carved away part of the bark on a small branch, creating a flat area for writing the name of each vegetable. It’s natural, free, and will last longer than you’d expect as they are pre-weathered and meant for the outdoors. This is about as zero waste as it gets! It’s also a great simple project for kids to help in the garden while learning how to carve from a branch (something I did lots of as a kid!).
  1. Scrap Wood & Tree Clippings – This example I had to share, even though it is not completely ‘row marker’ related. Thin scrap wood is great for pegs and stakes used to hold up vine growing vegetables. My friend Lanielle (the same friend that made the garden markers above) was quite motivated in her garden and made these branch climbing structures for her peas and beans. The branches are tied together with twine, are sturdy and free standing, and the finished structures are a great way to use blown down or pruned branches.
  1. Fabric Flags – This idea turned out looking super cute, mind you embroidering the letters by hand was a bit time consuming, but nonetheless, if you have scrap fabric around why not use it! You could also use a fabric marker or a programable sewing machine to write the letters. The fabric can be attached to a stick or scrap piece of wood and stuck into the soil. 
  1. Scrap Ceramic – broken ceramics or bricks are also great for marking where plants are. Although they are not tall, they are heavy which means there is no chance of them blowing away. They are also easy to paint and decorate!
  1. Old Paintbrushes – As an artist, I have loads of old paintbrushes stashed in my studio for gardening. Because of their size, they make great garden stakes for smaller plants as they grow, and they can also double as a garden marker. Paintbrushes are already pointy for sticking into the soil and it’s a great way to reuse something that would otherwise be thrown out. 
  1. Clothespins – super easy to attach to really any stick, and paint like many other items on this list. Although it might be tempting to purchase new clothespins for this purpose, it’s better to replace the ones you use for hanging clothes and use the old ones in your garden where they will be well weathered anyways.
  1. Jar Seals – Jar seals and tin can tops are easy to poke holes in using a hammer and nail. They are also a material that is often tossed after being used once for preserving food because they lose the ability to reseal after the can or jar is opened. I’m always trying to find ways to reuse jar seals, and have realized they make great garden markers! If you want to hang each seal from a wire like these ones, you’ll need a small pair of pliers.
  1. Small Tree Cookies – Spring cleaning usually involves some kind of backyard pruning. Instead of burning or taking the extra wood to the dump, why not turn branches into tree cookies and use them in your garden. Aesthetically pleasing and natural, a double win! 
  1. Small Jars – This actually works surprisingly well. I used to mark the rows in my garden by putting the seed package on a stick, except instead of using a jar I wrapped it with a load of packing tape, which was both ugly and wasteful. By placing a small glass jar over top of the stick with the seed package, the jar keeps the package dry! The only problem with this one is the package has to be empty.

I hope these examples help you spruce up your garden space in a sustainable way by repurposing materials. Backyard gardens have become increasingly more important for wildlife, making up for lost habitat by creating a flower patchwork. Whether your whole yard is a garden or you only have space for a few containers, every plant helps.

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