Pesticide-Free Plants with the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme

It’s a sultry September afternoon and I’m pottering round the garden, deadheading the dahlias as I go. I can hear the echinacea gently buzzing as a drowsy bumblebee picks its way across the tawny central cone. On the dwarf blue lavender hedge that edges the border, a green-veined white butterfly is also making the most of the late nectar supply.

Bumblebee on echinacea

The flowerbeds have been attracting large numbers of bumblebees, hoverflies, solitary bees, beetles and butterflies all summer long – especially the borage, globe thistles, calendula and red valerian. It is always a privilege to share the garden with wild creatures, especially when they play such a fundamental role in supporting ecosystems and pollinating our crops.

Green-veined white on lavender

Pollinator-Friendly Plants

We’ve tried to choose as many plants as possible for the garden with pollinators in mind – avoiding double flowers, incorporating small areas of wildflowers in the lawn, including a range of flower shapes for different pollinators, adding a mix of plants that bloom from early spring until late autumn and encouraging ivy to colonise the bottom of the garden near the shed to extend the nectar season over winter.

Vestal cuckoo bee on knapweed

We’re often told that even the tiniest patio or window box can grow plants to benefit pollinators – and this is absolutely true. No space is too small. Each individual plot, however modest, is part of the one million acres of garden habitat in the UK, each acre of which (depending on our planting choices) can make a significant difference in the fight against the catastrophic biodiversity declines that have seen a 68% fall in wildlife populations since 1970, according to the WWF Living Planet Report 2020.

But that’s not the end of the story. The recent focus on the damaging effects of neonicotinoids and other pesticides on pollinating insects is highlighting the unfortunate irony of buying ‘plants for pollinators’ that may have been treated with synthetic chemicals. Even if we make informed planting choices, with the best of intentions we could be unwittingly offering a poisoned chalice to pollinators, adding flowers to our containers, beds and borders that could be laced with residues of synthetic chemicals that risk harming the very insects we’re trying to support.

Common blue butterfly

The Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme

With this issue in mind, the National Botanic Garden of Wales recently launched their innovative Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme. When I spoke to Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Conservation and Research at the Garden, she highlighted several problems that consumers currently face when attempting to buy pollinator-friendly plants from nurseries or garden centres. The first issue is that many ‘plants for pollinators’ lists aren’t based on scientific data, unlike the list behind the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme which is backed by many years of scientific research on the best plants for pollinators. Plants with the Saving Pollinators logo have been scientifically proven to support pollinators (based on a strong evidence base of data from the Botanic Garden’s DNA-barcoding research).

Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme logo. Credit: NBGW

Natasha and I also discussed the depressing fact that most of the plants we buy (even if they are suitable for pollinating insects) are still grown in peat – the extraction of which destroys ecosystems and the environment, releasing vast amounts of climate change gases into the atmosphere. The Saving Pollinators logo can only be used on plants grown in peat-free compost – meaning consumers don’t need to choose between supporting pollinators and protecting the environment.

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Conservation and Research, National Botanic Garden of Wales. Credit: NBGW.

Finally, Natasha emphasised the lack of information available to consumers concerning the insecticides that have been used on the plants they are considering buying. I have certainly struggled in the past to find nurseries that can give me any assurances that their plants have been grown without the use of pesticides. To enable consumers to make informed purchases, all plants sold under the Saving Pollinators logo are guaranteed to have been grown without the use of synthetic insecticides.

National Botanic Garden of Wales. Credit: NBGW

I witnessed the widespread desire to make environmentally-responsible gardening choices last September when I compiled the UK’s Peat-Free Nurseries list. I was truly overwhelmed by the positive response to the list, which has already sent many thousands of readers to independent peat-free nurseries across the UK (many of whom are also pesticide-free) and I’m equally excited about the Saving Pollinators Assurance Scheme which I believe will enable gardeners to support pollinating insects more effectively. It is being trialled initially with growers and nurseries across Wales (some of whom deliver nationally) and Natasha is hoping that the scheme, or something similar, can be rolled out across the UK in the near future.

Garden Schooling: Ladybird Maths

The sunshine has brought out the ladybirds on our snow-in-summer. Some hurry along the raised bed sleepers in between the silvery leaves, clearly preoccupied with ladybird business, while others doze and mate on the warm wood.

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10-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata)

The kids have always enjoyed watching these charismatic beetles with their striking patterns and distinct spots, so we decided to focus on ladybirds for our garden school maths project (with a bit of art and natural history thrown in for good measure). Ladybirds emerge from hibernation during spring, so now is a great time to go on a ladybird hunt. There are over 40 species in the UK, although only 26 resemble what we would generally think of as ladybirds. The number of spots varies between the species from 2 to 24 – ideal as the basis for a range of garden equations. 

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Learning about different species of ladybird

We started by learning about different species and drawing some of the different patterns so we’d be able to identify any ladybirds we found. Favourites included the 14-spot ladybird which we later found on the whitecurrant and the multi-coloured 10-spot ladybird.  Once we’d learnt a bit about the different species we might find in the garden, it was time to get calculating…

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Funky Ladybird

MATHS: CALCULATE AREA

  • Choose a sunny afternoon when ladybirds are likely to be out and about. Begin by measuring the length and breadth of a border, garden or any green space that you have access to – in metres.

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Measuring area

  • Calculate the area of your space by multiplying the two numbers together, to find the area in m2.
  • Now measure out a m2 quadrat in one section of your space (1m x 1m) or a smaller quadrat – maybe 0.25m2 (0.5m x 0.5m) – if your space is restricted. Mark it out with bamboo canes or twine.

RECORD LADYBIRD NUMBERS

  • Count all the ladybirds you can find in the quadrat and record by species on a tally chart. We also recorded ladybird larva, but not by species.
  • Make a bar chart or pie chart to display the numbers and species.

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Ladybird pie chart

  • Work out how many quadrats there are in the whole space by dividing the total area by the area of your quadrat. Round up to the nearest m2.
  • Calculate the estimated number of ladybirds in your space by multiplying the number in the quadrat by the number of quadrats in the total space.

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This pie chart turned into a ladybird

GET CREATIVE

  • Of course, it’s possible that there are not many ladybirds in the quadrat or that those you find are all of one species. If this is the case, imagine some different scenarios such as:
    •  You find 10 two-spot ladybirds, 6 thirteen-spot ladybirds and 3 twenty-two spot ladybirds (feeding on the mildews on your herbaceous plants!) How does this change your calculations?
    •  What would happen if you find 12 ten-spot ladybirds, 9 five-spot ladybirds (you’ve clearly got a Welsh river running through the garden) and 4 beautiful yellow fourteen-spot ladybirds?

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      Ladybirds emerge from the pupae without spots – these develop over the next few hours as the wing casing hardens

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

  • Consider the equations in terms of spots rather than individual ladybirds. How many ladybird spots are there in your total space?
  • Complete the same exercise for the results above in blue and make up some of your own ladybird sums.
  • Throw in a few non-native harlequin ladybirds just to mix things up a bit. They can have up to nineteen spots!

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    Our completed ID chart

DEVELOP HABITAT

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Log piles create great habitats for all kinds of insects, including ladybirds

  • Attract more ladybirds to your garden in future by building a bug hotel to give insects somewhere to shelter. 
  • Avoid using pesticides in the garden – instead encourage natural predators like ladybirds, ladybird larva and blue tits that will eat problem insects such as aphids.
  • Don’t be too tidy – overgrown areas, long grass and hollow stems left over winter are all beneficial habitats for ladybirds.
  • The only disadvantage to creating an amazing habitat for ladybirds is that next year’s maths equations will be far more tricky!!!

For more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be posting another project soon and if you’d like to read about our last projects you can explore the Seed Sowing Challenge and Nature Spells lessons here:

Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…

Garden Schooling: Nature Spells

 

Updated Peat-Free Nurseries List

The response to the Peat Free Nurseries List has been incredible. It’s fantastic to see such interest in sourcing peat-free plants. Thousands of people have accessed the list which now includes nearly 70 nurseries across the UK, from Edinburgh to Cornwall, from West Wales to Norfolk. Thank you so much to everyone who has sent me information and used the list.

This is an updated version with more peat-free nurseries and a section on those which are peat-free on-site and working hard to source peat-free plants from other suppliers. If you know other nurseries that fit into either of these categories, please do drop me a line.

This list contains information about the ways these nurseries normally sell their plants. I have not given details about current COVID-19 arrangements, but these are generally available on individual nursery websites.

Peat-Free Nurseries

Agroforestry Research Trust – non-profit making charity researching and educating about agroforestry, focusing on tree, shrub and perennial crops, based in Devon. Online orders cover a wide selection of forest garden plants including more unusual species. The nursery is carbon-negative and sends out plants in biodegradable packaging.

Allwoods – specialist growers of pinks, carnations, pelargoniums, fuchsias and succulents. Plants available online and from the nursery in West Sussex by prior arrangement.

Arvensis Perennials – trade nursery specialising in herbaceous perennials, grasses and ferns online and from the nursery in Wiltshire.

Ashridge Nurseries – online nursery based in Somerset, delivering to customers across mainland England, Scotland and Wales and also to the Isle of Wight.

Barnsdale Gardens – Chelsea Gold Medal Award-winning nursery attached to Barnsdale Gardens. Online and nursery in Rutland.

Backyard Larder – Alison is a guru on growing perennial vegetables and other food plants. She writes a fascinating blog about perennial food plants and sells her perennial veg online in as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible.

Beekind Plants – top quality pollinator-friendly plants, packaged in 100% biodegradable plant pots. Plants available online and at farmers’ markets across Suffolk.

Bernhard’s Nurseries – family-owned trade nursery supplying the finest quality plants to local authorities, landscape contractors, landscape architects, garden designers and general trade. Based in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens – propagated from plants grown in the gardens, the Beth Chatto nursery offers a wide range of herbaceous perennials, ferns, grasses and alpine plants with excellent advice on choosing the ‘right plant for the right place’. Available online and from the nursery near Elmstead Market, Essex.

Binny Plants – specialist peony nursery near Edinburgh; also grows a large selection of herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Blooming Wild Nursery – family-run nursery in Somerset selling herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses. Plants available from the nursery. 

Bluebell Cottage and Gardens Nursery – nursery in Cheshire specialising in flowering perennials, run by former BBC Gardener of the Year, Sue Beesley. Plastic-free mail order service and option to de-pot at counter. No neonicotinoid pesticides used.

The Botanic Nursery – family-run nursery in Wiltshire selling online and on-site, focusing on salvia, foxgloves, hollyhocks, peonies and seeds.

Botanica – British grown plants – a wide range including trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and grasses. Plants available online or from the nursery in Suffolk.

Boulton Nurseries – an established wholesale bulk plant nursery supplying plants all over the UK, based in Staffordshire.

A Buzz and A Flutter – family-run plant nursery selling wildlife-friendly perennials online.

British Wildflower Plants – the largest grower of native plants in the UK. Plants grown from seed from known provenance at the nursery in Norfolk and available online.

CB Plants – traditional nursery in South Somerset selling unusual hardy perennials and herbs, cottage garden favourites and native wild flowers. Plants available at local plant fairs and mail order via the RHS plant finder.

The Coastal Gardener – specialist plant nursery (maritime plants) and garden design practice on the Isle of Wight. Plants available from the nursery.

The Cottage Herbery – quality herbs, aromatic and scented foliage plants, hardy perennials and more unusual edibles grown on the nursery in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. Plants available at farmers’ markets and plant fairs around the country (see website for details) and visits to the nursery on request or open weekends.

Crûg Farm – outstanding selection of plants at available online and from the nursery in North Wales, run by plant hunters and horticulturists Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones.

Cumbria Wild Flowers – UK native wildflower plug plants available online only. 100% reusable or compostable packaging.

Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs – retail and wholesale nursery based in Devon. Wholesale plants can be ordered and the nursery also supplies retailers across the England and Wales.

Edibleculture – proud of being an old-school nursery, Edibleculture sells a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs, native perennials and native hedging plants from its base in Faversham, Kent. They also sell peat free compost in a bag-for-life form.

The Edible Garden Nursery –  one of the leading culinary herb and edible plant nurseries in the UK, based near Okehampton, Devon. Plants are grown cold and without chemicals. Buy online or from the nursery (open weekdays, but check if coming a distance.)

Fawside Farm Nursery – small friendly nursery founded on the principle of growing environmentally-responsible, pollinator-friendly plants that are able to survive the harsh climate of the Peak District

Flora Alive – this carnivorous plant nursery has been growing in peat-free compost since 1990. They sell Thrive, their own peat-free growing medium for carnivorous plants, and have an online plant catalogue. All plants are grown free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers.

Garden Cottage Plants – family run organic and sustainable horticultural enterprise based in Northumberland. Herbaceous perennials, herbs and wildflowers available on site or by mail order. Bare root perennials can be ordered online.

Gwynfor Growers – fruit tree nursery, including heritage Welsh fruit trees. Based in Llandysul, Mid-Wales. Trees available from the nursery and for local delivery.

Hairy Pot Plant Company – Family-run nursery near Winchester, Hampshire growing a range of eco-friendly, sustainable and ethically produced cottage garden plants and herbs in hairy coir pots. Plants available from stockists across the UK and wholesale deliveries in the South of England.

Hawkwell Herbs – This Northamptonshire based herb business provides herb collections, growing in pots of peat-free compost, for use in cooking and runs cookery courses with herbs. Herbs available at local markets in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire.

Hall Farm Nursery – family-run nursery near Oswestry, Shropshire. Hardy garden plants, all grown organically on site, available from the nursery.

Hardys Cottage Garden Plants – wide range of herbaceous perennials from one of the UK’s leading nurseries. Online and nursery in Hampshire.

Heeley City Farm Garden Centre –  Sheffield-based garden centre, selling a range of plants to suit all conditions. All profits from the Garden Centre are used to help fund their many community projects and to feed the farm’s animals.

Hippopottering Japanese Maple Nursery – Japanese maples available online and from the Chelsea Gold Medal winning nursery in Haxey, North Lincolnshire.

Hoo House Nursery – a retail and wholesale nursery that has been growing perennials and alpines peat free for 16 years. Plants available from the nursery in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Howle Hill Nursery wide range of plants and specimen trees for private and show gardens. Open to both professional and amateur gardeners. Call or email the nursery in Herefordshire to arrange a visit.

Jekka’s Herb Farm – family-run herb farm on the outskirts of Bristol, with the UK’s largest collection of culinary herbs. Plants available online and from the farm on Open Days – see website for details.

Jemima’s Garden – plants grown free from peat, pesticides and plastic. Available online and from local plant fairs and farmers’ markets in the summer in Norfolk.

Kitchen Garden Plant Centre – locally grown herbs available online and from food fairs, markets and by appointment from the nursery in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Little Green – house plant purveyor with a green heart. Plants available at the Tobacco Factory Market, Bristol, and other events/markets around the South West. Little Green also has an online shop and will deliver anywhere in Bristol.

Little Green Plant Factory – organic plants propagated on-site at the nursery in Yorkshire. Plants available online.

Little Omenden Farm and Nursery – small environmentally-conscious farm and nursery based in Kent. Plants available at plant fairs across the South of England.

Long Acre Plants – shade plant specialists based in Somerset. Order online or collect pre-ordered plants from the nursery.

Lovegroves – a traditional plant nursery with trees, shrubs, ferns, climbers and a few of their favourite perennials. Based in Gloucestershire and selling online.

