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.

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 100 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.

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.

Bee Happy Plants – small family-run nursery based in Somerset. Selling bee-friendly, seed-raised, organic, wild species plugs, plants and more seeds online.

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.

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.

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

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.

Celtica Wildflowers – suppliers of wildflowers grown in peat-free compost and recycled pots wherever possible. Specialists in pond, wetland plants and wildflower meadow plants and kits for living willow structures. Based in Perthshire.

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.

Craigiehall Nursery – specialist alpine plant nursery and sempervivum growers based in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Every plant is propagated and grown on site in their own, peat-free compost. Plants available online.

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.

Earthed Up! – nursery based in Belper, Derbyshire selling peat free compost and perennial and resilient edible plants without harmful chemicals.

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.

Gardener’s 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.

Growild Nursery – small, independent nursery specialising in desirable plants and seeds, all grown on-site without chemicals. Based in East Ayrshire, Scotland. Plants available 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.

Habitat Aid – small business in Somerset, selling plants and seeds online, especially native species, all sourced from British peat-free growers.

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.

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.

Harriet’s PlantsStaffordshire-based Harriet grows and sells sustainable house plants all across the UK. She hand picks UK made artisan botanical wares to compliment her plants perfectly.

Hawkwell HerbsNorthamptonshire-based herb business providing 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.

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.

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 Green Plant Nursery – tiny eco nursery based in Gloucestershire, UK. Range of plants available in 9cm pots; herbaceous perennials chosen with pollinators in mind.

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).

Marchants Gardens and Nursery – independent nursery and gardens in East Sussex specialising in grasses and herbaceous perennials, with almost all plants propagated on site.

Meadow Plant Nursery – locally-grown, organic plants available to collect or delivered within 12 miles of Didcot, Oxfordshire. Local supplier of Dalefoot peat-free Wool Compost.

Mickfield Hostas Mid-Suffolk based nursery, holders of a National Collection of Hostas almost half of which are available for sale. Plants can be ordered over the telephone or by email.

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.

Norfolk Herbs – growers and suppliers of naturally raised culinary, medicinal and aromatic herb plants, both wholesale and retail/mail order.

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.

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.

Plants with Purpose – great range of culinary and medicinal herbs, unusual edibles, wildflowers for pollinators and other plants…with a purpose. Grown without pesticides, herbicides or any other chemical applications. Plants available online and for local delivery or collection in Perthshire, Scotland.

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.

PlantWild – family-run nursery based in Northamptonshire growing a range of British native wildflowers. Plants available to order online for delivery throughout the UK.

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.

Saith Ffynnon Wildlife Plants – wildlife plants grown on the North Wales coast and the Eupatorium National Collection. At least 10% of profits donated to local conservation projects. Plants available online.

Seedball – non-profit company selling wildflower seedballs online

Seiont Nurseries – plug and liner producer based in North Wales specialising in new and unusual varieties, especially cordylines, heucheras and hardy ferns. Plants available online or to collect from Four Oaks Cash & Carry in Macclesfield.

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.

Winterbrook Garden Nurseries – family-run nursery using and selling peat-free compost and Posipots online and on-site in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

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.

Bud Garden Centre – bijou, independent garden centre in Burnage, South Manchester selling UK grown plants and peat-free compost.

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

Claire Austin – family-run nursery, national collection holders of both a Bearded Iris Collection (full status) and a Hybrid Herbaceous Peony Collection (provisional status). Large perennial selection available online and from the nursery in Mid-Wales.

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.

Langthorns – family-run nursery specialising in top quality ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, and many uncommon and heritage species that are more difficult to obtain. Plants available online or from the nursery in Essex.

Logie Farm and Garden Shop – based in Forres in the north of Scotland selling hardy plants specially selected for Scottish gardens and peat-free compost.

Pershore College Garden Centre and Nursery – grower, wholesaler and retailer of plants to the trade and public. National Plant Collections of Penstemon & Philadelphus. Plants available from the garden centre (public) or nursery (trade) in Worcestershire.

Ribblesdale Nurseries – selling trees, shrubs and perennials on-site in Preston. All home-produced plants grown in peat free compost.

RV Roger third generation family-run Plant Centre and nursery based in North Yorkshire specialising in shrubs, roses, fruit and ornamental trees for supply to the retail and wholesale trade. We are open seven days a week and the nursery has been peat-free since 2014.

