Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!

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Peat Free April

Last year I wrote about Cool Compost, by which I meant either the home-made stuff or environmentally friendly organic and peat-free compost. Shortly after I became aware that April 2020 was being championed as ‘Peat-Free April‘, a campaign which very much echoes the concerns I raised last year. We are entering the peak gardening season, when even those who just tinker about their plot or balcony once in a blue moon, head out to the garden centres, DIY stores and supermarkets in search of a bag of what we glibly refer to as ‘compost’. Chances are the first bag they reach will be boasting some special offer and behind all the marketing the word ‘peat’ is likely to be hidden … or may be not! Last year I got very annoyed by the signs in one local garden centre proudly proclaiming a product to be 100% peat! So why does this matter?

Spring in a pot or two! (C) Elizabeth Malone

The UK’s peat bogs provide unique wildlife habitats but they also act as a carbon sink. Digging up the peat bogs releases tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere which directly contributes to climate change. As a result, DEFRA encouraged a voluntary ban on peat-based products available to amateur gardeners that was supposed to see peat all but phased out by 2020. In truth, very little has happened.

Happy peat-free violas and iris (c) Elizabeth Malone

This Lent the church is encouraging us to think about our impact on the planet. Going peat-free can be a part of that commitment and, I would suggest, is easier than becoming a vegan or removing plastic from your everyday life! Not that I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t do either of those things if you feel so inclined, it’s just that to go peat-free, all you have to do is read a label and buy the correct product!

Peat-free seedlings (c) Elizabeth Malone

The Peat-Free-April campaign is urging all of us to put pressure on our local garden centres to remove peat products from sale. Living in this part of west London, I imagine many of you will visit Squires Garden Centres. Squires state that, “Our policy is to stock a range of peat-free and peat reduced composts.” They go on to say that they, “actively promote these products in our Beautiful Gardens Magazine.” At least Squires publish their Sustainability policy. Our other local garden centre, Adrian Hall’s, are silent on the topic which is a shame as, to my knowledge, they have stocked peat-free composts for many years and now have a choice of products available.

But what about the plants you buy in the garden centre, what are they growing in? The chances are the answer is a compost containing peat but change is afoot, Suttons Seeds have announced that they have removed peat from their production this year and are even holding tours of their facilities as part of the Peat-Free April campaign. When a large company such as this takes the lead, you do hope that others will follow.

Gardening organisations and the gardening press all advocate peat-free growing and provide plenty of advice on sustainable alternatives. I’m no expert and I’ve never carried out peat versus non-peat comparisons but I seem to be able to get decent germination of seeds using peat-free compost, my pots look pretty happy and my inability to establish cuttings, well that’s just me needing more practice!

French bean seedlings (c) Elizabeth Malone

Last year when I wrote about Cool Compost, a friend went to her local supermarket and decided to pick up a bag of compost whilst she was there. I received an email later to say that she did pause to read the label and she was thrilled to see that the bag said peat-free. So that’s one convert! Hopefully this year there will be more! As to the photos in this blog, they are just a random selection of things from my garden that are growing peat-free.

Pulsatillas – the Pasqueflower (c) Elizabeth Malone