Lowaters Nursery – the wide range of plants grown at this peat-free nursery in Hampshire can be ordered online or bought at the nursery.

Malcolm Allison Plants – unusual hardy and half-hardy perennials, all grown on the nursery in Gloucestershire. Plants available from Stroud Farmer’s Market, at plant fairs and at horticultural events across Gloucestershire and beyond (March – Oct), and online (Oct-March).

National Trust – all plants sold at National Trust properties are grown in peat-free compost and all their gardens are peat-free too.

Natural Surroundings – wildlife gardens and nursery near Holt, North Norfolk. Wildlife-friendly cottage garden favourites and native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, bulbs and seed, all available from the nursery.

Northern Ark Nursery – specialising in an unusual range of hardy perennials, shrubs and herbs. Plants available online and at the nursery near Morpeth, Northumberland.

Old Market Plants – interior plant specialists based in Old Market, Bristol. Plants available to buy on site.

Organic Plants – organic, peat-free growers offering mail order vegetable plants and plugs in recyclable or compostable packaging.

Paddock Plants – family-run nursery near Southampton, Hampshire selling perennials, grasses, ferns, shrubs and house plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Peat Free Plants – Caves Folly Nurseries sell herbaceous perennials, alpines and bulbs online and from their nursery in Herefordshire. They also sell to trade customers and for shows.

Penlan Perennials – nursery in West Wales specialising in hardy geraniums, ferns, woodland, shade and moisture-loving plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Pennard Plants – edible plants, heritage and heirloom seeds, fruit and herbs. Online and nursery in Somerset.

Pineview Plants – nursery based in Kent offering mostly herbaceous perennials, especially shade-loving plants, ferns and a wide range of epimediums. Colin and Cindy attend a large number of plant fairs around the South East of England and orders can be brought to the fairs, or an appointment made at the nursery.

The Plantsman’s Preference – selling an extensive range of hardy geraniums, ornamental grasses and unusual perennials (especially those suitable for shade). Based in Norfolk, with plants available online and at the nursery.

Polemonium Plantery – organic nursery in County Durham selling polemoniums, a wide range of unusual and edible herbs, edible flowers and plants for pollinators. Available by mail order or from the nursery.

Potash NurserySuffolk-based fuchsia nursery, also sells a wide range of pelargoniums. Plants available online, from flower shows and can be collected by arrangement from the nursery.

Prenplants Sussex Ltdwholesale herbaceous nursery based between Horsham and Billingshurst, Sussex. Selling plants in recycled and recyclable (where councils permit) taupe pots to garden centres, landscapers and garden designers in the South East of England.

Rose Cottage Herbs – wide range of herbs available online and from the nursery based near Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

The Rosemary Specialist – rosemary nursery, holder of Rosemary National Plant Collection based in Ceredigion, Wales. Buy online.

Rosewarne Nursery – commercial enterprise supplying the nursery trade throughout Cornwall and Devon. Broad variety of plants including Southern Hemisphere plants, coastal plants and good range of hardy shrubs, grasses and herbaceous varieties. See website for contact and visiting details.

Rosybee Plants for Bees – pesticide-free and peat-free plants grown near Wantage in South Oxfordshire. Plants available online, with gardening club and bee keeping visits to the nursery by arrangement.

Special Plants Nurserynursery near Bath selling a range of unusual plants from across the world including hardy and herbaceous rockery plants, and tender perennials. Plants available by mail order and seeds sold online. Also available from the nursery.

Tissington Nursery – family-run plant nursery. Herbaceous perennials available online and from the nursery in Tissington, Derbyshire.

Treseders – family-run nursery in the heart of Cornwall. Plants grown at the nursery using bio-friendly insecticides, no growth regulators and locally sourced material where possible – available online and from the nursery.

Village Nurseries – family run nursery in West Chillington, Sussex. Seasonal and hardy plants all grown and sold on site.

The Wildflower Nursery – native wildflower plants grown in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Buy online or contact the nursery to arrange a visit.

Woodview Gardens – distributor of quality garden products including peat-free compost. Free delivery within 20 mile radius of Halstead, Essex and distribute through farmers’ markets and regional events across East London, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire.

Peat-Free Nurseries (On-Site)

These nurseries are 100% peat-free on-site, but do buy in some plants grown in peat. They are working hard to source peat-free plants from suppliers wherever possible…

Babylon Plants – wholesale nursery in Oxfordshire supplying garden designers, landscapers and horticulturists. Specialists in growing hardy perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs and trees.

Chew Valley Trees – large tree nursery near Bristol, selling British-grown quality trees online and from the nursery, also sells peat-free compost.

Hartside Nursery Garden – offering a selection of rare and unusual hardy plants grown in the North Pennines near Alston, Cumbria. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Knoll Gardensthe UK’s leading specialist in ornamental grasses based in Wimbourne, Dorset. Grasses available online and from the nursery.

Seagate Nurseries – family-run nursery in Lincolnshire including a fantastic collection of bearded iris. Plants available by mail order and on-site. 

Suttons – founded in 1806, Suttons is an online supplier of flower and vegetable seeds, young plants, bulbs, fruit bushes and other horticultural products. 

Ty Rhos Trees – small family business growing trees in Pembrokeshire, selling a wide range of hedging, ornamental trees, fruit trees and soft fruit to customers across West Wales.

Peat-Free Compost

It is still the case that much peat-free compost is more expensive than its peat-based equivalents, although buying online in bulk with friends/family and sourcing locally can reduce costs. However, I don’t believe it is acceptable to damage one habitat (peatbogs) in order to improve another (our gardens), especially when alternatives do exist. I’d rather reduce my compost use and garden a little less, so that I can afford to buy peat-free…

Dalefoot Composts – large range of exclusively peat-free composts, including ericaceous, seed, bulb, tomato and multipurpose compost. I have always had excellent results with Dalefoot products.

Melcourt SylvaGrow Composts – another large range of exclusively peat-free products with growbags, multipurpose, ericaeous and organic composts. Widely used by growers across the UK.

Fertile Fibre – coir-based composts, all peat-free, including potting, seed and multipurpose. Coir is sourced from organic coconut waste and is dehydrated and pressed before being shipped to the UK to make the process as efficient as possible. 

Blooming Amazing – peat-free soil conditioner and mulch produced as a by-product of the UK’s first commercial biomethane generating plant on the Duchy of Cornwall estate.

Earth Cycle – peat-free top soil, turf dressing, soil conditioner and cow compost, produced in from composted green waste from household and businesses across West Sussex. Products available online.

New Horizon Peat Free Compost – widely available peat-free compost produced by Westland. (Westland also sells peat-based composts)

Happy Compost – new peat-free compost launched at Garden and Outdoor Retail Show, GLEE this week by Bord na Móna, soon to be available in local garden centres. (Bord na Móna was established as a peat company and still derives half of its income from extracting peat)

Bulrush Peat Free Multipurpose Compost – 100% peat-free compost. (Bulrush also sells peat-based composts.)

If you would like to read more about the importance of peatland to the climate and biodiversity, here are some related articles:

Why is Peat-Free Compost So Important?

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Peatland: A Nature-Based Solution to Climate Change

Why Peat is Good For the Climate and Nature: A Guide

Why We Need To Keep Peat in the Ground and Out Of Our Gardens

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NB: I have taken information from nursery websites and from email contact with the nurseries themselves. Whilst the nurseries on the first list are, as far as I’m aware, using peat-free compost themselves onsite and sourcing peat free plants, there may well still be some nurseries on this list that are not yet able to source all the plant material for propagation and growing on completely peat-free. For more information on this, please contact the nurseries themselves. 

Many thanks to David Morris for the beautiful image of pristine peatland in Birsay Moors, Evie, Orkney. This is where peat belongs!

