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There is always something to do in the garden, but there are times when doing nothing is also a good idea, when the weather is too grim or when weary limbs are too resistant. So rather than telling you what we have been up to or offering advice on what you could be doing, we occasionally stray onto other topics – still gardening-related, of course. We’ve been talking to our friends at the Cotswold Fruit Company. Their founder, David Lindgren, shares our passion for peat-free compost. This week he has been having a dig into the background of a familiar name on bags of commercial garden compost: John Innes. This is what he found.
Although familiar to almost every gardener, John Innes wasn’t one himself; he was a successful property developer who decided to leave his fortune to establish a horticultural school. The John Innes Horticultural Institution was founded in Merton, South London in 1910 and soon became a place of serious scientific research. A hundred years later, the John Innes Centre, by now relocated to Norwich, was ranked number one in the world for plant and animal science. The Institution also played a leading role, along with the East Malling Research Centre in Kent, in developing rootstocks for fruit trees, including the ubiquitous MM106 (on which the apple trees we’ve planted in the Walled Garden have been grown), one “M” referring to Merton, the other to Malling.
And what about their compost? Seeking a better growing medium for their plant trials, the Institution experimented with soil sterilisation and different proportions of nitrogen, phosphates and potash. The end result was the John Innes composts we know today. In 1938 they published the formulae rather than patent them and helped to publicise the benefits of their composts as part of the war effort to increase food production. Neither the Institution nor the Centre have ever manufactured compost themselves nor made financial gain from their formulations.
Sadly, the original formulations included the use of peat and although we can forgive its inclusion in 1938, when the phrases “carbon sink” and “climate change” had yet to be uttered and when the world had other things on its mind, we avoid using it in the Walled Garden. Instead we use an excellent peat-free compost from SylvaGrow as well as the Norfolk-made soil improver, PlantGrow (produced entirely from plants). Both are available locally and are well worth seeking out if you too would like to help reduce the depletion of peat bogs.
We may not have any upcoming courses this month or next, but we will open again soon, and if you know someone who needs cheering up you could always give them a gift voucher for a future course. Get in touch to find out more.
Plant of the Week
Helleborus foetidus is an evergreen perennial which grows to 60cm. It has with erect stems, and palmately divided leaves with narrow dark green leaflets. The nodding, purple-edged, pale green flowers are borne in large open clusters from late winter. It thrives on neutral to alkaline soils that are moist, fertile and humus-rich. Partial shade is ideal but it can tolerate full sun. It will self-seed gently around the area.