Updated Peat-Free Nurseries List

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

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

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

Peat-Free Nurseries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peat-Free Nurseries (On-Site)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peat-Free Compost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is Peat-Free Compost So Important?

Peat Bog Restoration: Protecting Ecosystems and Limiting Climate Change

Peatland: A Nature-Based Solution to Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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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Buzz Off: Sciarid Fly Nematodes

Last year I started overwintering plants in style – or at least in quantity. As I discussed in Overwintering Tea, Coffee and Other Tender Edible Perennials a couple of weeks ago, this year there were even more tender plants knocking on the door once autumn’s hoary fingers reached our garden. I did seriously consider whether or not to overwinter chillies this year, but my tree chillies only started to fruit last week and with so many other tender plants to bring in, I decided to choose a selection of chillies to bring in as well.

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My first rocoto tree chilli – ‘Albertos locoto’

Two Sticky Issues – Greenfly and Sciarid Flies

I had a problem with greenfly in early spring last year and never really found a successful way to deal with this problem, so I’m not looking forward to a repeat of the sticky insect invasion this year. Any ideas on ways to deal with this would be most gratefully received. (I did use organic sprays and sticky traps to try and control them). But the main problem I had initially was with sciarid flies or fungus gnats. These are often also a problem with house plants – especially when the compost is high in organic matter like the green waste in the peat-free compost I currently use. (I have used other peat-free compost like the superb Dalefoot wool compost, especially in spring when I’m bringing a lot of seedlings into the house, but can’t stretch the budget to afford it for all my plants at the moment. Besides which, the plants often get infested with sciarid flies in the greenhouse in the summer anyway.) The sciarid fly larval stage can attack the roots of plants, but my main issue with them is the annoying clouds of flies in the house over winter. Conventional tricks to avoid them are to avoid overwatering and water from beneath, but I didn’t find this helped much. I also tried covering the compost with gravel, but this had very little impact on fly numbers.

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Return of my little ‘friends’…

Biological Control

So last year I tried nematodes (microscopic worms) as a way of controlling the flies. I’ve previously used nematodes outside very successfully to control pests like vine weevil in pots, but had never tried them in the house. The nematodes worked in about a week and my plants were fungus gnat free for the rest of the autumn and winter. As long as no other plants are introduced into the house with fungus gnats to re-infest cleared pots, this should be a one off treatment each autumn. This year I was sent a free pack of nematodes to trial by The Green Gardener and I treated my plants at the end of last week.

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First tray of plants in the bath ready for nematode treatment – bit like sheep dipping

It doesn’t take long to apply (unless you drop a tray of cacti on the floor like I did and thus need to get the vacuum cleaner and cloths out…) The compost needs to be moist before application and the house above 10ºc, with pots out of direct sunlight. One pack (costing £12.50) treats up to 15 sqm of compost – far more than I needed even for 5 full trays of plants, but the solution with the nematodes in can’t be made too strong, so as long as there isn’t more than 15sgm to treat, one pack is ideal.

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Small pack – big results

Once again, my pots were cleared of flies within the week and I hope to keep them that way until it’s time for the plants to return to their summer homes. Now I just need to crack the greenfly issue and I’ll have this overwintering lark sorted…

If you’d like to try nematodes to keep sciarid flies off your houseplants, the product can be found on here on The Green Gardener’s website…

Product Reviews

Just a note on product reviews on the blog – I’ve discussed many plants and products over the past few months which have not been free trials. Any reviews of free products or plants will always be a reflection of my honest experiences, good or bad. I don’t review anything which I don’t consider to be of use to my readers and only choose products which I already use and find helpful, or those which I want to try as part of my ongoing garden and allotment development. I will always make it clear where a product has been sent free for me to trial and I hope that the reviews will be useful for other gardeners.

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