Garden Schooling: Nature Spells

This week dawned sunny and cold – new and strange too. But life with kids doesn’t give you much time to pause and think (a blessing at times), so we’re moving onward with a new garden school project involving poetry, nature and art – to get us all out in that bright, life-affirming sunshine.

We decided to write wild acrostic poems based on the spells in The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. For those who haven’t yet experienced the mesmerising images and spell-binding acrostics in this magical book, they aim to re-animate our relationship with the natural world –  returning to children (and adults) some of the words that were removed from the Junior Oxford English Dictionary in 2007.

Nic Wilson - Reading her First Poem

‘Fern’ – the first poem my daughter learned to read aloud

These words – acorn, bluebell, fern, kingfisher, newt, otter and more – were discarded in favour of more frequently used words in modern children’s vocabulary such as chatroom, blog and bullet point. The apparent redundancy of words connected to the natural world highlights the way childhood experiences have shifted as our kids become more focused on indoor, technological pursuits and ever more distanced from the world outside their back doors.

We are intending to use a couple of the nature spells as a starting point for an English and art project. We’ll be learning to read them aloud, working out how they make us feel and why, and then writing our own illustrated acrostics based on our experiences in the garden. If you don’t have a copy of the spell book, it’s a beautiful resource – especially for the next few weeks – which we’ve used time and time again. Or you can use other nature poems as inspiration, or just do the acrostic writing activities.

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Thinking about how the poem ‘Bluebell’ makes us feel

ENGLISH: WILD READING

  1. Choose a nature acrostic or other nature poem that you like to read. If you don’t have a copy of The Lost Words you could buy it from an independent bookshop or online from the Natural History Book Service (I don’t get any commission!!) The spell ‘Otter’ is also available to read on Jackie Morris’ website. Or you could read some of these other beautiful nature poems:

‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ by T. S. Eliot

‘A Dragonfly’ by Eleanor Farjeon

Daffodils’ by William Wordsworth

‘Whirligig Beetles’ by Paul Fleischman

‘The Eagle’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Little Trotty Wagtail’ by John Clare

‘Firefly’ by Jacqueline Woodson

‘The Darkling Thrush’ by Thomas Hardy (for older students)

2. Practice reading the poem aloud, thinking about the sounds (rhyme, alliteration, repeated sounds or phrases, short or long words, rhythm) and how the poet uses these to create meaning.

3.  Find somewhere outside (if you can) to record your nature poetry reading to send to a friend or relative. You could include a few comments at the end of the video on why you particularly like this poem – or if you are reading the poem over Zoom, Skype or another live platform, have a chat with your ‘audience’ about how the poem makes you both feel and why.

WRITING AN ACROSTIC

  1. Choose a plant or animal in your garden or in a local green space. Write a list of adjectives to describe your plant or animal – thinking about its colour, size, shape, smell and sound.
  2. Think about any associations your subject has in nature – maybe your plant is often found growing alongside streams (like Celandine) or with other plants (like daisies and dandelions in lawns). Or your animal might prey on other animals (like sparrowhawks on bluetits) or feed on plants (like snails on my lettuce!)
  3. Find a simile or metaphor to describe an aspect of your animal or plant. Maybe the colour of the hyacinths is ‘as white as freshly-fallen snow’ or the sound of the goldfinches flying over reminds you of the pealing of distant bells.
  4. Research a little about your chosen subject – does it have associations with myths or other stories, with certain seasons and weather, is it facing particular challenges at the moment – perhaps its habitat is being destroyed or there is conservation work being undertaken to protect populations around the UK?
  5. Use these ideas to write an acrostic which conjures your plant or animal into being on the page.

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    My daughter’s final poem – based on ‘Bluebell’

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

  • The John Muir Trust has a series of excellent resources on The Lost Words – including ideas on analysing the poems and also covering a wide range of other subjects, eg. science, art, history, craft – which can be found on their website.
  • Look at Jackie Morris’ images that accompany the nature spells – can you find the words spelled out by the golden letters? Can you find the absence of each plant or animal and then its picture on the following pages?
  • Do some sketches of your chosen word – then use these as inspiration for illustrating your own acrostic.
  • Write and illustrate some more acrostics to make your own Lost Words book.

OLDER STUDENTS

  • Find a natural object, plant or animal in your garden or a local green space that interests you. Take photographs and do sketches – from different angles, in different lights – use these as the basis of a mood board to capture its essence – its ‘quiddity’. 
  • Create a piece of art – in any medium – based on the mood board, which depicts the absence of your subject. You might want to consider the different ways Jackie Morris conveys absence in her art – look at her use of white spaces, outlines, feathers, bubbles, stems and negative images.
  • Watch the YouTube video ‘Charm on, Goldfinch’. Using Jackie’s art and Beth Porter’s lyrics and music as inspiration, paint your own watercolour or compose your own song based on a favourite plant or animal, considering any challenges it faces in the modern world.

For updates on the nature spells project and more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be posting another project soon and if you’d like to read about our last project you can explore our Seed Sowing Challenge here:

Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…

Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs were undoubtedly roaming wild in the garden, I had a previous life as a teacher. I loved working with children – and now I’m looking forward to rediscovering my creative side with my own kids (8 and 11) as we enter this rather surreal period of living, working and studying from home.

Nic Wilson - Star Gazing

Science in the skies

Rather than home schooling, I’m hoping to garden school the kids wherever possible, making the most of the spring weather to avoid cabin fever. I’m planning lots of outdoor active projects and hoping to share our experiences as a family studying in and around the garden.

Nic Wilson - Ash Buds

Art and Poetry on ash buds

We’ll be covering a wide range of subjects in the garden – maths, PE, history, science, art, craft, geography, creative writing, reading and much more. Hopefully most of the activities will be suitable for a range of ages and possible to do in courtyards, parks, woods and even on the grass verge outside the house. So even if you don’t have a garden, there should be projects you can do if you have access to a local green space.

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Natural History – bug hunting

We’ll be kicking off garden schooling with a seed sowing challenge. The kids will each have a tray of tomato seeds to germinate on their windowsills. They’ll measure the germination and growth rate of their dwarf tomato plants (one variety each) to see which is speediest and which grows tallest. Later in the season we’ll have blind taste tests to judge each variety on a scale from ‘mouth-wateringly delicious’ to ‘absolutely revolting’.

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Labelling tomato pots

Science: Tomato Germination and Growth

  1. Each child needs a tray or pot for their seeds. We have used our old plastic seed trays which are on about their ninth year, but we also use the cardboard trays from our veggie box fruit. You could also reuse a clean tin or yoghurt pot with holes poked in the bottom, or even a small pot made from newspaper.
  2. Fill the container two-thirds full with peat-free compost and tap down gently. Sow two to three seeds for a small pot and six for a tray. Cover with fine compost (can sieve through a garden sieve or one of the nylon orange bags that contain satsumas).
  3. Water with a fine rose or soak plastic trays from beneath. Label with variety name and date of sowing.
  4. Place containers in a light spot (such as a windowsill) and cover with either a propagator lid for trays or a clear plastic bag kept off the compost with a twig or small wooden stake and secured with a rubber band.
  5. Keep compost moist by misting or watering regularly.
  6. Chart the progress of the seeds – recording the number of days that each takes to germinate. The results can be displayed as a list, diagram, bar chart or graph.
  7. Once each seed has germinated, measure and record its height each day, until it produces the first true leaves (the second set to grow – the first small pair of leaves are the seed leaves.)

