Garden twine has a wide range of uses in a garden. You can use it to make trellises and plant supports, for hanging containers, and of course, to tie plants into their supports. And there are many other small jobs around the garden for which it can come in handy.
You can of course buy garden twine. For sustainability and environmental reasons, however, you should be careful in selecting a twine. Some are far more eco friendly than others. All gardeners who care about people and planet should avoid buying plastic garden twines whenever possible. They should opt for natural, organic options instead.
Natural twine materials like jute, sisal, hemp, flax, organic cotton or wool are all used for garden twines. But even these are not always the most sustainable of materials. Jute and sisal are fibres that must be grown in warmer climes – so it is worth remembering that they will need to be transported a long distance to reach us here in the UK. And that can come at a carbon cost. Non-organic cotton and wool can both have a high environmental cost too. Hemp and flax can be grown closer to home, and grown sustainably and organically. For larger projects, I usually choose a hemp or flax twine.
But there might be an even more sustainable solution, if you are prepared to take a little time and effort, and learn a new skill. You could make DIY garden twine to use for small projects in your garden.
Growing Materials for Making Twine
Growing plants for fibres in your garden might not be your first thought when planning your planting. But even in relatively small gardens, you might be able to give this a go on a small scale. While you cannot legally grow hemp in your garden, you could grow a small amount of flax.
But I think that the best plant to grow in your garden for making simple, rustic twine for garden use is one that you may not think of as a useful plant – stinging nettles.
Nettles have been used for their fibre for centuries. This plant can be used to make a very fine cloth. Making fine nettle fabric is surely more of a challenge. But just making some simple string or twine for garden use is rather easier than you might think.
The great think about nettles is that we likely will not need to cultivate them. Rather, we can simply allow a patch to thrive somewhere in a corner of a garden. Nettles can be a very useful plant – not only can you use the tall stems to make twine for garden use, you can also eat the fresh young tips in spring as a spinach substitute. They’re not only good for you, they also taste good. What is more, while growing in the garden they are great for the wildlife.
Harvesting Garden Twine Materials
Nettles are at their best for harvesting for twine in around June/ July, when they have grown nice and tall. When harvesting nettles to make garden twine, you should try to select stems with as few nodes as possible. (The nodes are the parts where the leaves join onto the stem.) You want straight, long fibres. Since fibres can break at the nodes, the longer the distance between them the better.
The only downside to using nettles is rather obvious to anyone who has experienced their sting. Grasping the nettle firmly should help you avoid stings, and some people can happily handle them without protection. But generally, I think most people will prefer to wear gloves.
So don some gloves and long sleeves, and pick the longest stems. It is difficult to say exactly how many nettles you will need for your twine. But you should not need to gather a huge number if you just want to make some short pieces of twine for small garden jobs like tying in plants to supports. Trying this project out with 5-10 stems could be a good place to start.
Preparing Plant Fibres
Once you have gathered your nettles, run a gloved hand down the stem downwards to take off all the leaves and knock off the stinging hairs. After this, you should be able to handle the nettle stems without being stung.
There are a number of different ways to prepare nettles to use their fibres. Since, in this case, you will just be making a basic, rustic twine, it does not need to be too complex.
Take the stems and bash or crush them a little. This will break apart the outer layers, and allow you to remove the hard inner material. Peel out the stiff sections inside and you will be left with the fibres, attached to the outer bark.
The next step involves taking the green strands you are left with and scraping off some of the bark to leave the white fibres behind. Since you are just making a rustic twine, you do not need to worry about this too much, as you would when making a fine fabric. Take a blunt butter knife or a similar tool, and slowly scrape along the lengths of the strands to scrape away some of the green stuff.
Next, take the ribbons you are left with, split then into as many thin sections as possible, and drape them somewhere to dry. Once they are dry, take the bundle and rub them between your hands to remove some more of the bark material, which will come of as fine, dusty pieces.
You can leave the nettles to one side now, and work on them whenever you are ready to begin making some twine.
Making Garden Twine
When you want to begin making your twine, dampen the strands slightly so that they are easier to work with. Take two little sections from the bundle. It is these two sections that you will use to make your twine. Think about how thick or thin you want your twine to be.
To turn the nettle ribbons into a garden twine, you will need to turn them into cordage. This involves twining the two strands together to form a strong and secure piece of twine. Making cordage is quite easy. The process simply involves twisting a strand clockwise, then passing it anti-clockwise over the other strand. Repeat this process of twisting over and passing under, twisting over, passing under, repeating this process until you have a piece of garden twine.
Making your own DIY garden twine might sound like a lot of work. But it is not only eco-friendly and sustainable. It can also be a relaxing and meditative experience. You could work on your twine while you sit and relax to enjoy your garden over the summer months – or save some nettles to work on when there is less to do and colder weather arrives.
Little things like this might not seem important. But they can help us to break the hold of consumerist culture. They can help us use all the resources available to us in our gardens, to live in a more natural and sustainable way. So next time you start bemoaning nettles popping up in your garden, rather than ripping them out, you could consider taking on a project like this instead.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.