What bliss to wake on Sunday and see leaden skies. By 11am, light rain was falling and continued gently until early evening. Not a vast amount of water, but enough to revitalise, to freshen, to lay the dust and make us all feel better. And now it's deliciously warm and Junesque outside.
I even went out to photograph the mini-meadow in Sunday's rain and this is what it looked like.
Ox eye daises Leucanthemum vulgare dominating the sward of our minimeadow. Knapweeds, field scabious and meadow cranesbill should follow but I fear that the spotted orchid, Dactylorrhiza fuchsii may have failed in the dry. (CLICK ON PICS TO MAKE BIGGER.)
PEATIE-TWEETIE - Sorry this is a bit long.
I got myself into a slightly intense exchange of tweets about peat and peat-based composts the other day. As usual with such discussions, I suspect that I was the villain and decided to scarper before it got nasty. It's not easy even for normal people to have a serious exchange when limited to 140 characters but with me, it's next to impossible.
When I was informed that if I couldn't propagate without peat I had no right to call myself a gardener, I thought it time to quit.
And as an excuse to duck the issue – in a disgracefully cowardly way – I promised to blog on the subject soon. So here is my contribution to the much exercised, frequently misinformed, often emotive and invariably intense peat debate.
First a few admissions:
1. Behind my garden fence I have several bales of Irish Moss Peat. They've been there for some years. Just thought you should know.
2. When I moved into my current garden, 7 and a half years ago, I dug a sizeable hole and back-filled it with Irish Moss Peat. I wanted a small, moist zone where I could grow calcifuges.
3. I use some peat free growing medium and some peat-based. I always prefer peat-based material because it is better in every respect. But I use peat-free where I feel I can, to reduce my over-all peat consumption - which, currently, is minimal.
4. I will continue to use peat - though sparingly and carefully - for as long as I can and I'm afraid I'm not ashamed of doing so. In fact I'm more ashamed of driving down to my relatives in Kent, instead of going by train, than I am of using peat as a growing medium.
5. I would NEVER use peat as a soil improver (2 above was a one-off event and the peat is still exactly where I left it, in the hole.)
So there. You probably hate me already but I wanted to make things plain.
Why do I continue to use peat?
Probably for the same reason that I drive a car, eat meat, burn oil and fail to grow all my own food: because it's difficult to find convenient alternatives. And because I know that with modest consumption, all gardeners could continue to use peat without causing extensive environmental damage, and without excessive carbon emissions.
I could survive, just, without doing anything unsustainable. But in real life, as long as I watch tv, enjoy lamb stew, go to a restaurant, buy grapes at Morrisons, take a hot bath or dine with friends, I'm leaving a footprint which, to an extent, is unsustainable - if you'll pardon the horribly mixed metaphors.
We all do things that are not helping to stem global warming. And we condone them, often by passive complicity, but we condone them just the same - often because we prefer not to face life without such things. We perhaps shouldn't. But we do.
And as a passionate and active supporter of wildlife conservation, I can assure you that if peat extraction could not take place without threatening important habitats, not only would I never use it, but I'd also be campaigning for a blanket ban. If peat from non-sensitive habitats is used, and used sparingly, biodiversity need not be harmed.
Peat is wonderful stuff for growers.
It is unique in its ability to absorb, hold and slowly release water. Without peat, the great revolution from open ground nurseries to modern garden centres may not have happened.
Growing media, right back to the first John Innes formulae, contained peat because they provided that unique habitat for the roots of plants kept and grown unnaturally, in containers.
When commercial horticulture changed, to feed the voracious demand for containerised stock, demand for peat grew massively. Extraction, as a result, was increased to the extent that local, ie, Mainland UK deposits began to be depleted. Worse, valuable raised bog habitats were destroyed, many of them before conservation bodies recognised the destruction. It is a tragedy, that so much was lost before blanket extraction was stopped.
Any extraction of peat, today, needs to be strictly policed and sensitive natural habitats need to be protected.
But peat is widely abundant. Many peat-rich areas are neither under threat, nor important as wildlife habitats. In general, they are species-poor and extraction, under strict control, need not cause such extensive damage.
Furthermore, in countries such as the Republic of Ireland, where peat is burnt in power stations, the surface material, previously marketed as high grade horticultural peat, has no other use. It is therefore wasted - a bye-product of great value to gardeners.
So, although I appreciate that peat use in horticulture contributes to carbon emissions - though not nearly so much as we're led to believe by the anti-peat lobby; and although there is strong political pressure not to use the stuff, I remain an unrepentant, though sparing peat user. And I'll continue to be one until either convinced otherwise, or until the law prevents me from acquiring what amounts to a valuable bye product.
Two final points:
1. In rescue work, botanic gardens and other institutions are conserving species threatened with extinction in the wild, or which are already extinct. Some of these plants could not be grown without peat. Carnivorous plants are examples, but there are others. It is essential, therefore, that if the government finally stamps out use of peat, those institutions receive the necessary dispensation, so that they can continue their vital work.
2. When you buy compost look at the bag. Many are labelled: 'With added John Innes.' That is a meaningless expression. Does it refer to John Innes knowhow? To the institute itself, based in Norwich, or that the compost contains John Innes compost within the mix - a compost in a compost. Which ever way you look at it, it's disingenuous because J.I. composts contain 30% Sphagnum Moss Peat.
My lovely Rosa 'Madame Gregoire Staechelin' got blown out of her birch tree during last week's gale. I need a ladder and a compliant PG to manoeuvre it back and fix it with wire that won't cut into the tree or the rose.
I'm listening to - or anticipating the angry comments about to come from the anti peat lobby.
This day in 2010 I arrived, with the PG, in Singapore to help with community gardening projects. My passport was stolen a few days later, in Melaka, Malaysia. Singapore stuff here
This week's film was a TV production of Voyage Around My Father, with Laurence Olivier, Jane Asher and Alan Bates and made during the 70s. It's a fine piece, and interesting to compare with the recent West End stage production which starred David Jacobi. Mortimer was a good writer of fast, witty dialogue but he also had an unerring gift for making a bully look vulnerable and, eventually, even appealing. I think it was one of Olivier's finer TV roles.
A new acquisition from Coton Manor - the fabulously coloured Rosa 'Mrs Oakley Fisher.' She's plonked in among deep purples and looks a proper madam!
Thanks, if you've read this far! A more jolly post next week, let's hope.