Extension Activities

  • Add drawings of the two types of leaves – seed leaves and true leaves – to the growth charts.
  • Try germinating a second set of seeds in a shady spot – which emerges first – the sunny or shady pots?
  • Create a seed packet for your own tomato variety. Come up with an imaginative name and its flavour – is it sweet, tangy, meaty or slightly sharp? Draw a picture on the front of the packet (you could use an envelope) based on these wonderful quirky heirloom seed packet designs from Pennard Plants and write the instructions for sowing and growing on the back. (Use these instructions and other seed packets to help with this.)
  • Make up and cook a recipe using tomatoes to prepare for your bumper harvest later in the year. You could use tinned tomatoes or fresh ones. Perhaps you all love pizza and could learn to make the tomato topping, or experiment with different herbs, spices and oils for a fresh tomato salad or spicy salsa. 
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    Funky Seed Packets from Pennard Plants

Older Students

  • Germinate and grow two or three different tomatoes including varieties with different coloured fruits and cordon/bush varieties. Compare growth rate, fruit taste and harvest size.
  • Research the history of heirloom tomatoes. What are they and how do they differ from hybridised F1 varieties? Write a 300 word policy document for DEFRA putting forward the case for the importance of conserving these heirloom, open-pollinated varieties. More information on how to write a policy brief can be found on the web pages of POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).

It would be great to share thoughts in the comments – how are you using green spaces and gardens with children at the moment? What activities have been successful and why? What are the biggest challenges and in what curriculum areas would it be helpful to have more ideas?

For updates on the seed sowing challenge and more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be back with some more family activities soon, but in the meantime, take care of yourselves and seek as much solace in nature as you can xxx

Save Our Rainforests: The Peat-Free Nurseries List

There is now an updated list with over 70 nurseries across the UK which can be accessed here…

While the Amazon rainforest burns, Brexit festers and children all over the world call on adults to join their strike to highlight the climate catastrophe, it can be hard to know where to start to make a difference.

As gardeners we can join the protests this Friday 20th September and throughout next week to add our voices to the growing insistence that far more must be done to tackle greenhouse gas emissions; we can donate to charities like Greenpeace and WWF to support their campaign work in the Amazon and elsewhere in the world; we can fund tree planting in places like the highlands of Scotland via charities such as Trees for Life; but we can also take essential action closer to home.

The UK is home to a habitat that Prince Charles once called ‘Britain’s tropical rainforests’ – the lowland and upland peatbogs. Peatland makes up about 10% of our landscape from the remote Scottish highlands to populated areas around cities like Manchester and Carlisle, and over 80% of this peatland is degraded or degenerating due to human activities such as burning, afforestation, drainage and peat extraction for use in the horticultural industry.

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Curlew are just one of many species threatened by peat extraction – they depend on peat bogs to breed. Extinction is now a real possibility across the UK

Although in the UK we aren’t clearing pristine rainforest to produce palm oil, beef or soya, extracting peat for our gardens damages and destroys unique habitats and key climate regulation systems across the UK (and other areas of the world given our substantial peat imports from the Republic of Ireland and the Baltic nations). Last year, we used an estimated two million cubic litres of peat in our gardens in the UK. Surely all this destruction in the name of gardening – often billed as a ‘green’ hobby – can’t be ethically acceptable in the face of ecological and climate disaster? 

The voluntary target set by DEFRA in 2011 – to phase out peat completely in gardens by 2020 – is set to be a comprehensive failure and the government is now talking about taxes or even a ban to end peat use in the UK. With no current progress on the political front, the onus is on gardeners to sign the petition to end peat use, source peat-free compost and plants, and raise the issue with retailers and consumers whenever possible.

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Golden plovers are also severely affected by peatland habitat loss and numbers are declining in the UK

And with many more excellent peat-free composts available in the last few years and nurseries all across the UK embracing peat-free growing, with some research and investigation it is possible to avoid peat completely. I’ve been compiling a list of peat-free products and nurseries over the past year as I’ve not always found this information easy to locate. Please do get in touch if you know about other producers, nurseries and suppliers so that I can update the list. And remember: if it doesn’t say peat-free on the label (for plants or composts) it almost certainly contains peat.

Peat-Free Nurseries

Agroforestry Research Trust – non-profit making charity researching and educating about agroforestry, focusing on tree, shrub and perennial crops, based in Devon. Online orders cover a wide selection of forest garden plants including more unusual species. The nursery is carbon-negative and sends out plants in biodegradable packaging.

Allwoods – specialist growers of pinks, carnations, pelargoniums, fuchsias and succulents. Plants available online and from the nursery in West Sussex by prior arrangement.

Arvensis Perennials – trade nursery specialising in herbaceous perennials, grasses and ferns online and from the nursery in Wiltshire.

Ashridge Nurseries – online nursery based in Somerset, delivering to customers across mainland England, Scotland and Wales and also to the Isle of Wight.

Barnsdale Gardens – Chelsea Gold Medal Award-winning nursery attached to Barnsdale Gardens. Online and nursery in Rutland.

Backyard Larder – Alison is a guru on growing perennial vegetables and other food plants. She writes a fascinating blog about perennial food plants and sells her perennial veg online in as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible.

Beekind Plants – top quality pollinator-friendly plants, packaged in 100% biodegradable plant pots. Plants available online and at farmers’ markets across Suffolk.

Bernhard’s Nurseries – family-owned trade nursery supplying the finest quality plants to local authorities, landscape contractors, landscape architects, garden designers and general trade. Based in Rugby, Warwickshire.

Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens – propagated from plants grown in the gardens, the Beth Chatto nursery offers a wide range of herbaceous perennials, ferns, grasses and alpine plants with excellent advice on choosing the ‘right plant for the right place’. Available online and from the nursery near Elmstead Market, Essex.

Binny Plants – specialist peony nursery near Edinburgh; also grows a large selection of herbaceous perennials, trees and shrubs. Plants available online and from the nursery.

Bluebell Cottage and Gardens Nursery – nursery in Cheshire specialising in flowering perennials, run by former BBC Gardener of the Year, Sue Beesley. Plastic-free mail order service and option to de-pot at counter. No neonicotinoid pesticides used.

Botanica – British grown plants – a wide range including trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and grasses. Plants available online or from the nursery in Suffolk.

A Buzz and A Flutter – family-run plant nursery selling wildlife-friendly perennials online.

British Wildflower Plants – the largest grower of native plants in the UK. Plants grown from seed from known provenance at the nursery in Norfolk and available online.

CB Plants – traditional nursery in South Somerset selling unusual hardy perennials and herbs, cottage garden favourites and native wild flowers. Plants available at local plant fairs and mail order via the rhs plant finder.

The Coastal Gardener – specialist plant nursery (maritime plants) and garden design practice on the Isle of Wight. Plants available from the nursery.

The Cottage Herbery – quality herbs, aromatic and scented foliage plants, hardy perennials and more unusual edibles grown on the nursery in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. Plants available at farmers’ markets and plant fairs around the country (see website for details) and visits to the nursery on request or open weekends.

Crûg Farm – outstanding selection of plants at available online and from the nursery in North Wales, run by plant hunters and horticulturists Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones.

Cumbria Wild Flowers – UK native wildflower plug plants available online only. 100% reusable or compostable packaging.

Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs – retail and wholesale nursery based in Devon. Wholesale plants can be ordered and the nursery also supplies retailers across the England and Wales.

Edibleculture – proud of being an old-school nursery, Edibleculture sells a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs, native perennials and native hedging plants from its base in Faversham, Kent. They also sell peat free compost in a bag-for-life form.

The Edible Garden Nursery –  one of the leading culinary herb and edible plant nurseries in the UK, based near Okehampton, Devon. Plants are grown cold and without chemicals. Buy online or from the nursery (open weekdays, but check if coming a distance.)

Fawside Farm Nursery – small friendly nursery founded on the principle of growing environmentally-responsible, pollinator-friendly plants that are able to survive the harsh climate of the Peak District

Flora Alive – this carnivorous plant nursery has been growing in peat-free compost since 1990. They sell Thrive, their own peat-free growing medium for carnivorous plants, and have an online plant catalogue. All plants are grown free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers.

