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Be Green Go Peat Free

If peat-based composts had to have warning labels, like cigarettes, more people would think twice about buying them - having something in your trolley labelled "Harvesting this peat destroyed a valuable wildlife habitat" would become as much of a social faux pas as dolphin-unfriendly tuna.

But peat composts don't have to be labelled as such, and so it's up to gardeners to look for composts that are 'peat-free' if they want to be green. It's easy enough to forget in the spur of the moment, but perhaps if we knew a little bit more about peat then it would be easier to remember.

Peat is a special kind of soil, formed when sphagnum moss (for the main part) rots down very slowly in acid, waterlogged conditions. It therefore only occurs in peat bogs and fens, which are rich wildlife habitats that support a variety of plants and animals that only thrive in these circumstances.

Peat bogs form at the rate of about one millimetre every year, which is roughly the thickness of a paper clip. If you dig down a metre you're digging into a thousand years of history, and peat bogs often preserve archaeological treasures.

Although peat bogs only cover around 3% of Earth's surface, they store as much carbon (in the decayed moss) as all of the world's forests put together. When the peat is dug up, dried out and processed into compost, all of that carbon is released. If we stopped using peat in our gardens we could keep all that carbon in the ground, and be well on the way to reducing our carbon emissions to manageable levels and preventing the worst effects of climate change.

Peat has only really been used in gardening since the 50s, when everything was standardized and mechanized and people came to expect every bag of potting compost to be exactly the same. The advantages of peat here are that it is sterile and stable, but it is very low in nutrients, and so those have to be added to the potting compost.

In recent times there has been a lot of investment in peat-free composts. Many of these are made from waste products (bark, or even garden waste that has been collected), and are far more environmentally-friendly that peat-based composts. It's true that some are better than others for particular purposes, so if you have tried one and found that you didn't get good results then try another brand.

While you're getting used to peat-free compost you'll need to keep an eye on your feeding and watering regime, as peat-free composts hold water and nutrients differently to peat-based composts. But once you've got the hang of that, your green fingers will really be green!

Emma Cooper is a freelance garden writer, based in Oxfordshire. She's been gardening without peat for over ten years, and if you'd like to know more about avoiding the use of peat in the garden you can read her new book 'The Peat-Free Diet' online at

At Notcutts we are supportive of the Government target for amateur growing media products to be peat free by 2020 and are playing an active role towards this.

By doing so we have proudly achieved ‘Full Member’ status of the Growing Media Initiative (GMI) following a recent audit of the bagged growing media we sell to the public.


Pond Care

I can always remember growing up, enjoying running into the garden to see what new wildlife had arrived at the pond; I used to take jam jars from the pantry and try to capture newts, dragonflies and frogs just to take a closer look at them. However, returning home to visit my mother one Sunday afternoon, I was in shock.  No more did the water draw and reflect the light and there were no aquatic creatures in sight, instead I was greeted by pea-green water, smothered in weeds.

I truly believe that all gardens need a focal point, a feature of some kind and nothing can be better than a pond. It’s not just because it’s aesthetically pleasing to look at, nor is it because it can attract an array of wildlife. It’s because it can play a central role in creating interest in the garden for children enabling you to teach them about the horticultural world.

So out came the gloves as I prepared myself to take action against the floating algal growth and the distinctive green ‘cloudiness’ in my mother’s pond.

My Guide to Maintaining a Beautifully Clear Garden Pond

1.    Clean and clear out the algal growth, which has been upsetting the equilibrium of micro organisms. Use a net to remove any other debris (leaves etc); clearing this will reduce the level of nutrients in the pool that feeds the algae.

2.    Use a rake to remove any exiting blanket weed (twist the rake to wrap the weed around).

3.    Next, clear any debris that has accumulated around the edges of the pond. However, it’s best to leave this for a few days to allow any exiting creatures to crawl out. (I didn’t have time to do this as I only had one afternoon.)

4.    Re-pot the marginals by simply lifting the container out of the water (look out for any wildlife), remove and divide the plant, then put into a new pot. This pot should be lined with hessian to prevent any aquatic compost falling out. Before placing it back into the water, place a thick layer of grit on top of the pot. Re-potting should be done every year.

5.    Introduce aquatic plants to soak up excess nutrients. These plants can include:

•    Utricularia vulgaris
•    Trapa natans
•    Elodea Canadensis
•    Fontinalis antipyretica
•    Water lilies

It’s hard work, but once I was finished and my mother and I looked back at what I had accomplished, I must say we were both quite proud. As a reward for my hard work I was able to sit down with a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It was a good Sunday afternoon.