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. 

Stotts Nursery – hardy plant nursery based in Buckinghamshire selling on-site and delivering up to 10 miles from the nursery.

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.

YorganicsNorth Yorkshire-based company Yorganics, makes this peat free compost from the green waste recycled by people living in North Yorkshire, City of York, Leeds, Bradford, Rotherham and Sheffield. Available from a number of recycling sites and retailers including Booths.

Pro-Grow – peat-free soil conditioner available online or from Household Waste Recycling Centres throughout Hampshire.

Plate 2 Plate Compost – peat free compost from household food waste, woodchip and coffee grounds. Based in Leeds – collects waste from postcodes LS2, LS3, LS4, LS6, LS7, LS8 and LS18 and returns as compost for a fee.

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

Happy Compost – peat-free compost by Bord na Móna. (Bord na Móna was established as a peat company but has now formally ended all peat extraction on its land.)

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 where this is not clear, I’ve contacted the nurseries for clarification. Whilst the nurseries on the first list are, as far as I’m aware, using peat-free compost themselves on-site 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!

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.

Curlew 2

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.

Golden Plover.jpg

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. 

Happy Compost – peat-free compost produced by Bord na Móna.

Bulrush Peat Free Multipurpose Compost – 100% peat-free compost. 

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?

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

If you have found this article useful, you can follow the blog here:

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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

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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Related Articles:

Coral, Peach and Ivory Tones in Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood Garden

5 Environmentally-Friendly Ideas to Take Home from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

5 Environmentally-Friendly Ideas to Take Home from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

1. Wildflower Power

Everywhere you turn at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, indigenous trees, shrubs and perennials are interpersed with native biennial and annual wildflowers. The gardens are awash with hornbeam, birch, willow, yew, guelder rose, cow parsley, foxglove, ragged robin and sedum. The pinks of red campion and ragged robin are particularly conspicuous across the showground, creating a frothy haze around the garden borders.

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‘R’ is for RHS, Red Campion and Ragged Robin

We’re all aware of the importance of growing flowers for pollinators and there are many different ways to create a mini-meadow even in the smallest garden. While pollinator mixes and seed mixes for pictorial meadows do provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects, unfortunately they do little to support the huge numbers of other invertebrates that feed on indigenous flora. So if you can keep even a small area of the garden for native meadow flowers, you will be creating the best garden habitat for all manner of invertebrates that, in turn, support healthy local ecosystems.

One way to create a mini-meadow is to add wild flower plants as we are doing in our garden this year. I bought 140 plug plants from Naturescape a month ago – some have been planted in bare areas and some I’m growing on to add to wild patches at the edge of the lawn. Plants include a range of shade and sun lovers – ox-eye daisies, red and white campion, garlic mustard, mallow, yarrow, field scabious, knapweed and selfheal. I can’t wait to see the flowers develop later in the summer and to investigate what invertebrates these native plants attract to my garden.

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Wildflower turf contains a mix of many native annuals and perennials

Another way to create an area of meadow is to use wildflower turf. When I talked to Lindum, who are showcasing their turf at Chelsea this week, they explained that wildflower turf is now a hugely popular product – demonstrating the growing desire of UK gardeners to support biodiversity in their own backyard. The wildflower turf is grown on a biodegradable backing that breaks down completely as the plants establish, and it includes a wide range of plants – 27 native wildflower species in total. 

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Lindum also sell sedum matting

2. Peat-Free Potential

As always, I made a bee-line for Dalefoot Composts, who are launching their new peat-free tomato compost at Chelsea this year. I’m looking forward to trying it when I pot on my tomatoes next week. The wool-based compost is designed specifically for tomatoes, reducing your workload and environmental impact as plants do not need additional feed during the growing season (the compost has all the nutrients the developing flowers and fruit need) and watering requirements are reduced by 50%.

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Dalefoot Composts have a wide range including the new tomato compost. Image Credit: Dalefoot Composts

3. Circular Design

The Morgan Stanley Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw, considers ways to manage resources in more sustainable ways, beginning with the creation of the show garden itself. From the domed yew balls to the spherical sculptures, the shapes in the garden depict the cyclical pathway of recycled products that keep materials in circulation for as long as possible. The Hi-Vis jackets and plant pots are made from recycled materials, the flooring is constructed out of bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource, and the rear relaxation pod is clad in an ultra-thin layer of stone that reduces demands on natural resources. These lightweight materials also lower the transportation carbon footprint and reduce the structural demands on the building.  