Growild Nursery – independent nursery based in East Ayrshire, Scotland specialising in rare and unusual plants and seeds. Plants and seeds available online.

Hairy Pot Plant Company – Family-run nursery near Winchester, Hampshire growing a range of eco-friendly, sustainable and ethically produced cottage garden plants and herbs in hairy coir pots. Plants available from stockists across the UK and wholesale deliveries in the South of England.

Hawkwell Herbs – This Northamptonshire based herb business provides herb collections, growing in pots of peat-free compost, for use in cooking and runs cookery courses with herbs. Herbs available at local markets in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire.

Hall Farm Nursery – family-run nursery near Oswestry, Shropshire. Hardy garden plants, all grown organically on site, available from the nursery.

Hardys Cottage Garden Plants – wide range of herbaceous perennials from one of the UK’s leading nurseries. Online and nursery in Hampshire.

Hippopottering Japanese Maple Nursery – Japanese maples available online and from the Chelsea Gold Medal winning nursery in Haxey, North Lincolnshire.

Hoo House Nursery – a retail and wholesale nursery that has been growing perennials and alpines peat free for 16 years. Plants available from the nursery in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

Howle Hill Nursery wide range of plants and specimen trees for private and show gardens. Open to both professional and amateur gardeners. Call or email the nursery in Herefordshire to arrange a visit.

Jekka’s Herb Farm – family-run herb farm on the outskirts of Bristol, with the UK’s largest collection of culinary herbs. Plants available online and from the farm on Open Days – see website for details.

Jemima’s Garden – plants grown free from peat, pesticides and plastic. Available online and from local plant fairs and farmers’ markets in the summer in Norfolk.

Kitchen Garden Plant Centre – locally grown herbs available online and from food fairs, markets and by appointment from the nursery in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Little Green – house plant purveyor with a green heart. Plants available at the Tobacco Factory Market, Bristol, and other events/markets around the South West. Little Green also has an online shop and will deliver anywhere in Bristol.

Little Green Plant Factory – organic plants propagated on-site at the nursery in Yorkshire. Plants available online.

Little Omenden Farm and Nursery – small environmentally-conscious farm and nursery based in Kent. Plants available at plant fairs across the South of England.

Long Acre Plants – shade plant specialists based in Somerset. Order online or collect pre-ordered plants from the nursery.

Lovegroves – a traditional plant nursery with trees, shrubs, ferns, climbers and a few of their favourite perennials. Based in Gloucestershire and selling online.

Lowaters Nursery – the wide range of plants grown at this peat-free nursery in Hampshire can be ordered online or bought at the nursery.

Malcolm Allison Plants – unusual hardy and half-hardy perennials, all grown on the nursery in Gloucestershire. Plants available from Stroud Farmer’s Market, at plant fairs and at horticultural events across Gloucestershire and beyond (March – Oct), and online (Oct-March).

National Trust – all plants sold at National Trust properties are grown in peat-free compost and all their gardens are peat-free too.

Natural Surroundings – wildlife gardens and nursery near Holt, North Norfolk. Wildlife-friendly cottage garden favourites and native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, bulbs and seed, all available from the nursery.

Northern Ark Nursery – specialising in an unusual range of hardy perennials, shrubs and herbs. Plants available online and at the nursery near Morpeth, Northumberland.

Old Market Plants – interior plant specialists based in Old Market, Bristol. Plants available to buy on site.

Organic Plants – organic, peat-free growers offering mail order vegetable plants and plugs in recyclable or compostable packaging.

Paddock Plants family-run nursery near Southampton, Hampshire selling perennials, grasses, ferns, shrubs and house plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Peat Free Plants – Caves Folly Nurseries sell herbaceous perennials, alpines and bulbs online and from their nursery in Herefordshire. They also sell to trade customers and for shows.

Penlan Perennials – nursery in West Wales specialising in hardy geraniums, ferns, woodland, shade and moisture-loving plants. Buy online or at the nursery.

Pennard Plants – edible plants, heritage and heirloom seeds, fruit and herbs. Online and nursery in Somerset.

Pineview Plants – nursery based in Kent offering mostly herbaceous perennials, especially shade-loving plants, ferns and a wide range of epimediums. Colin and Cindy attend a large number of plant fairs around the South East of England and orders can be brought to the fairs, or an appointment made at the nursery.

The Plantsman’s Preference – selling an extensive range of hardy geraniums, ornamental grasses and unusual perennials (especially those suitable for shade). Based in Norfolk, with plants available online and at the nursery.

Polemonium Plantery – organic nursery in County Durham selling polemoniums, a wide range of unusual and edible herbs, edible flowers and plants for pollinators. Available by mail order or from the nursery.

Potash Nursery Suffolk-based fuchsia nursery, also sells a wide range of pelargoniums. Plants available online, from flower shows and can be collected by arrangement from the nursery.

Prenplants Sussex Ltdwholesale herbaceous nursery based between Horsham and Billingshurst, Sussex. Selling plants in recycled and recyclable (where councils permit) taupe pots to garden centres, landscapers and garden designers in the South East of England.

Rose Cottage Herbs – wide range of herbs available online and from the nursery based near Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

The Rosemary Specialist – rosemary nursery, holder of Rosemary National Plant Collection based in Ceredigion, Wales. Buy online.

Rosewarne Nurserycommercial enterprise supplying the nursery trade throughout Cornwall and Devon. Broad variety of plants including Southern Hemisphere plants, coastal plants and good range of hardy shrubs, grasses and herbaceous varieties. See website for contact  and visiting details.

Rosybee Plants for Bees – pesticide-free and peat-free plants grown near Wantage in South Oxfordshire. Plants available online, with gardening club and bee keeping visits to the nursery by arrangement.

Seagate Nurseries – family-run nursery in Lincolnshire including collection of bearded iris. Plants available by mail order and on site. Peat-free compost used on the nursery – they hope to become 100% peat free across all ranges in future.

Tissington Nursery – family-run plant nursery. Herbaceous perennials available online and from the nursery in Tissington, Derbyshire.

Treseders – family-run nursery in the heart of Cornwall. Plants grown at the nursery using bio-friendly insecticides, no growth regulators and locally sourced material where possible – available online and from the nursery.

Village Nurseries – family run nursery in West Chillington, Sussex. Seasonal and hardy plants all grown and sold on site.

The Wildflower Nursery – native wildflower plants grown in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Buy online or contact the nursery to arrange a visit.

Woodview Gardens – distributor of quality garden products including peat-free compost. Free delivery within 20 mile radius of Halstead, Essex and distribute through farmers’ markets and regional events across East London, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire.

Peat-Free Compost

It is still the case that much peat-free compost is more expensive than its peat-based equivalents, although buying online in bulk with friends/family and sourcing locally can reduce costs. However, I don’t believe it is acceptable to damage one habitat (peatbogs) in order to improve another (our gardens), especially when alternatives do exist. I’d rather reduce my compost use and garden a little less, so that I can afford to buy peat-free…

Dalefoot Composts – large range of exclusively peat-free composts, including ericaceous, seed, bulb, tomato and multipurpose compost. I have always had excellent results with Dalefoot products.

Melcourt SylvaGrow Composts – another large range of exclusively peat-free products with growbags, multipurpose, ericaeous and organic composts. Widely used by growers across the UK.

Fertile Fibre – coir-based composts, all peat-free, including potting, seed and multipurpose. Coir is sourced from organic coconut waste and is dehydrated and pressed before being shipped to the UK to make the process as efficient as possible. 

Blooming Amazing – peat-free soil conditioner and mulch produced as a by-product of the UK’s first commercial biomethane generating plant on the Duchy of Cornwall estate.