Mr McGregor


Spring Flowering Bulbs

Now that autumn upon us, it’s time to start your spring flowering bulb list. If you want your garden to bloom into a colourful, peaceful and beautiful sanctuary in the spring, plant your bulbs from October to December. Many bulbs have a very long dormant period and need this time to settle and grow, requiring very little attention. With most bulbs needing this long period of dormancy, now is the best time to buy your spring flowers.

At Notcutts we have just launched our Autumn collection of spring flowering bulbs. Our bulbs are always obtained from reliable growers to ensure you buy only the best of the best. You’ll find a great range to choose from including daffodils, crocus, tulips and many other well-known and some not so well-known varieties.

A new Lifestyle collection has also been launched where you can find bulbs such as Tulip Exotic Emperor, Narcissi Kendron, Ranucculi Purple and Iris Eye of the Tiger. Furthermore, to help you get on the way to creating the perfect spring garden, there is a Buy One Get One Free offer on a selection of tulips, crocus and daffodil.

Here are a few tips to bear in mind when buying and growing your bulbs:

•    Ensure they’re as healthy and as fresh as possible – look out for plump and firm bulbs
•    Bulbs shouldn’t feel soft
•    Choose bulbs according to their preferred location and soil type
•    When growing your spring flowering bulbs good drainage and plenty of light is key, especially as many bulbs are prone to rot when dormant

Further bulb tips can be found in our Garden Library.



The Benefits of a Sedum Roof

An example of a sedum roofSedum roofs, also known as living or green roofs, use plant life instead of traditional roofing materials and can be installed on flat or gently pitched roofs. The benefits of a Sedum roof are aplenty not only for its appearance, but also because it can encourage biodiversity in an area, helps to alleviate flooding and much more.

One of the greatest advantages of a sedum roof is their ability to make a significant difference when it comes to climate change. Through research it has been proved that these roofs can reduce the amount of heat emitted from urban environments, which contributes to a greener, more ecological environment.

Another is the ability to retain much more rain than a conventional roof, minimising the cause of some flooding and the pressure put on sewage systems.

However, we think you will love this benefit most of all; not only will it help create a greener environment; it will also help to make your money go further. Sedum roofs are known to provide some insulation during winter and help reduce the need for air conditioners during warmer months – thus saving on gas and electricity bills.

A sedum roof is made up of a combination of soil, sedum plants and small pockets of air trapped between the plants, which lead to the next advantage. Through these components lower and higher frequency noises can be blocked out, reducing the level of outdoor noise heard. The sounds of heavy rain and harsh winds are insulted by the plants, which contributes to a peaceful home or office.

Last, but not least, the final benefit of a sedum roof comes in the form of wildlife. According to research conducted in the UK and Switzerland, sedum or living roofs create a micro climate for wildlife such as rare birds and insects. They also help filter airborne pollutants in the atmosphere.

All in all these roofs can provide us with warmth, energy savings and help us do our part for the environment.



Finding Inspiration for your Garden

An inspirational gardenYou have the idea to begin growing your ideal garden or you want to start from scratch and redesign the existing back yard, yet ideas are not flowing as freely as you’d hoped. Planning can be daunting, but with our help and advice we hope you’ll be well away and left itching to get outside.

If yours is a new garden you want to begin by establishing what soil type you will be working with. Soil testing kits can be found in most garden centres, but you can distinguish between them by touch. For more information about soil types take a look at our Garden Library.

Once you know what soil type you have in your garden you can begin to narrow down the plants you can grow. Make sure you find out what each flower’s growing season is, using our dedicated list of all plants and trees you can grow by month in the Garden Library. Choose your plants by their texture and colour with a balance between evergreen and deciduous plants.

Now that you have everything organised and you know what plants you wish to grow and where they will be placed, a general tidy is in order. Cut back hedges, rake up all debris on the lawn, mow the grass and make sure all flower bed edges are neat.

Tip: All trimmings and cuttings can be placed in a compost heap.

If your soil has been untouched for a while, you may need to break it up by giving it a good dig. Whilst digging it may also be a good idea to incorporate some well rotten manure or fertiliser into the soil. This will ensure your flowers blossom well in the coming months.

Lacking Inspiration?

Sourcing inspiration for your garden can be challenging, but extremely rewarding. Mr McGregor recently wrote a wonderful piece about how art has influenced him. It was Claude Monet’s Iris Bed in Monet’s Garden that left quite an impression on the keen gardener. He describes his rockery as filled with the blue and purple colours of blue bells and lavender, which were the colours Monet was most fond of.

Going on a family outing to see some flower shows or maybe a few garden openings could also trigger some much needed inspiration. Do some research and find out what garden openings there are in your local area, you never know their designs could unlock a treasure chest full of ideas.