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Gardening – My favourite four letter word…..

Just to put your hands into a bag of peat and give it a good squeeze has to rank amongst the most sensuous pleasures known to man – well, certainly a man that doesn’t get out very often! As a young ‘horticultural apprentice’ in my parents’ garden, I used it liberally to improve the soil in the borders and any new plant would have at least half a sack added to give it a good start in life. In fact, I’m surprised that, after all my digging, their garden didn’t evolve into the first man-made peat bog!
 
How things have changed. Once upon a time you could pop along to the garden centre and pick up a tin of creosote and some DDT, along with your good old peat, in order to tackle the weekend’s jobs. It’s probably fair to say that the only bogs of interest to us in those days were of the porcelain variety and any critters who had the temerity to chew on any of our geraniums would have the full arsenal of our “endorsed by Saddam Hussein” sprays unleashed upon them. Now garden centre shelves in Walmley, Sutton Coldfield, are, quite rightly, full of green and organic products that will only give greenfly a mild headache or tummy upset – just enough to put it off nibbling your plants and try the ones next door instead. Equally, the outside pallets of composts now offer a bewildering array of mixes, but with the overwhelming message that if you pick up anything that is not carrying the peat-free or, in the worst case, reduced–peat logo, you will be labeled an environmental vandal. Soon they will be offering brown paper bags so these “Peatists” can wrap their offending products discreetly to hide them from the prying eyes of the environmentally enlightened masses…..

But, should these Peatists be vilified for using what is, in effect, a natural resource covering vast tracts of Russia and Canada – especially as it has now been classified as a renewable biomass product by a UN advisory body? In our country, at least, there seems little excuse for pillaging acres of sedge peat that will take lifetimes to replenish – at a growth of 5mm a year it doesn’t take the mathematical ability of Carol Vorderman to work out that you and I, or indeed our children’s children, will not live to see these areas regenerated. Leave it to nature and the odd (very odd!) bog snorkeler to enjoy……

The startling reality, aside from all its aesthetic and tactile qualities, is that peat has very little that it can add to our gardens that we can’t produce ourselves in our compost bins. If you haven’t the space, time or energy to do your own composting, then buy composted green waste as it is every bit as good as peat based soil conditioners – you only need to see the numbers of worms it contains! Peatists and the large commercial growers may argue that peat is a much easier and consistent product to work with – but what they can’t argue with is the “peat-miles” involved and that peat extraction is now as environmentally acceptable an activity as chopping down the rainforests or dumping all our rubbish at sea.

Personally, I love the stuff; you can burn it, grow plants in it (if you have to) but, most importantly, it adds that all important flavour to a single malt whisky – so call me a Peatist if you want to, but keep putting your leftovers in the compost bin while I pour myself another shot of Laphroaig.

Jonathan Wild
Garden Consultant and Connoisseur of the ‘Black Stuff’


Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

Pimp My Ride -To the Garden Centre and Back!

We’ve all done it – popped along to the local garden centre for a packet of sunflower seeds and come out with enough new plants to re-stock a small country estate. It is also virtually impossible to leave without a trailer full of compost, a nice new shiny stainless steel thingamibob for weeding the borders or maybe a Lady Spade! Which is all very well until you get to the family Mondeo and wonder how you are going to fit it all in.

The bottom line is that most cars and I include Chelsea Tractors and pick ups in this sweeping statement, were not designed for the garden centre run. The loading procedure for your average shopping trip inevitably takes the form of a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ with Stuart Hall providing a hilarious commentary as the boot, back seat, foot wells and glove box are engulfed in horticultural stuff.

Yes, of course you can cheat and take advantage of the free home delivery, but not everyone can wait to get their new plants and ‘sundries’ home; besides, what if you live outside the delivery area? A few years ago I remember travelling throughBirminghamin my gleaming company car when I spotted a garden centre with a sign proclaiming ‘SALE– EVERYTHING HALF PRICE!’ This always has that red rag/ bull effect on yours truly so business meetings were cancelled as I went hunting for a bargain. Unfortunately, my bargain(s) turned out to be a pair of spiral topiary specimen trees which were approximately 6 feet tall and planted in substantial pots of very heavy compost. Stuart Hall would have had a field day; my suit, the previously immaculate car and my self-esteem were in tatters as I managed to cajole these monsters through the boot, across the back seat and onto the dashboard. Thankfully the trees survived unscathed and are still resplendent in the front garden of my old house – however, every time I pass by I get flashbacks of the journey from hell and the hefty cleaning bill!

Luckily I have never been one of those people who feel a need to drive around in a spotless car and, having now acquired 3 children and assorted dogs, that isn’t an option anyway. Yes I’ve done the flash motor bit but my latest jalopy, an old Volvo estate, is proving to be as close to perfection as I can get for garden centre forays. Firstly, it has got a massive boot with a low sill; with the back seats down you could even get a garden bench in there! Secondly it already has a background aroma of ‘Eau de Wild Bunch’ so a stray bit of manure won’t make any difference. Most importantly, I have a good feel for exactly how much I can load in before either the suspension gives up the ghost or the boys in blue read me my rights. If I had one complaint it would be the lack of headroom for tall plants (sod the passengers!) but perhaps I could get someone to fit one of those concertina roofs like you see on Camper Vans.

The big problem with garden centre purchases is the ‘randomness’ of it all. Normally your groceries will fit neatly into plastic bags. Not so your garden supplies where you have to try and keep your plants from toppling over and prevent muddy water from dripping on your velour upholstery. I would love to see the Top Gear team have a go at ‘pimping’ your average car into the ideal wheels for garden centre devotees – Jeremy Clarkson take note!

Maybe ‘garden centre user friendliness’ would not be top of your average road tester’s priorities when putting the latest Porsche through it’s paces – but I would be willing to bet that at some stage in its life it’s going to have some inappropriate plant life on the passenger seat following a trip to the garden centre!

 Garden article provided by Recommended, Sutton Coldfield community magazine advertising local business to the Sutton Coldfield public.