04 April 2017
Our interpretation boards mention that we don’t use peat, and we’ve been asked a couple of times why that is. There are three main reasons. Firstly, it’s a non-renewable resource – it takes thousands of years for a peat bog to form, but it can be cleared completely within 50 years. It’s also an increasingly rare habitat with its own unique flora and fauna. And lastly, peat bogs act as carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon dioxide; when they are dug up, large amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere, which accelerates climate change. The carbon stored in UK peat bogs is equivalent to about 3 years of total UK carbon emissions.
About 70% of most ordinary multipurpose compost is peat; the horticulture industry is one of the main users of peat. Yet gardeners only began to use peat about 50 years ago; until then, many gardeners just mixed their own composts. There are many benefits from buying in sterile, consistent compost mixes, but they don’t have to contain peat.
There are an increasing number of alternatives as the technology generally has moved on since the 1970s, and more and more brands of peat-free compost are becoming available. There’s still a bit of an urban myth around that they aren’t any good, but this isn’t really true any more; many gardeners and commercial growers manage fine with the newer peat-free composts, with great results.
Here at the Memorial gardens we do also use a mix of garden compost and leaf mould for cuttings and growing on small plants as it’s very cheap, which makes our various projects more sustainable. I checked with two local suppliers today – Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre will have their peat-free compost in sometime within the next couple of weeks, if it’s not already in (when I rang the pallets were just being unloaded, and they weren’t sure exactly what was on those, and what was coming in the next few days); and the National Trust’s Ascott House on the Wing road sells New Horizon compost at a fiver a bag or 3 for £12 – it’s by the kiosk in the car park, and if you tell the car parking attendant you just want the compost, they won’t charge you for entry to the house or gardens!
And one last reason to try and avoid peat – this is what often happens to the roots of plants grown in a peat-based compost when they’re planted out into the kind of heavy clay we have round Leighton Buzzard and Linslade:
There are ways of persuading the roots to move outside the area of its original pot, but we’ve found that the simplest is just to use a peat-free compost. You can also buy plants grown in peat-free composts from some suppliers – we bought perennial wallflowers from the market stall near Peacock’s in the High Street.