Earth Cycle – peat-free top soil, turf dressing, soil conditioner and cow compost, produced in from composted green waste from household and businesses across West Sussex. Products available online.

New Horizon Peat Free Compost – widely available peat-free compost produced by Westland. (Westland also sells peat-based composts)

Happy Compost – new peat-free compost launched at Garden and Outdoor Retail Show, GLEE this week by Bord na Móna, soon to be available in local garden centres. (Bord na Móna was established as a peat company and still derives half of its income from extracting peat)

Bulrush Peat Free Multipurpose Compost – 100% peat-free compost. (Bulrush also sells peat-based composts.)

I’d be interested to hear about your experiences with peat-free composts. Are they readily available locally? Why do you think some gardeners still use peat? Is it due to lack of awareness, money or other reasons?

What are the reactions of retailers and friends/family when asked about peat-free composts? How do you feel about buying peat-free products from companies like Westland (New Horizon) and Bord na Móna (Happy Compost) who are also involved in peat extraction and/or selling peat-based compost?

Do leave me a comment below about your peat-free experiences and any other related articles that you would find useful in future. Thank you and happy peat-free gardening!

If you would like to read more about the importance of peatland to the climate and biodiversity, here are some related articles:

Why is Peat-Free Compost So Important?

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Peatland: A Nature-Based Solution to Climate Change

Why Peat is Good For the Climate and Nature: A Guide

Why We Need To Keep Peat in the Ground and Out Of Our Gardens

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NB: I have taken information for the list from nursery websites and, in some cases, from contact with the nurseries themselves. Whilst the nurseries are, as far as I’m aware, using peat-free compost themselves onsite and sourcing peat free plants, there may well still be some nurseries on the list that are not yet able to source all the plant material for propagation and growing on completely peat-free. For more information on this, please contact the nurseries themselves. Thanks.

Year of Green Action Garden at RHS Hampton Court

Many of us owe our love of plants, gardens and wildlife to early experiences in childhood. Even on a small scale, places that enable young people to connect with the natural environment can begin a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

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The YoGA Garden is full of interesting features to engage children with nature

At a time when we need the younger generation to understand, cherish and protect the environment like never before, these early experiences are vitally important. The Year of Green Action Garden, created by DEFRA and the Sensory Trust, explores ways that children of all abilities can get involved with nature through gardens.

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Starting early often fosters a lifelong love of plants and wildlife

It aims to inspire people to create sustainable, resilient outdoor spaces at home, in schools, workplaces and communities, with environmentally-friendly top tips including:

Peat-Free Compost

Healthy peatlands are crucial in combating climate change, so always buy peat-free and tell friends and family why peat-free is so important too. The compost in the YoGA Garden is sourced from Melcourt.

Water

Opt for drought-resistant planting schemes to conserve water. Key examples in the garden include low-growing woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) and wild strawberries (Fragraria vesca).

Year of Green Action Garden. Designed by Helen J Rosevear and Jane Stoneham. Sponsored by Defra and Sensory Trust. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Stand no. 329

The sensory plant wall, including woolly thyme. Image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

Paving

Permeable paving is vital to avoid flooding on hard surfaces, an increasingly common issue as the climate becomes warmer and wetter. Accessible permeable surfaces in the garden include turf reinforced with a grid system, recycled shredded rubber paths and porcelain paving made from recycled materials.
 

Pollinators

Nectar-rich plants with different flower shapes attract a range of pollinating insects. Designers Helen Rosevear and Jane Stoneham chose common garden plants like nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) for long-tongued bumblebees and butterflies, woolly lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) for wool carder bees (which collect the hairs and eat the pollen and nectar) and Verbena bonariensis, a magnet for a range of butterfly species.

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Nasturtiums attract a range of pollinating insects

Native Plants

Plants from other areas of the world are useful for pollinators, but native species also provide food and habitats for wildlife, especially larval forms of invertebrates that provide the vital foundation of many food webs. As non-natives often don’t provide for the larval stages, it is important to include a range of native plants to support healthy ecosystems in the garden. Silver birch (Betula pendula) was chosen as part of the canopy layer in the YoGA Garden as it casts dappled shade on the sensory dome and also provides a habitat for over 300 insect species, seeds for birds and homes for woodpeckers. For these reasons we planted a silver birch in our garden this year and I can’t wait until grows up to join the two neighbouring birches, playing host to daily goldfinch visits and redwing and waxwing in the winter.

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Redwing in the silver birch outside my study window

All the ideas in the YoGA Garden are designed to be affordable and accessible. From the wheelable thyme lawn tables and planters filled with edibles, to the shrub den and willow tunnel, the garden encourages physical and emotional participation, helping children to learn about the natural world.

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The vibrant planters are full of edibles, including foliage with colour contrasts for partially-sighted visitors like this red-veined sorrel

If you visit the garden or the website (www.yearofgreenaction.org), you can make a pledge to take green action and help protect the natural environment. I hung my promise on the tree among many others:

I pledge to encourage my young children and my nieces to engage with nature through wildlife gardening in the coming years.

Year of Green Action Garden. Designed by Helen J Rosevear and Jane Stoneham. Sponsored by Defra and Sensory Trust. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Stand no. 329

Featured image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

 

Fruity New Ideas in the Edible Eden Garden at RHS Hampton Court

Beautiful blackcurrants, deep rosy red fleshed apples, delicious patio tomatoes, and a ginger rosemary cocktail that will blow you away – all on offer at Hampton Court this week in the Edible Eden Garden, designed by Chris Smith of Pennard Plants

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Companion planting in the Edible Eden Garden. Image credit: RHS Joanna Kossak

Edible Eden combines a formal vegetable area, unusual edibles in the forest garden and a soft fruit display in a garden that is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. Chris explained that he collaborated with Burpee Europe and Lubera on the garden, two companies specializing in breeding and producing new varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Initially Simon Crawford, of Burpee Europe, had the vision of a field of sunflowers and this developed into the impressive display of dwarf sunflower ‘Sunray’ which leads the visitor into the vibrant edible garden.

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Field of Sunflower ‘Sunray’ glory

Passing the Riverside Shepherd’s Hut, which would be wonderful to use as a potting or writing space, the sunflower field leads to a vegetable area full of ripe tomatoes, peppers and fiery marigolds grown as companion plants to ward off unwanted insects. 

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The ideal writing retreat…

Of particular interest was Sweet Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’, launched at Chelsea last year as a companion to ‘Tangerine Dream’. I’m growing both for the first time this year and peppers have just started to form – I hope my plants prove as ornamental and productive as the Pennard peppers at Edible Eden!

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Who could resist Sweet Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’?

The forest garden area showcases new fruit from Lubera including the Redlove apple varieties – ‘Era’, ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Calypso’. I was impressed by the amount of fruit produced on these trees in such a small space. The apples are particularly attractive with a deep rosy red colour that shows all the way through the fruit. The high levels of anthocyanins found in the skin means the apples are healthy to eat as well as being beautiful and the deep colour is retained even when they are cooked. 

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Redlove ‘Lollipop’. Image credit: Lubera

The apple trees have deep pink flowers in spring and beautiful autumn colour, making Redlove both ornamental and productive – an ideal tree for a small garden.

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Redlove blossom – a welcome sight in spring. Image credit: Lubera

Next to the apple trees, my eye was drawn to a display of several different Szechaun peppers from the Pennard Plants collection. These hardy shrubs are easy to grow and provide different flavoured peppercorns depending on the variety. Some also have edible leaves to extend the cropping period outside the ripening of the berries. I love the range of leaf shapes and colours from the purple-leaved Japanese Sansho pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) with its aromatic leaves, to the lush deep green foliage of the Korean lime pepper (Zanthoxylum coreanum) which has edible berries and leaves. Pennards have collected over 15 different Szechuan and other pepper varieties all with different flavours and preferring different garden situations, so there’s sure to be one that will thrive in every garden.

