Drumhead Cottage Ethics

We can all benefit from reflecting on the responsibility incumbent on us all as gardeners and plantspeople to nurture and do no harm.

Peat free growing

We are very proud to raise our home-grown plants 100% peat-free. Our potting compost is based on Melcourt's high quality, sustainable composted bark mix, to which we add loam and horticultural grit and controlled release fertiliser depending on a particular plant's requirements. Our nursery lies just a few miles from the Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses, one of the largest raised peat bogs in the UK and a site of national and international scientific importance. Although peat is no longer extracted from this unique and precious wetland habitat (the Moss has been under restoration for the past twenty years), the scars of large-scale mechanised commercial extraction of peat for horticulture are still evident to visitors today.

In light of the harm peat extraction does to such habitats as well as the vital role peat bogs play in carbon storage and flood prevention, we could not justify continuing to use peat-based compost to grow our plants and so in 2014 our nursery went peat-free. And we have never looked back! We appreciate that unfortunately, some people may have had negative experiences with inferior quality peat-free growing media in the past and it certainly does behave slightly differently to peat-based media. We are always very happy to share our experiences, and indeed, stock our compost for customers to purchase and try for themselves. Should any of our customers need convincing of the virtues of peat-free growing media, we believe that the results we obtain with it (our thriving, healthy plants) speak for themselves.

An organic approach

As with our decision to avoid using peat because of the ecological damage its extraction causes, it simply felt wrong to risk upsetting the delicate natural balance of the special place that we live and work in by resorting to the use of harmful chemicals to control pests and diseases. Instead we choose to take a broadly organic approach to managing our nursery in which we combine targeted biological controls alongside a careful management of our plants to ensure that they are robust and healthy and best placed to resist pests and diseases in the first place.

As visitors to Alderford will know, our beautiful lake and its surroundings are a haven for a really diverse range of wildlife. Throughout the seasons, the wide range of plants that we grow attracts an equally wide range of insect-life: from butterflies to bees and much else in between to the delight of ourselves and visitors to our nursery. With at least a handful of plants in flower even in midwinter, even a brief half-hour of sunshine in January is enough to tempt honey bees from their hive to forage among our hellebores. In spring, the nursery swarms with tiny froglets newly emerged from the lake to seek food and shelter amongst the plant pots in our growing on areas. Occasionally we’re fortunate enough to find a newly hatched dragonfly, perhaps resting after its first flight, drying itself on a leaf in a sunny corner by the greenhouse. It can be a truly idyllic place to work: we're very fortunate.

We actively encourage wild birds by feeding and providing nest sites. Ground beetles, ladybirds and amphibians (among others) are encouraged to make their home in the nursery by the creation of shelters and sites to hibernate. All of which works towards achieving something of a balanced ecosystem within the nursery that cannot but mitigate the risks posed by pests and diseases to the success of our business.

This is not to suggest that such an approach is without its challenges: to simply stand by and hope that those dozen or so ladybird larvae slowly munching their way through a severe blackfly infestation will resolve the problem can test the nerve of even an experienced organic grower! Inevitably, however, the balanced equilibrium inherent in a healthy natural system tends to be restored. To have played some small role in that, even if by simply not directly intervening, is hugely satisfying and rewarding. We can all benefit from reflecting on the responsibility incumbent on us all as gardeners and plantspeople to nurture and do no harm.