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In the past few years, the RHS has made huge steps in ensuring that gardens and their products and plants are reused across London and the UK. This year’s Morgan Stanley Garden is destined to be repurposed within the local community by Groundwork London. It would be great to see the commitment to reuse, recycling and minimising energy use embodied in the Morgan Stanley Garden rolled out across all Chelsea show gardens in future years.

4. Growing Heritage and Heirloom

Pennard Plants always creates a fabulous garden in the Great Pavilion and this year is no exception. Next month they have the honour of being RHS Master Growers at Chatsworth Flower Show – demonstrating the RHS commitment to growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs. 95% Pennard Plants’ seeds are heritage or heirloom varieties and they offer 500 plant cultivars in their nursery and online. Providing such a wide range of different cultivars helps to conserve genetic variation for the future.

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Pennard Plants’ 2019 Chelsea Dig for Victory Garden complete with Anderson Shelter

At this year’s show Pennard Plants are launching the blight-resistant tomato ‘Cocktail Crush’ which produces sweet, small fruits with an acid tang. Blight has become more prevalent in the past 30 years and there are no chemical controls available. 

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‘Oh Happy Day’ – another blight-resistant cultivar available from Pennard Plants

The best option to avoid blight on outdoor tomatoes is to maintain good plant hygiene, maximise airflow around plants by trimming foliage and sideshoots, and growing blight-resistant cultivars like ‘Cocktail Crush’, ‘Oh Happy Day’, ‘Crimson Crush’ and ‘Nagina’ (another new introduction from the nursery).Pennard Plants is also one of the best UK nurseries for unusual edibles – this year I picked a new plant to try – Epazote or Wormseed (Chenopodium ambrosides). A native of Central and South America, this leafy herb was used by the Aztecs in tea, as a leafy vegetable (used sparingly) and to favour bean and rice dishes. Believed to be an aid to prevent flatulence, this would also seem to be the perfect companion plant for anyone growing Jerusalem artichokes this year.

5. Forest Carbon

Forest Carbon finance projects across the UK, planting woodland and restoring peatland with support from both companies and individuals who want to mitigate their carbon footprint. They are certified under the Woodland Carbon CO2de, meaning their carbon capture statistics are based on sound science, the woodland has the right species in the right place and sites are sustainably managed after planting. They also explained to me that they undertake survey work after planting to check that the woodland is having a beneficial effect on biodiversity.

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Riparian woodland creation in the Cheviots. Image Credit: Forest Carbon

Carbon offsetting is a complex issue. If companies and individuals use it as a smokescreen or a way of assuaging their guilt whilst continuing to live and work in an unsustainable manner, then offsetting may well have negative net effects. If, however, offsetting is practised as part of a broader sustainable lifestyle, then it could be argued that it has a place in an environmentally responsible lifestyle. I might, for example, choose to offset the carbon produced by our small amount of driving, whilst saving for an electric car – we’re hoping it won’t be long now! And there’s no doubt that the seven million trees planted by Forest Carbon since 2006 and projects like the peatland restoration at Dryhope in the Scottish Borders and Doddington North Forest – a new 350 hectare forest in Northumberland – are beneficial to people and wildlife. 

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Native woodland creation near Dunbar. Image Credit: Forest Carbon

Forest Carbon are running a new scheme called the Carbon Club for individuals and families to offset their carbon footprint with a monthly payment which helps fund afforestation and peatland restoration. Alongside undertaking other steps to minimise carbon footprints, this might be a suitable option for some.

 

What are your opinions on wildflower planting, peat-free compost, sustainable design at RHS flower shows and carbon offsetting? Please leave me a comment about what you believe to be the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly options for gardeners. Thank you.

As always, my observations and suggestions come from my own opinions on which companies and gardens are offering environmentally-friendly choices for the consumer. I have no connection to Lindum or Forest Carbon except through the discussions I’ve had with them; I’ve bought from Naturescape and was pleased with the quality of the plug plants.

