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


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.


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).


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 and follow the quick link to "Home and garden use" or try for advice on disposal.


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.

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English and Drama Teacher needed in Wrexham

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher needed in Wrexham The ...

English Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, the childW...

English Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Chester: English Teacher The school, th...

Maths Teacher (One day per week)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Maths Teacher (one day per week) Gr...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits