With spring on its way and Easter coming up many of us will turn to our gardens. For some it’s the start of an annual battle to maintain some semblance of order; for others a carefully choreographed year of management to produce the perfect show of flowers or prize winning vegetables.
Around 25 years ago this time of year coincided with an annual campaign to get people to use peat free compost. If you’d asked me then whether, in 2021, we would still be digging up peat and selling it for gardening I’d have said, in my less cynical youth, a resounding no! But here we are two and a half decades later and the majority of composts, for sale at an average garden centre, will contain peat. The comment I get back, when asking why, is that there is nothing as good. Yet we have had more than 25 years to solve this problem, 25 years where technology is unrecognisably different, where medical science has leapt forward and over which time we have been unable, no unwilling, to find an alternative for growing plants. Incidentally we only started using peat as a growing medium in the 1930s and in bulk from the 1970s. Two thirds of peat is used by amateur gardeners.
A large amount of my time over the last few weeks has been on projects to protect peatlands, either through practical work out on site through to mapping the damage to our local peatlands in order to develop projects to restore them. Fortunately, Northumberland has seen little commercial extraction of peat but we still have work to do to protect the highly valuable sites we have left. So when you do buy your compost please go peat free, sadly inertia in the sector means you may have to work a little harder at times to get the results you want but a beautiful garden is surely not worth the cost of environmental destruction.
Many people are now thinking harder about areas for wildlife in their gardens, and gardens do provide some valuable space for birds and insects to hedgehogs and even bats. A little bit of extra wildness; some careful planting to provide food all year for pollinating insects and of course colour in the flower beds; and less use of pesticides all help contribute to spaces that can be productive or pretty at the same time as being a haven for nature.
I watch out for the first butterfly and bee in my small and unkempt garden, I am happy to see the hedgehog snuffling around at night or watching bats feeding overhead. I am certainly not alone in viewing my little space as a nature reserve as well as garden. A garden can provide exercise, improve wellbeing, produce food and all of this can come alongside a huge variety of wild creatures, large and small. Remember too that creatures like wasps do a gardener a great service in controlling species that might otherwise decimate your prize plants. It’s all part of nature’s rich offering.
So a few easy tips on being a wildlife gardener:
- Use fewer pesticides, and avoid slug pellets that kill hedgehogs and birds
- Leave some wilder areas
- Don’t use peat
- Plant flowers that provide pollen from spring to autumn
- And, most importantly, enjoy the wildlife that comes to visit!