I have, on several occasions, been given a few of packets of seed by Pennard Plants to trial, but I have spent far more buying seed and plants from them. This is also the case with Dalefoot Composts who have sent me bags in the past (including the tomato compost) to trial. However, I also purchase the majority of my peat-free compost supply from them and have done for several years now. I support these companies because they offer fabulous products and really care about the environment.

Related Articles:

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Oh Happy Day! New Tomatoes, Pepper and Watermelon Launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

7 Green Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Family Fun: The Great British Wildflower Hunt

Why Nature Matters: In Our Gardens and Our Countryside

7 Green Gift Ideas for Gardeners

Is Christmas a time for delight or dread? A combination of both if you’re anything like me. There will be more opportunities to talk, go for walks, play games and share meals than at any other time, but the endless stuff, the commercialism and the waste accepted by society makes me uncomfortable at Christmas.

David Attenborough’s words at the UN Climate Change Summit play on my mind as I write my Christmas lists, test my daughter on the words for her Christmas show and put up the decorations. The immense challenges facing us concerning the climate, plastics, pollinators and many other issues arising from our past and current treatment of the natural world can’t be solved by small changes at Christmas, but I believe it is part of a changing mindset and complements more direct activities such as writing to MPs and supporting environmental charities and campaign groups. If you are buying gifts for Christmas, here are a few sustainable options for the gardeners in your life…

1. Grow Your Own

Plug plants are ideal for busy gardeners who like to grow their own or those who would like to begin. They normally come in plastic modules that can’t be recycled, but this selection from Pippa Greenwood arrive wrapped in paper and are grown in Lincolnshire. 

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Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood (Image credit: Pippa Greenwood)

The selection includes your choice of 15 different vegetables and the recipient gets a weekly email from Pippa tailored specially to the plants in the pack with advice right through from soil preparation to feeding, watering, staking/supporting, pinching out, and pests and disease.

Top Tip – Avoid wrapping paper at Christmas and for birthdays, as it is usually only suitable for landfill. It often contains plastic, glitter, dyes and is covered in sticky tape. DEFRA estimates in the UK we buy enough of this single-use material each year to gift wrap the whole of Guernsey!

2. The Gift of Time

Time is a valuable gift – far more than money or stuff in so many ways. Give a friend or family member a voucher for help with the allotment in the New Year or help create a new growing space for children. Meals for the freezer made with ingredients from the garden are also a way to pass on a little love without costing the earth.

Gifts involving experiences are a favourite in our house. For a keen gardener there are fabulous courses like those at the Cambridge Botanic Garden (I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘Rewild Your Garden’ this year) and for new gardeners there are often short courses and sessions at local community gardens. As a new mum, I joined a course on fruit pruning at my local community garden many years ago and it gave me the confidence to start formal horticultural qualifications.

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Tending the apple cordons at my local community garden where I learnt to prune in my first horticultural session

Top Tip – Instead of wrapping paper use fabric bags or scrap material and ribbons which can be used for many years. The Japanese art of furoshiki is centuries old and is enjoying a resurgence in Japan now that the issues with plastic bags and wrapping are becoming clear.

3. Festive Fungi

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The oyster mushrooms we grew a couple of years ago

The Espresso Mushroom Kitchen Garden from The Espresso Mushroom Company is an edible gift grown on the biodegradable, recycled coffee grounds of one hundred espressos. Made by a family firm in Brighton, these sustainable oyster mushrooms are a fun way to get growing in the New Year. 

4. Share Seeds

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Yin Yang beans are objects of beauty

Reusing materials is the most sustainable way to create a gift and seeds are so easy to share. Choose favourite seeds – this year, for me, it would be the French Dwarf bean seeds ‘Yin Yang’. I’m passing some onto friends to grow next year and even a handful for a fellow gardener who makes beautiful jewellery so that she can create a necklace.

Top Tip – Ditch the sellotape and buy 100% recycled paper tape with a natural latex adhesive backing. 

5. Donate

Charity gifts allow someone less fortunate to benefit at Christmas. I like the gifts from Send A Cow where you can donate to a Mandala Garden, a Keyhole Garden or even an Allotment in a rural African community. I saw a keyhole garden at Gardeners’ World LIVE a few years ago and was impressed by the design which allows a family to grow enough food for three meals a day – even in the face of an extreme climate and poor soil.

