Any Other Topics: Tufa,hypertufa and peat
Started by: Geoff Nicolle
ethics and availabilityGo to latest contribution by Tim Ingram, 09 July 2011, 08:56. Go to bottom of this page.
Have been a member for 50 years.When I started tufa and granulated sedge peat were all the rage.
Is it ethical to use them now and are they available anyway? I have some polystyrene fish boxes I hope to make into trough gardens.
Hello Geoff, I too started my alpine gardening more years ago than I like to admit using both tufa and sedge peat. I still use tufa and believe it is still available at a price, but much more difficult to locate. As far as sedge peat is concerned, I haven't use this for years and never for alpines as I found it held too much moisture and caused drainge problems. I am not sure of the ethics but presume they are similar to those for the use of peat. Definitely discouraged by the AGS and the RHS, who are keen to find a sustainable alternative. I started my gardening in Derbyshire where tufa was easily available but the sedge peat I used at that time was from Somerset. I now garden in Devon and I am pretty sure that it will no longer be available from that supplier, however I noted on the internet that it is still available from
http://www.thecompostcentre.co.uk/products.html should you be keen to investigate further. I have replaced peat in my recent potting composts with composted bark with added vermiculite or perlite which ever is to hand together with JI 2 and grit. I hope this is some help. Val
I must admit I am quite keen to find a source of tufa because it is such a wonderful way of growing some special plants. It is certainly not easy to find any sources, and quite often it is reclaimed from old gardens. In Nature I think it is pretty rigorously protected except in the few places where small amounts occur in extant quarries.
As far as Peat goes I am quite persuaded by John Kelly's article in the Bulletin Vol. 65, No.2 (June 1997) pp.215-217, where he makes a strong case that environmental concerns have been greatly exaggerated, and to some extent questions what value we do place on relatively impoverished bogland habitats. The majority of commercial growers must still use peat for all the advantages it offers and to be realistic this is unlikely to change. Composted bark does seem a good alternative, and often recommended for tricky container plants like Daphnes, but it is usually mixed with peat.
Maintaining threatened ecological landscapes is inconvenient for some cultivation habits. As a society conservation needs to be our priority. The RHS, Kew, RSPB and many other organisations and retailers are working to replace peat use by gardeners. My copy of The Alpine Gardener arrived yesterday, the cover states: ?The International Society for the Cultivation, Conservation and Exploration of Alpine and Rock Garden Plants?. Cultivation at the expense of conservation is a poor legacy.
You can download Joseph Holden?s article for free,
Holden, J. 2005. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A, 363: 2891-2913. ?Peatlands are one of the most important ecosystems in the world. While they cover only about 3% of the land and freshwater surface, they contain around one-third of the carbon stored in the terrestrial biosphere and 10% of available freshwater resources. They also contain many unique species and support the livelihoods of communities around the world.?
Laurence - thank you very much for the reference which I shall have a good look through. I certainly appreciate the ecological value of peatland habitats, but this applies to very many habitats around the world threatened by man's activities and a balance has to be struck. I think John Kelly's arguement was several fold; it was mainly aimed at peat extraction in Ireland. He gives the figure for example that less than 1% of the total Irish bog is used for horticultural purposes (though this was 14 years ago). He makes the point that most bog in Ireland is not natural but the result of man's activities over millenia and also that much of it would in time return to woodland. This of course is not globally true, but there will be many other such regions. To take a blanket view (pardon the pun) on peatland habitats takes no regard of the great benefits we gain from growing plants and gardening, though I am completely behind the aim to husband resources as carefully as we are able. I think like most debates it is less than easy to take a reasoned view and it is valuable to hear discussion from a variety of directions to gain a good understanding.
A very thoughtful and helpful discussion on peat is given by the highly respected Glendoick Nursery at:
This discussion goes along the lines that ethical concerns in the UK put UK businesses at a disadvantage compared to their continental rivals and also that peat is renewable. High standards in the UK should not be compromised purely for short-term commercial gain. The EU does not consider peat to be renewable.
Plantlife considers using peat as a growing medium is no more justifiable than digging up rare plants from the wild in order to adorn gardens; both threaten rare species, http://www.plantlife.org.uk/
Alternatives to peat in gardening and horticulture can be found on many other websites. You could start here, International Mire Conservation Group, http://www.imcg.net
To read the British Government?s most recent authoritative report on the need to shift to peat-free alternatives download the paper at H M Government, Overarching Impact Assessment for the Natural Environment White Paper ? The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature (June 2011) http://www.archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/documents/newp-ia-110607.pdf
This is obviously quite a contentious debate. However, to take the purist approach that no peatlands should be utilised seems somewhat holier than thou unless their over-reaching environmental importance is very strongly evident; and as I said earlier this must be true of very many other environments that are under threat. Businesses must benefit but also the overall economy does too which has implications for us all. In the Glendoick article they state that only 2% or less of peat is used for horticultural purposes, the majority being used as fuel, for which there are very valid objections (viz. CO2 emissions), but of course that applies to oil and coal too. It must be the case that there are vast reserves of peatlands in inaccessible parts of the world such as Siberia which are not under any threat. And the Glendoick article specifically states that Swedish reserves, for example, are harvested on a renewable basis. If this is not the case elsewhere then it could be possible.
In a way I stand on both sides of this debate because I have always been strongly environmentally aware and in support of small scale enterprise which is more 'holistic' in the use of resources and economic returns. On the other I view gardening as an activity that increases one's awareness of plants and their role in our lives and I hate to think of it as being in opposition to conservation. Like Glendoick when I grew plants (on a small scale) on the nursery I used composts with a mix of loam and grit, plus some peat. It could be that some alternatives would fit the bill but these are likely to also have environmental repercussions and in many cases, like propagation, they are less than effective. Many small nurseries do take note of the debate but it does have to be as fair and reasoned as is possible. I, for example, never use peat when planting in the garden. I am a strong advocate of making my own compost. Thus I don't think we are as far apart as it seems.