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Chinese Red Pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum) in the Edible Eden forest garden

Inside the Alitex greenhouse, the fruit on Melon ‘Mango Mel’ (bred by Burpee to thrive in a northern climate) made my mouth water.  Fortunately I had the opportunity to taste the melons later when writer and grower Mark Diacono, of Otter Farm, prepared a range of cocktails to showcase the fruit, vegetables and herbs from the garden.

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Each melon resting in its own individual hammock

Mark’s Pimms with ginger ale and garden produce (cucumber, melon, lemon, strawberries, Moroccan mint and even radish) was delicious and then he prepared a ginger rosemary gin with ginger rosemary syrup (equal amounts of water and sugar, on a low heat until dissolved, add ginger rosemary or any other herb and steep until required strength, then remove), lots of lemon juice to add the sharpness and a good quantity of gin. This is one to drink at the end of a visit to the show though – not before touring the gardens!

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Beware Mark Diacono preparing (delicious) cocktails

Finally Chris showed me a new tomato due to be launched at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show later in the year. This tiny tomato combines a diminutive stature with a deliciously sweet taste – the holy grail of patio tomato breeding. Christened ‘Veranda Red’, this variety is ideal as a tabletop tomato and would be perfect to grow at home with children.

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Tiny tomato ‘Veranda Red’

As I was leaving Edible Eden, full of new ideas for my ornamental fruit and vegetable plot back home, I noticed blackcurrant ‘Black ‘N Red’ which develops gorgeous deep burgundy leaves as the summer progresses. I’ve just removed a blackcurrant that had become unproductive, so I think the sweet fruit of ‘Black ‘N Red’ along with its ornamental foliage might just be the next edible addition to my garden.

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Blackcurrant ‘Black ‘N Red’. Image credit: Lubera

Featured image credit: RHS Joanna Kossack

 

 

‘Snickets’ by Nic Wilson

Lovely to have one of my nature pieces included on the Landlines: British Nature Writing, 1798-2014 site this week. I’m celebrating the daily renewal offered by the nearby wild…

Land Lines Project

Snicket Steps, Gyffin. Image credit Rob Carter
Snicket steps, Gyffin, image credit Rob Carter
We are delighted to announce the start of a special series of blog posts throughout July, August and September featuring new work from emerging nature writers. First up is Nic Wilson’s beautiful meditation on memory and the daily renewal of our contact with the land.

‘All locales and landscapes are … embedded in social and individual times of memory. Their pasts as much as their spaces are crucially constitutive of their presents.’
Christopher Tilley A Phenomenology of Landscape

Snicket, n. – a narrow passage between houses, an alleyway, origin obscure.
Oxford English Dictionary

There are many different types of snicket and each has its own story to tell. I surface in these riven-pathways early; they tower above my head. The stones at eye-level jut out of the mortar and despite their unforgiving corners I’m compelled to run my fingers along the broken edges, remembering…

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Gardeners’ World Live: Water, Water, Everywhere…

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Helping with A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate was an inspiring (and soggy) experience

Water has been a key focus at this year’s Gardeners’ World Live, both in terms of garden design and the inclement weather. Professor David Stevens, designer and winner of eleven RHS Gold medals, believes it has never been wetter at the show, yet last year’s weather was scorching and all through the summer designers struggled to keep show gardens looking at their best. This year the rain and cold winds were the biggest challenge in the build phase – risking damaging delicate plants, creating banks of mud and making working conditions wet and chilly. I didn’t mind the rain but putting wet gardening gloves on again after tea break is a particularly unpleasant sensation! The teams all did a magnificent job and by Wednesday afternoon as the rain started to clear, the gardens were immaculate, ready for the show to open the following morning.

Once planting was finished, I headed off to explore the other gardens and was immediately drawn to the Canal & River Trust Garden. It was easy to become absorbed in the reflections of the tranquil water in the full-size canal and I rather wished I could live in the traditional legger’s hut with its canal-side cottage garden. The Canal & River Trust Garden is not the first design this year to place water at its heart – the RHS Chelsea Welcome to Yorkshire Garden incorporated an entire lock gate into the design, donated by the Canal & River Trust. The combination of canal and wildflower planting in the perennial meadow, represented both Yorkshire’s industrial past and its breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. 

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Naturalistic planting around the canal in Mark Gregory’s Welcome To Yorkshire Garden at Chelsea

Water and Wellbeing

The Canal & River Trust Garden is subtitled ‘Making Life Better by Water’ (also the subtitle of the Trust), emphasising the positive effect that the UK’s 2000 miles of historic waterways have on the wellbeing of everyone who comes in contact with the water. Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, explained that volunteers David and Hilary Godbehere inspired the garden and also worked with Chris Myers, the designer, to develop this serene and undisturbed space. 

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Canal & River Trust Garden – Making Life Better By Water. Credit: Steve Granger

Hilary and David, lock keepers on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, are clearly passionate about communicating their love of the canals and the benefits of being close to water. With a huge range of activities including exercising, boating and exploring the rich wildlife habitats and historic features beside many of our waterways, spending time by water can have a positive impact on everyone’s wellbeing. 

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Airy planting of geranium, nicotiana and salvia in the canal-side garden. Credit: Steve Granger

Water in a Changing Climate

The theme of water isn’t restricted to the show gardens; the beautiful borders also consider the impact of water on our daily lives and our gardens. As we’ve seen in microcosm over the past two show seasons, high temperatures and extended periods of heavy rain are increasing as the climate changes. As these changes become more extreme, gardens will be subject to longer periods of drought and possible flooding, making it vital for gardeners to store water, create effective drainage and make plant choices to cope with changing conditions.

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Astrantia ‘Abbey Road’ thriving in the damp soil in A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate. Credit: Steve Granger

Tessa Parikian’s Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate demonstrates simple ways to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions in the garden. Her border includes both damp and dry areas, and Tessa suggests using 150cm depth of gravel as a mulch around plants. In damp areas  this will help to stabilise the soil, preventing runoff and soil erosion, while in dry borders it will keep any moisture in the soil rather than allowing it to evaporate. She also advises incorporating water putts into the garden, like the stylish water butt planter by Garantia at the centre of her border. 

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Drought tolerant artemisia and Mexican fleabane in the Embracing Change Garden. Credit: Steve Granger

The Embracing Change Garden, designed by Lucy Miller, also addresses the issue of changing climatic conditions. Her border channels rain water runoff into planting areas and she has chosen versatile plants that tolerate both wet and dry conditions to ensure that they have the best chance of surviving whatever the weather. 

Waterwise Planting: Dry Conditions

Both beautiful borders include plants that add colour to the garden during late spring and summer. They also tolerate dry conditions so they minimise the need to water. Plant choices such as Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), Stipa tenuissima, Dianthus carthusianorum, fennel (Feoniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), Salvia verticillata, Briza maxima and prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus prostatus) prefer drier soils and will cope with periods of drought, especially when established.

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

Waterwise Planting: Damp Conditions

In the damp areas the designers have chosen plants that tolerate wet ground, such as snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea), Atrantia major ‘Burgundy Manor’ and ‘Abbey Rose’, Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and Primula bulleyana and Primula beesiana. These vibrant candelabra primulas create colour and interest in the damp area of the Resilient Garden and are very happy in damp, wet or pond-edge positions in the garden. They multiply each year and create a stunning floral display in late May and June, as shown at Gardeners’ World Live. 

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

With a combination of rain-saving measures, good drainage and plants that tolerate dry and/or damp conditions, our gardens will be more able to tolerate changing weather conditions, allowing us to continue creating beautiful gardens and borders into the future.

Gardeners’ World Live continues until tomorrow evening and is a friendly and inspiring show to visit. If you’d like to read more about this year’s shows, you can follow the blog below:

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