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Little Havens Hospice garden (Credit: Greenfingers)

 Alternatively you could gift a donation to gardening charities like Greenfingers or the Gardening for Disabled Trust. Greenfingers creates beautiful gardens in children’s hospices across the UK. This is the interactive garden at Little Havens Hospice in Essex, designed by Matthew Eden and completed in 2014.

 

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The Gardening for Disabled Trust provides small grants for people with all kinds of chronic disabilities – mental and physical – to help get them gardening again, from money for a ramp so that a gardener with MS can access her garden again, to grants to set up gardening clubs in care homes. This work is vital to enable all members of society to benefit from the therapeutic effects of gardening and interacting with the natural world.

6. Plastic-Free Pots

The majority of the 500 million pots we buy in the UK each year are incinerated or sent to landfill. Part of the solution to this astounding amount of plastic needs to be to reduce the amount of plants we produce and buy, alongside using more sustainable containers. Garden Ninja presents an interesting discussion of the issues with and alternatives to plastic containers on his blog this week. 

In addition to Garden Ninja’s recommendations, these attractive biodegradable containers available from Pippa Greenwood are made from sustainable bamboo and rice. They are sturdy enough to last several years and when they finally need to be replaced, they can be added to the compost heap where they will biodegrade in 6-12 months. They are available in 5in and 6in, and come in packs of 5.

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No plastic here (Credit: Pippa Greenwood)

Top Tip – Use newspaper to wrap presents – iron it first to set the ink, or buy a roll of recyclable brown paper and jazz up with stencilled designs or ribbons. Include a note explaining that the wrap is recyclable.

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My daughter has used brown paper with stencilled snowmen (biscuit cutters for stencils), a recycled tag from last year’s cards and reusable ribbon on this present for her brother.

7. Perennial Power

Perennials are a gift that by their very nature just keep on giving. I love growing perennial vegetables like rhubarb, sorrel, Daubenton’s kale, perennial onions, garlic chives and Jerusalem artichokes. My first port of call when I’m after a new perennial for the garden is Alison Tindale at The Backyard Larder. She grows an interesting range of perennial vegetables in peat-free compost from seeds and cuttings. The plants arrive in recycled shoe boxes using as near to 100% recycled or fully biodegradable materials as possible and she is always on hand to give advice.

 

Marsh mallow and red-veined sorrel – some of the perennial vegetables I’ve grown in the garden and allotment over the years

Please do pass on your top tips for wrapping and presents in the comments below – there’s still time to make changes before Christmas and I’m keen to learn as much as possible about how to make this festive season the most sustainable yet. 

This is not a sponsored post – all the products are ones I have either bought myself and been impressed with or have come recommended. The only product I’ve tried but didn’t initially buy myself are the oyster mushrooms which I was sent to trial a couple of years ago. They were such fun to grow and so delicious to eat that I’d definitely grow them again and have bought them for others since.

(Featured image credit: Pippa Greenwood)

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Last month I wrote Why Nature Matters: In Our Gardens and Our Countryside exploring the inextricable links between gardens and the wider landscape  – with all the benefits and responsibilities this entails. As we become increasingly aware of the direct effect of our collective actions on the environment, complex issues such as the use of plastic, energy and peat in gardening are under scrutiny. We are beginning to accept that sustainable energy use and a circular economy are vital if we are to develop a world where our children can grow up to enjoy the pleasures, horticultural or otherwise, that we currently do.

One perennial issue in the garden is the use of peat. The arguments against peat use are much rehearsed and despite repeated undertakings by the government to phase out the use of peat in horticulture, there has been depressingly little progress in the past 20 years. The 2010 target to reduce peat use in composts by 90% was comprehensively missed and the same was true of the 2015 aim for all public procurement to be peat free by 2015. Unfortunately, the most recent target to stop the use of peat by 2020 by amateur gardeners looks set to go the same way.

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Degraded blanket bog

One argument which is often made against peat-free compost is the environmental impact of transporting materials like coir long distances (although much of our peat now comes from Ireland, Canada and the Baltic). Another problem has been quality – I’ve seen this in my own garden with green waste based peat-free compost which often contains a large quantity of woody material, isn’t suitable for either ericaceous plants or seed sowing, and contains fungus gnat eggs which then hatch and fill my house with clouds of irritating sciarid flies.

