As regular readers of this column know, I am a fair-weather gardener whose enthusiasm for horticultural pursuits is at a low ebb during the cold months of winter.
Accordingly, I am not spending many hours in either garden or greenhouse at this time of year, limiting much of my outdoor activity to walking in public open spaces like roadside pavements and footpaths. These features are part of the greater environment beyond my own garden, the environment which lies beyond the limits of my personal fiefdom: but it is my environment just as much as it is anyone else’s; and, just as I strive to maintain my garden as an attractive place for me to live in and an attractive place for passers-by to see, so I try to keep the greater environment free from my unwanted possessions, free from my rubbish, free from the detritus of my life.
And, as regular readers of this column also know full well, I usually spend several weeks every year enjoying the delights of Lake Garda in the north of Italy. Perhaps the greatest of these delights is the environment – the lovely floral displays provided by the local authorities, the wonderful views along and across the lake, the sights and sounds of the many small towns that flourish along the lake’s edge. What simple pleasures these are, there to be enjoyed by visitor and local resident alike! The topography of the land and the characteristics of the climate contribute to these pleasures, of course. Who does not enjoy the sight of attractive hills seen across sparkling water on a gloriously sunny day? Yet the foreground to these appealing views adds to their attractiveness because the local people care. There is an almost total absence of the appalling amount of discarded detritus which so disfigures the environment in east central Scotland. The stroller through Polmont cannot help but see an abandoned and derelict telephone kiosk beside a closed public toilet; discarded drinks cans; chucked hot food takeaway packaging; a plethora of dropped paper, ranging from atm transaction receipts to entire newspapers; broken traffic cones; plastic bottles of every shape and size; dog poo and, wondrously, plastic bags containing dog poo; the list goes on and on.
Yet there are lovely views of the not-too-far distant hills to be had; there are not unattractive townscapes; there are once-upon-a-time landscaped areas which still retain some of their original appeal; all are despoiled by the superabundance of junk which proliferates everywhere. And it’s nearly all someone else’s fault; the local authority should clean the streets more often; schoolchildren should be taught not to drop litter; hot food takeaway establishments should be made to employ litter-pickers; we should have to pay for carry-out drinks cups, just as we have to pay for single-use plastic bags. And the bottom line is – our society in general just doesn’t really care!
Can you imagine, gentle reader, seeing … as I did in Garda … a young cyclist missing a litter bin with a thrown, empty plastic bottle and dismounting to pick it up and bin it? Can you believe that shopkeepers take it for granted that it is in their interest to keep the pavement and roadway in the immediate vicinity of their shops immaculate? Can you accept that litter bins are used by almost everyone and that they are emptied at least twice a day? Can you imagine that these events are part and parcel of life in the towns around Lake Garda?
Scholars debate whether the biblical Garden of Eden was at the head of the Persian Gulf, in Iraq, in the Armenian Highlands, the Armenian Plateau or … believe it or not … in the American state of Missouri. I believe that the Garden of Eden is a synonym for our environment. And how I wish that a discarded apple core was the only problem!