The idea that we should be gardening without using peat is not a new one, at least here in the UK. I have a copy of ‘Gardening Without Peat’, published by Friends of the Earth in 1991. It explains that our exploitation of peat bogs is using up peat faster than it is being formed – we should consider it a non-renewable resource. The destruction of the peat bogs is causing a decline in biodiversity, and allowing carbon dioxide to escape into the atmosphere to add to our climate woes.
In 1991 the celebrity gardeners and garden writers of the time backed the campaign and pledged to reduce their dependence on peat. And they have done the same thing on a semi-regular basis since, although there remain plenty of voices of dissent.
The debate has erupted again this spring because Alan Titchmarsh has gone on record to say that he (although he participated in peat-free campaigns in the past) still uses some peat and will continue to do so until a “perfect substitute” is available. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has put his name to a range of kitchen gardening products for a national DIY store chain – some of which contain peat.
In April 2011 the RSPB conducted a survey of “well known gardeners, garden writers, bloggers and landscape artists”, and then published the results. 27 people responded, of which 80% said they were using little or no peat. I was one of the 27, and towards the end of April I was quoted on the Telegraph website as saying I had been gardening almost without peat for 10 years. In fact, during those 10 years I bought one bag of peat-based compost, to grow carnivorous plants, and it was the ethically-sound reclaimed Moorland Gold rather than extracted peat.
But before I polish my halo I should say that peat is ever-present in the horticulture industry and some will certainly have slipped into my garden. In the early days I may have picked up multi-purpose compost without checking; one or two pre-formed peat pots may have arrived and been used. I have certainly bought plants without asking if they were grown in a peat-free environment, and most of them almost certainly weren’t.
The aim of this book is not to cajole or brow-beat anyone into turning over a peat-free leaf. For me, the environmental impact of peat extraction is obvious and unnecessary, but I believe that everyone should be able to make these kinds of decision for themselves and take personal responsibility for their choices.
The Peat-Free Diet aims to provide gardeners who would like to learn (or re-learn) to garden without peat all of the practical information they need to do so. In any case, accessible peat will run out one day, and the UK government has plans to phase out its use in garden composts – gardeners may prefer to jump to the peat-free side before they are pushed.
Books are a bit like plants – if the seeds of an idea fall on fertile ground and are well-nurtured then they may well thrive and grow to maturity. This book is going to have a somewhat unusual gestation, as I have decided to post each section to my blog as it is finished. I have many reasons for choosing this path, but the main one is that when it comes to gardening, no one has all the answers. Each gardener, each garden, each season, each plant, is different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and although I have ten years of experience of peat-free gardening here, I do not profess to be an expert. I will be trying new things as I go along, and welcome the arrival of ideas and techniques I don’t yet know about – whether they arrive like seeds on the wind, or via the more prosaic route of the internet.
If the time is ripe for a peat-free approach to take root in your garden, then I hope you will join me on this journey.
This blog post was written by Emma Cooper and was published on The Unconventional Gardener website. If you're reading it elsewhere you may want to navigate away from plagiarised content.