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Damage caused by peat extraction

To overcome these issues, a few years ago I sourced peat-free seed compost from Dalefoot Composts and was impressed by the results in comparison to other growing mediums. I’ve used their ericaeous, multipurpose, high strength and bulb composts, all with excellent results – some I’ve been sent to trial, but the majority I’ve bought myself over the years. One of the advantages is its relatively local nature (produced on the family-run farm in the Lake District) and the sustainability of the raw materials used – sheep’s wool and bracken – products which would otherwise have little or no value.

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Bracken cutting for compost

In addition, the sheep’s wool (used for the majority of the composts) retains moisture thus reducing the need to water and both materials have naturally high levels of nutrients so no additional feeding is necessary. I grew my tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers in the high strength compost this year and didn’t add any feed throughout the growing season. Yields increased and I noticed no difference in the size and health of plants or fruit.

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The Dalefoot compost range

Recently I read about the peat bog restoration work undertaken by founders of Dalefoot Composts, Professor Jane Barker and Simon Bland over the past 20 years and was keen to find out more. Jane is an ecologist and Simon a seventh-generation Cumbrian sheep farmer, so between them they have a 360-degree perspective on the damaging operation of peat extraction that has caused the loss of thousands of hectares of peat bog across the UK. Lowland peat bog in England currently covers only one tenth of its original 38,000 hectares due to agricultural drainage, forestry, landfill and peat extraction and many remaining bogs still have permissions to extract peat in the future which are extremely costly to buy out in order to protect the sites.

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Simon and Jane at work on the peat bog 

In 2002 the Government’s advisory body, English Nature, wrote in Peat Bog Conservation:

Today, one of the greatest threats to our peat bogs is from our continued use of peat in the garden. The gardening hobby that brings many of us a great deal of pleasure is doing so at the expense of our wildlife.

Wildlife is certainly one key issue – we’ve known for decades about the importance of peat bogs as a rich and diverse habitat for specially adapted plants and animals like sphagnum moss, butterwort, sundew, bog myrtle, the large heath butterfly, black darter dragonfly and wading birds such as dunlin, curlew and golden plover.

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Golden plover in breeding plumage (Image credit: Alan Garner)

More recently we’ve become increasingly aware of the fundamental role peatland environments play in storing carbon (around 3.2 billion tonnes are stored in peatland in the UK), reducing flooding and fires, and providing drinking water (70% of our water comes from peatland river catchments in the UK).¹ The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) also outlines the way ‘peat-dominated landscapes can help to underpin a sustainable rural community as well as providing key benefits to society (eg. water supplies, carbon storage and sequestration) as a whole.’ But they point out that these services can only be provided if ‘peat bog habitat is correctly identified, characterised and thereby managed in an appropriate way’.²

The definition of a bog is a wetland that receives its water exclusively from direct rainfall as opposed to fens where groundwater causes the water-logging. Raised bogs occur in the lowlands where the surface rises over time as a result of peat formation creating a dome shaped bog. In wetter upland conditions peat covers wide areas and is therefore described as blanket bog.

When discussing the restoration work with Jane, I was fascinated by her description of the diversity of peat bog habitat and the huge range of flora (particularly sphagnum moss) which colonize different areas. There are many different types of sphagnum moss – the genus Sphagnum contains around 380 different species – some grow in the water and some on the edge of the bog, but all species hold large quantities of water within their cells (16-26 times their own dry weight). The moss acts as a blanket over the bog which keeps the methane in and, ultimately, becomes peat-forming vegetation.

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Sundew in the sphagnum moss

The UK has disappointingly broad terms for these diverse habitats unlike many peat-rich western nations like Sweden, whose terminology records precisely the individual fen and bog systems. The IUCN states that consequent on this paucity of descriptive language:

most of the UK blanket bog landscape is described only in terms of rather broad vegetation types, which ultimately results in poor understanding of key site features and condition.

