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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Lovegroves – a traditional plant nursery with trees, shrubs, ferns, climbers and a few of their favourite perennials. Based in Gloucestershire and selling online.
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.
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.
Prenplants Sussex Ltd – wholesale 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.
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.
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.
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:
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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 as much plant material as they can peat-free, there may well 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.