Sunday, 25 March 2012


At this time of year, gardeners' thoughts turn to the myriad of jobs that need doing in the garden - including sowing seeds, planting new plants in the garden and potting up patio tubs etc.  However, how many of you will be considering the compost you use?  The majority of people buy their usual multi-purpose compost without a thought to where it comes from.  This compost will inevitably contain peat - unless it is labelled as peat-free.

Peat is dug out from lowland peat bogs - these areas have taken thousands of years to develop and are vital for certain wildflowers such as Sundew, sphagnum moss, Bladderwort, Bog Myrtle and Cotton Grass.  The environment created by these peat bogs is essential for rare dragonflies, spiders and other invertebrates and provide feeding grounds for birds such as plovers, meadow pipits and skylarks. Peatlands occur when waterlogged conditions stop plants from from decomposing properly and the slow build-up of this partly-decomposed material produces peat - this is a slow process, producing at a rate of less than 1 mm a year.

Here's the sad bit - over 94% of these UK peat bogs have been destroyed or damaged and, along with them, the wildlife and wildflowers they support.  This is a staggering amount of destruction.  It is also now realised that peat bogs act as carbon dioxide stores, so disturbing them releases carbon dioxide into the air.  The market for peat-based compost in the UK is responsible for 630,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year - equivalent to 300,000 extra cars on the road.  Although peat bogs only cover around 3% of the Earth's surface, they store as much carbon as all of the world's forests put together.

As gardeners and people concerned about the state of the environment, you can do your bit to slow down and eventually stop this destruction by not buying peat-based compost.  If your local garden centre doesn't stock a peat-free alternative then ask them if they will consider it.  The more people who asked for peat-free products, the more likely garden centres will start to take notice and stock it.  If your local garden centre does stock it, then please consider buying it if you don't do so already.

Some composts may be labelled as "green" or "organic" - this doesn't mean they are peat-free - they may still contain 70% or so peat.  Check the description carefully to ensure you are buying 100% peat-free.

Vital Earth Carbon Gold, Fertile Fibre, Moorland Gold and Pro-Gro are examples of suppliers of peat-free compost.  In the nursery we use William Sinclair's New Horizon coir compost, made from coco-fibre.

Armed now with the basics of how your peat-based compost is contributing to a biodiversity crisis, how can you not go peat-free next time you need compost?

Cotton Grass photographed on Hothfield Common near Ashford in Kent.  Hothfield Common contains Kent's last four valley bogs and is a site of Special Scientific Interest.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Wildlife Stack

We spent a couple of very pleasant hours the other weekend creating a wildlife stack near the pond, also known as an insect hotel, bug hotel amongst other titles.  Most photos of these stacks that you see online use pallets as the basis for the framework.  However, my husband was having none of that, hating the look of pallets, and said it would have to be more rustic than that.  So off he went to raid the log store.

The pond area is an ideal spot to site as it has some sun and some shade and will also provide refuge for any newts or frogs.  A pallet was allowed as the base and this had a layer of widely-spaced logs placed on it.  This was filled with twigs, long pieces of dead grass, small terracotta pots, dried leaves etc.  Another layer of logs and some cardboard was put on next and filled again.  This process was repeated until we had a stack about 1 m square.

We added mason bee nests on the more sheltered side (the little wooden houses in the photo below) and lots more logs and tubes and foliage for all sorts of creatures.  We also added bits of slate and brick, the aim being to provide as many type of nooks and crannies as possible!  The gap under the pallet base will also provide shelter for amphibians, and, for good measure, we put a broken terracotta pot sideways on as a possible home for frogs.

The top of the stack was finished off with a piece of thick board covered in some spare pondliner we had.  This was edged with logs and the middle filled with soil.  Wildflowers have been planted in this  (Wild Pansy, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, Chamomile) and a couple more structures added on the top - an old chimney pot filled with bee nesting tubes and a small bug house.  Wildflowers were also planted around the base of the structure (Red Campion, Ox-eye Daisy and Viper's Bugloss) so that in the summer it will look glorious and colourful and blend into the site more.  It should also have many residents such as spiders, bees, lacewings, ladybirds, beetles etc.  Everything the stack was made from was recycled from bits and pieces we found in the shed and garden so it didn't cost a penny!  I will update you on creatures using the stack and how it looks in the summer.

Our stack is quite big but it doesn't have to be this big if your garden does not have much room - any size will be useful to the wildlife it will attract.