There has been much debate recently about the generalisation of terminology for natural landscapes and its effect on our perception of the environment in which we live. In his book on language and the environment, Landmarks, Robert MacFarlane discusses the specificity of reference we are losing as whole tranches of vernacular vocabulary for landscape disappear. He suggests:

It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are disappearing; rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen. Language deficit leads to attention deficit.³

Learning more about peat bogs has revealed a rich vocabulary which I relish – a world of watershed bogs, saddle bogs, spur bogs, saddleside bogs, basin fens, flushes, kettle holes, schwimgmoor raised bogs and blanket mires. One of the strengths of the restoration work which Jane, Simon and their team undertake is their knowledge and understanding of these varied micro-habitats and the different restoration treatments each requires.

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Pristine blanket bog

Peat bog restoration is a complex and time-consuming process primarily because mires (current peat-forming bogs) are ‘one of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet due to their limited capacity for self repair.’4  Barker and Bland – Jane and Simon’s company – have developed methods using both specially designed machines whose footprint is less than 2 lbs per square inch (less than half the weight of a human’s) and working by hand, depending on the sensitivity of the site.

The first step is to restore the hydrology of the peat bog which will have been damaged by the drainage systems put in place so that peat extraction could take place. Inspired by techniques used in rice paddy fields, the team creates crescents along the drainline, blocking the drains and ditches with peat dams to raise the water table. The hags (the eroded cut edges of the peat) are then reprofiled to prevent further erosion and sphagnum moss is introduced to recolonise the area.

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Timber sediment traps slow the flow of water downstream and enable re-vegetation

The growth tips of sphagnum moss are sustainably harvested from specially selected donor sites – usually local pristine sites as similar to the ecosystem of the restoration site as possible – and within 36 hours these must be spread across the bog in a re-vegetation layer. Sphagnum moss gets its moisture and nutrients from the air: the shallow root system simply acts as an anchor and dies off forming peat when the plant is established, so unlike other plants, moss can be propagated by spreading the growing tips across the new site. In addition to harvesting moss from donor sites, Barker and Bland have built a sphagnum farm in Cumbria to grow different species of moss for their restoration work.

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Re-vegetated bare peat

Two of the most recent peatland restoration projects undertaken by Barker and Bland include Bolton Fell in Cumbria and large blanket bog areas in the Cairngorms. In 2014 the government bought out William Sinclair Holding PLC’s peat extraction rights at Bolton Fell, a 375 hectare site and one of the largest degraded raised peat bogs still capable of natural regeneration in England. Once restoration work started in 2016 the Fell was restored to a sphagnum moss habitat with the year, although it will be many decades before peat depth becomes substantial again beneath the sphagnum moss.

In July this year, Barker and Bland began restoration work on a 134 hectare upland blanket bog site in the Cairngorms as part of the Scottish government’s project to restore 40% of Scotland’s peatland (618,000 acres) by 2030. Over the past five months, six members of the team have been working on re-profiling thousands of metres of hags across the peat bog. This work will continue until Christmas through the first sprinklings of snow.  A further two teams are currently working in the Cairngorms tackling 25,000 metres of peat hags and 1.75 hectares of bare peat. 

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Timber sediment traps across the peat bog

Over the next few years we have difficult decisions to make about how we use our land – either we learn to manage it in sustainable ways or we use up the resources in the short-term and pay for it in the future. Peat bog restoration is only the beginning of a regeneration process that will take many decades to complete, but restoring and managing our peat bogs is a vital step if we want to benefit from the practical services these environments offer and preserve the rich ecosystems which they support.

¹ UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands, IUCN
² Peat Bog Ecosystems: Key Definitions, IUCN
³ Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks, p. 24
4 Natural England, A review of techniques for monitoring the success of peatland restoration, quoted from (Maltby, 1997)

Image credits: Barker and Bland unless otherwise stated

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Plastic Pollution in the Pearlfisher Garden

I have loved the marine environment ever since my first school biology field trip to Anglesey. Although I moved through a career in English to garden and nature writing, I’ve never lost my affinity for the sea. I became a member of the Marine Conservation Society many years ago and started learning about and campaigning on the issues of marine pollution. Although society is slowly coming to terms with the fact that our throw-away culture is doing untold damage to many habitats – especially the marine environment – we are still too quick to dismiss the changes that are needed, perhaps because their magnitude seems beyond our powers.

