Monty Don has told gardeners they have to prioritise the climate, and that means avoiding compost made from peat and plants grown in it, the gardening expert says. He’s also advised gardeners to ‘consume less’.
We love to follow Monty’s beautiful garden ideas and advice. He always has wisdom to share when it comes to the jobs we should be doing in the garden right now, and the broadcaster and author’s Instagram feed is a must for inspiration for our own plots. But the column by our favourite gardening guru in BBC Gardeners’ World magazine has created a storm of controversy and garden retailers have criticised his stance.
Monty wrote that not to care about climate change is ‘sticking your head in the sand, not least because it will affect the quality of life for your children and grandchildren’. He had strong words for garden centres, writing that selling compost made from peat and peat-grown plants is ‘actively choosing to do harm’.
Peat is made from plant remains that are incompletely decomposed. It accumulates under conditions of waterlogging and the exclusion of oxygen. Its characteristics make it an ideal growing medium, which is why it’s prized. But peat is important to the climate because it is a carbon store, a habitat for wildlife, and contributes to water management.
In 2010, the government called for the use of peat to be phased out with a long-term goal to eliminate peat use by all gardeners, growers and procurers by 2030 at the latest. Then natural environment minister Richard Benyon said, ‘The horticultural industry has made real progress in reducing peat use, but I want to see peat eliminated from the amateur gardener market by 2020.’
However, figures show that peat use is little changed. The Growing Media Monitor report, published on 28 October 2020, shows that between 2015 and 2019 the amount of peat contained in growing media – the material that plants grow in – only reduced from almost 53 per cent to 41.5 per cent in the consumer sector, says Friends of the Earth.
If you want to follow Monty’s lead and avoid peat, look out for compost that’s labelled as peat-free. You can make your own compost and leaf mould, too. When it comes to choosing potted plants, check labels or ask before you buy.