Tag Archives: peat-free

“Why don’t you just pop in a few bedding plants for a bit of colour?”

08 July 2019

 Someone said this last week, during a discussion about how we try and have at least two bee-friendly plants in flower all the year round, and how tricky this can be, not just in December and January, but also in June when many of the early summer flowers are dying off before the July-to-September ones come into bloom.

People quite often suggest that we use more bedding plants, which makes me wonder why our instinct is not to do just that. I think there are several reasons – sustainability (volunteer time and the need to water much more often, as well as more use of plastic pots and everything else needed to grow the plants), the difficulty of finding bedding plants grown in peat-free compost and the fact that we’ve not been successful in growing our own. And of course, commercially-grown plants have frequently been treated with hormones to make them flower earlier and longer, and/or insecticides, so that they are perfect at the point-of-sale. Neonicotinoid pesticides aren’t being used nearly as much as they were a couple of years ago, but we’d still prefer not to use plants treated with any pesticides.

The main reason is probably that very few of the bedding plants we could buy are attractive to bees (so in the end it doesn’t matter much that they’ve probably been treated with insecticides, as the bees won’t be collecting nectar or pollen from them). We’ve restricted ourselves in the Memorial Gardens to only growing plants that are particularly attractive to bees, so that excludes the use of most bedding plants in the bee-friendly areas that South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth look after.

On the other hand, the Town Council are very good at growing bedding plants, and we’re fortunate to have two of their beds next to our own, next to the war memorial itself, and full of beautiful and colourful plants. So we have the best of both worlds here!


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!





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.

Getting ready for winter

28 October 2016

We’ve lifted all the spent annual wild flowers in the top bed by the car park, and we’ve resown poppies, cornflowers and toadflax. These cornfield annuals often need a period of cold weather to start their germination, but the bed’s already full of seedlings, probably from last year. We resow every year to be sure we’ll have a good show of flowers from June and July, though we do then have to thin the seedlings to leave enough room for the remaining ones to grow into stronger plants. It works well in practice, but it feels a bit odd to be sowing seeds, then pulling half of them up!

Over the last couple of months we’ve moved a few plants to places where they’ll be happier or look better, we’ve planted bulbs for next spring, sown seeds of California poppies and Welsh poppies, and thinned some of the seedlings of forget-me-nots and borage; all of these provide a lot of nectar and pollen for bees, and by letting seedlings emerge now we’re ensuring they’ll be flowering earlier next year than if we’d sown them in the spring. It does mean that we can’t mulch all the beds, though, or we’ll choke seeds that are still emerging. We’d like to mulch the beds to prevent heavy rain from damaging the soil structure, to keep nutrients in the soil, and to provide places where beneficial insects can hibernate. Blackbirds seem to appreciate a layer of leaf mould, too, judging by the amount they turn onto the paths when they’re looking for worms underneath it.

We try to have the gardens looking their best for Remembrance Sunday, which isn’t quite as easy as it is in June and July! We do leave quite a few stems and seed heads for hibernating insects,  because many seed heads look good in frost, and because it stops the gardens looking too bare through the winter months; however, we try to balance these ecological requirements with keeping the gardens looking cared for and well tended, in respect of their setting. It’s a difficult balance.

Although we’ve started making our own leaf mould, it won’t be ready for another couple of years and we used all our existing stock to make peat-free potting compost; so we’re very grateful to the local residents who’ve given us enough leaf mould for our needs this year. Thank you!