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The Pearlfisher Garden aims to stimulate debate on marine pollution

But attitudes can change – I was involved in campaign organising in my home town around ten years ago – we surveyed the public about their attitudes to plastic bag waste and tried to persuade retailers to reduce the number of plastic bags they gave out to customers. At the time we were greeted with incomprehension and, at times, derision whereas now one-use plastic bags are accepted to have a negative impact on the environment, even if there is still some way to go to eradicate them completely. I believe the more we debate issues such as these, the more quickly change will brought about, so a Chelsea garden focusing on plastic pollution in the marine environment immediately caught my attention.

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Air plants (Tillandsia usneoides) in jellyfish mode

The Concept

The Pearlfisher Garden, created by Pearlfisher Founding Creative Partner, Karen Welman and designer John Warland, celebrates the largest garden on the planet – the underwater world of the great oceans, and highlights the perils it faces due to human activities. Descending into the garden is an immersion on many levels; ripples play on the crazy paving from sunlight passing through the aquatic tanks and plastic bottle wall, and marine flora and corals (represented by the succulents, cacti and air plants) are growing or floating in every corner. 

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Submerged in the underwater garden

Planting

Designer John Warland has used the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi f. cristata) with its undulating foliage which mimics the look of kelp suspended in seawater and woolly senecio (Senecio haworthii) which has similarly waving fronds. Coral is represented by the jade plant (Crassula ovata) with its red-edged, tubular foliage and cacti like the chin cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) and the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) create the contorted shapes and vivid colours of the coral reef. 

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A selection of succulents and cacti from the garden

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The bleached and dying Coral Man

Every year more corals reefs across the world are being devastated due to rising sea temperatures causing acidification of the water and their plight is highlighted in renowned sculptor and environmentalist Jason deCaires Taylor’s ‘Coral Man’ figure by the entrance to the garden.

The contrast between the organic shapes and vibrant colours of the planting against the muted tones of the Coral Man suggests the beauty and diversity that will be irrevocably lost unless solutions to climate change and warming oceans are found in the near future.

Solutions

The garden also offers solutions to what can appear to be an insoluble problem. Across the world we manufacture 78 million tonnes of plastic annually, of which a staggering 32% ends up in the oceans. This waste plastic, as we’ve all seen in the news recently, harms and kills marine life, and we are just becoming aware of the dangers of microplastics to human life too. 

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The bottle wall

In the garden, 500 plastic bottles make up the transluscent wall at the rear of the garden, representing the amount of plastic thrown into the ocean every 2.5 seconds. Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic is becoming increasingly important, as shown by the 3D printed pearl diver – made from recycled PLA plastic – rising from the centre of the circular suspended ocean ceiling. The pearl diver – or Japanese Ama uminchu – symbolises humankind living in harmony with the ocean; an largely forgotten skill which needs to be revived if ocean ecosystems and human life are to have a long term future on earth.

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The recycled pearl fisher

What Will The Pearlfisher Garden Achieve?

The garden acts as a window into an underwater world that few of us will have the privilege of seeing in person. It has always been the case that ecosystems outside our common experience, especially those beneath the sea or the ground – marine and soil environments – are afforded less protection. These habitats often go unseen and we don’t recognise what is being lost until it’s too late.

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Tanya Streeter, world champion freediver, modelling a gown made by Brighton Art students from waste plastic washed up on the beach

But with the pioneering work of marine scientists being brought into the public realm by organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council and programmes like ‘Blue Planet’, we can no longer plead ignorance of the state of the world’s oceans. There are, undoubtedly, many unknowns when it comes to solving the plastic crisis, but there are also many small changes we can make which, collectively, will make a big difference:

  • use reusable water bottles
  • use reusable coffee cups
  • boycott balloon releases
  • avoid plastic drinking straws (unless a necessity) and use paper cotton buds
  • join a beach clean
  • support the work of organisations like the Plastic Oceans UK and Marine Conservation Society

If the Pearlfisher Garden stimulates debate and helps to encourage change – for example, persuading organisations like the RHS lead the way on banning one-use plastic from their shows and sites – then, to my mind, the Pearlfisher Garden will have been both an aesthetic and ethical success.

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Theresa May visited the garden whilst I was photographing it – I hope the garden highlighted to her the urgency with which this issue needs to be treated

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Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

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The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

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The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

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The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

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Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

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Mellow paving to match the planting

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Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

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The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

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The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

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Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

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These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

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Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

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