Monthly Archives: March 2019



15 March 2019

 Following on from the last post – it’s still been too cold for the children to sow any seeds, so when they wanted to come and help this week, we decided to go on an earthworm hunt. Over the last couple of years we’ve gradually increased the amount of organic matter in the soil by mulching (covering) it with layers of compost, when available, and leaf mould. The idea was to help the soil hold water better – very necessary last year in that long drought – and to help increase the many microoganisms that help make nutrients available to plants, and generally do a lot of our work for us. We thought it would also have increased the number of earthworms in the preschool bed, making it very likely they’d find some.

So last Monday, we again had two children helping to push a spade down into the bed, then pull backwards (with a little help from an adult holding the handle), so that a lump of earth rose out of the ground on the spade, and split slightly open to reveal a few wriggling earthworms inside it. Then we lowered it to the ground, and they dived in to find them, the bravest of them picking them up, the rest enjoying watching one on my hand. And once again, I’d thought they’d enjoy the digging and rifling through the soil, but I had no idea how entranced they’d be, just with the lump of ground rising up on the spade – there’s nothing like gardening with three-year-olds who are seeing these everyday things for the first time, for making you see them as wonderful, too.

And then they just wanted to dig until it was time to go back to the pavilion; some of them dug the earth along the edge of their bed, while a couple of others took turns to throw leaf mould from the trug onto the ground, which will help us repeat the cycle all over again.

In theory, we don’t dig the ground in the gardens, as it’s much better not to keep breaking up all the mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria under the surface; but this an exception that’s really worth making, just to watch the children’s delight in their gardening.

Preschool helpers

11 March 2019

Last week we had the pleasure of gardening with a few of the children from Mentmore Road Under-5s, who meet in the pavilion on Mentmore Road playing fields. They’ve joined us ever since we started gardening at the Memorial Gardens, usually sowing things like nasturtiums, peas and carrots, and coming down to see how they’re growing. Eating peas straight off the plant was one of the favourite activities last year!

This year, they were keen to help us back in early February, while it was still cold, too cold to sow anything. So we needed to find things for them to enjoy doing – and the obvious one was to help us get the ground ready for their peas and carrots. Instead of some of the usual Friends of the Earth volunteers clearing away self-sown plants that were in the way, we let the children do it – you can have two preschoolers pushing the fork into the ground next to one of the purple toadflax plants there, then (with a little help from one of the gardeners holding the handle), they can lever the whole plant and root ball up out of the ground. I thought they’d enjoy doing it; I never guessed how entranced they’d be to see it come of the ground, and to look at all the roots they don’t usually see. Some of the other children dug a hole in the next bed, then we all carefully lifted the uprooted plant across, placed it in the hole, and ‘put it to bed’ by filling the gaps with soil and pressing them down with a trowel (gently!). Then we moved another couple of purple toadflaxes to make a group, which gave everyone a turn at whatever they wanted to do.

And then, of course, the bit the children really, really love – the plants needed watering in! From long experience now, we use four child-sized watering cans, half-filled – that’s an amount they can manage without spilling the water over their feet, and taking turns isn’t so bad as your turn comes round again pretty quickly. When I go over to the tap to refill our ten-litre container, some of the children like following me over to have a look around – I love seeing the gardens through their eyes, they take pleasure in the most mundane tasks. They’re a real inspiration.

More on peat

07 March 2019

A couple of years ago we discussed why we don’t use peat.

At this time of year, when gardeners are going out to buy compost to start sowing seeds and repotting plants, could we make a direct appeal to buy peat-free compost?

We do try not to bang on about the environmental principles that underlie what we do at the Memorial Gardens, but I’d like to make an exception this time, because climate change is accelerating much faster than we thought it would a couple of years ago, and we have to reduce carbon emissions urgently in the light of the latest evidence on climate change.

When I wrote that first post, the situation was bad, but there was a lot of hope that if we could limit our greenhouse gas emissions, we could stop the earth’s temperature rising uncontrollably. In the last two years the situation has got much worse, much faster than we expected. When peat is dug up to make cheap multipurpose compost, very large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere, and we just can’t afford to keep doing it. Peat-free composts have improved tremendously over the last few years, and they’re being stocked much more widely; with bulk-buying, the price has got much closer to the price of ordinary (peat-based) multipurpose compost, which is cheaper to produce.

We’ve rung round local suppliers to find prices for ordinary (= peat-based) and peat-free multipurpose composts, and apart from the most heavily discounted multibuys, the difference in price for three 50-litre bags or equivalent would  only be the same as a couple of cups of coffee. Wickes has New Horizon peat-free at £4 for a 50-litre bag, which is cheaper than peat-based multipurpose compost at most of the local suppliers. If you prefer the Sylvagrow range, they’re stocked locally by Potash Nursery, and others are being introduced all the time.

Edited on 8th March: we’ve rung round a number of local suppliers, and found that most of them are stocking good, reliable peat-free compost – Sylvagrow, Westland’s New Horizon,  or equivalent. The price is generally a little more than peat-based multipurpose composts, but the gap is much closer than it used to be, and it really is only a little more expensive now. Locally, suppliers (in alphabetical order) include Dobbies, Frosts, Homebase, Leighton Buzzard Garden Centre, Potash Nursery and Wickes; and Ascott House tell us that later in the year they’ll probably have whichever peat-free compost they’re using this year for sale in the car park, along with plants they’ve potted up in it – I think they’re the only local supplier of plants grown in peat-free compost at the moment. If anyone cares to add to the list, add a comment or email me as usual!