Peat-free or pest-free: just how green is your garden?

This week, amateur gardeners were accused of damaging the environment by using peat-based compost. Terry Kirby compiles an organic check-list for those heading to the garden centre this weekend

A A A

The totally green gardener will try to follow the fundamental principles of organic life: to eschew all chemicals and pesticides and do everything possible to sustain the environment and support wildlife. Nevertheless, there are still some important rules to bear in mind.

PLANTS

The totally green gardener will try to follow the fundamental principles of organic life: to eschew all chemicals and pesticides and do everything possible to sustain the environment and support wildlife. Nevertheless, there are still some important rules to bear in mind.

Despite the fashion for spiky plants and exotic grasses, remember to choose plants that are suited to the conditions you can provide in your garden.

Plant flowering shrubs such as buddleia that attract butterflies and remember bees like plants with very small flowers, such as cotoneaster. Birds like berries of all kinds.

The Royal Horticultural Society, which is making care for the environment one of the main themes of the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens later this month, warns gardeners to avoid non-native invasive species which threaten UK habitats, however decorative they may be. This includes plants such as the Himalayan balsam, the giant hogweed and the floating pennywort.

Don't cut the lawn too short (and leave the clipped grass to feed the lawn). Try to recycle pots and planters (scrub them well to avoid disease and pests).

WEEDS

It is no longer acceptable to use chemical weed-killers. The organic gardener will either get down or hoe down: that is, get down on his knees and dig the weeds up by hand or use an old-fashioned tool like a hoe.

Some gardeners use old carpet as a blanket on large areas to keep down weeds but the Henry Doubleday Research Association, the country's foremost organic gardening body, now recommends against this because of the dangers of chemicals from the carpet leaching into the soil.

It also points out that other weed-controlling devices such as textile or plastic membranes, while they are preferable to carpets, come from non-renewable resources.

Biodegradable alternatives include cardboard or newspapers (a very suitable use for back issues of The Independent) covered with a loose mulch made from garden prunings. Ornamental bark or wood chips can also be used. Remember to ensure all wood products are organic and/or from sustainable sources (see below).

DECKING AND FURNITURE

The current fashion, encouraged by endless television makeover programmes, for urban gardens to be designed as outdoor living spaces, has led to massive boom in all kinds of garden-associated paraphernalia - from decking to hammocks via patio heaters, gazebos and oil lamps.

Wooden items, such as barbecue charcoal, bark chips for mulch, decking, furniture and sheds, should come from sustainable sources and carry the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council. The Soil Association in Britain has its own FSC-approved certification system called Woodmark. Some garden centres have now adopted this scheme.

Avoid plastic furniture, tableware and particularly children's play equipment that comes from non-renewable sources.

You might also want to ensure that "ethnic" items such as chimineas and hammocks do not originate from exploited Third-World producers.

Some charity shops sell items such as wind chimes and tea-light holders for the garden which have been bought under the Fair Trade principle and are often much cheaper than those on sale at garden centres.

STONE

Several beaches around Britain, particularly in parts of Cornwall, have put up notices warning visitors not to cart away large bags of attractive stones for their garden features.

All decorative stones should be bought in bags from garden centres, which get their supplies from recognised quarries.

The RHS has also alerted gardeners to the use of rocks taken from the rare geological features called limestone pavements.

It has banned them in its gardens and shows and recommends the use of other types of natural stone - wherever possible recycled from walls or buildings - for use in rock gardens and landscaping.

LIGHTING

Garden lighting wastes energy, blocks out the view of the stars in the night sky and annoys the neighbours. Monty Don, presenter of the BBC's Gardeners' World programme, says an item on garden lighting provoked a flood of complaints from viewers about light pollution. So, use solar-powered lamps instead of electric lighting to give a different type of illumination. These store up light during the day and glow gently after dark. They can also be easily moved around, therefore avoiding dangerous and complicated cabling. Alternatively, use candles or oil lamps, which can be more attractive.

If you have a pond, consider a solar-powered fountain, which floats on the surface of the water. Greenhouse and glasshouse owners should remember to conserve energy by improved insulation and sensible thermostat settings.

WILDLIFE

As well as providing plants for butterflies and bees, the organic gardener should encourage wildlife by other means. There are now huge varieties of nesting boxes, bird tables, baths and feeders (many of which are squirrel-proof) to attract wild birds.

It is also possible to buy ready-made homes for ladybirds, bats and hedgehogs from specialised companies, but these can easily be contrived at home. A pile of old logs in a quiet corner provides an ideal habitat for beetles and other insects. This is all in the gardener's own interest as far as pest control is concerned (see section on pests).

If you are creating a pond, do not take frog spawn from the wild, but wait for the frogs and toads to arrive by themselves - they usually will, along with dragonflies. Avoid goldfish or carp, as they eat the native wildlife.

PESTS

Green gardeners will never use pesticides. They use shallow traps filled with beer to catch slugs and snails and let them drown happily. Or they trap them in the rinds of breakfast grapefruit and release them in wild areas.

Greenfly and similar pests can been combated by encouraging ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings, which prey on them, or spraying plants with water and organic liquid soap. Ants can be tackled with talcum powder.

Don't be too tidy: predators that eat pests like slugs, such as hedgehogs, need safe places to hide.

Local authority recycling schemes will help get rid of your old pesticides and weed killers, many of which have now been withdrawn. For more information, go to www.pesticides.gov.uk and follow the quick link to "Home and garden use" or try www.pan-uk.org for advice on disposal.

COMPOST

This is International Compost Awareness Week, designed to promote composting of household waste rather than landfill or incineration. Compost made this way, say organisations like Friends of the Earth, should always be used instead of peat, which is extracted from valuable wildlife sites.

FoE have criticised some garden and DIY centres for selling peat labelled as "multi-purpose" compost and urges gardeners only to buy compost labelled "peat-free". According to one poll, 74 per cent of gardeners now support a total ban on peat, although it still forms three-quarters of the soil-conditioner market.

Green gardeners will buy organic or mushroom compost. They will probably also make their own compost, either in a home-made composter or using a special bin available from garden centres (or some local authority recycling centres). Kitchen scraps such as tea bags and vegetable peelings (not cooked vegetables or meat) can go in as well as green garden waste. Bacteria and worms will do the rest.

Tiger or brandling worms ( Eisenia foetida) produce a particularly fine compost. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (0247 630 3517) can advise on setting up a worm bin.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker