The Problem with Peat: A conversation with horticulturist Harriet Thompson.

Harriet Thompson

The Problem with Peat: A conversation with horticulturist Harriet Thompson.

This week we are looking deeper into the environmental effects of peat and why we should be doing more to avoid the use of it. To offer a wider view we have been in contact with fellow horticulturist Harriet Thompson, Director and grower at Harriet’s Plants: A peat-free, plastic-free and sustainable horticultural business. She is the only peat-free commercial houseplant grower in the UK. She has very kindly given us an insight into her push towards sustainability within her business, why she is advocating for other commercial growers to follow suit, and her stance on the problem with Peat.

Hello from all of us at Harvst! Please introduce yourself and your business to our readers.

Hi, my name is Harriet Thompson and I am the Director at Harriets Plants. I grow all sorts within horticulture, but my main focus is Tropical Houseplants.

Why do you think peat products are so widely available and therefore used so excessively within horticulture?

Peat is a natural product that is an accumulation of decayed organic matter, primarily plant material, that is found in wetlands such as swamp and moor areas. Within horticulture, it is used heavily within compost to retain moisture and to change the pH levels to ensure the compost suits plants that are to be grown in pots.

Peat is cheaper than peat-free products, like most things that are unsustainable. I’m so sure that if peat products were to rise in price and advertising of more sustainable peat-free products were promoted into the consumers’ view, whether professional or hobbyists, the majority of people would choose the more environmentally friendly product on the shelf.

Does growing peat-free affect your business? Do you think your message is getting across to your customers?

I have many customers, both wholesale and retail, that buy from me solely because of my practices, but it has been really hard for me to push the sustainability side of things. This is because sustainable products are, for the time being, a higher price. I hope that this will change in the future and that more and more companies and individuals will choose sustainability over anything else.

What peat-free compost do you use and could recommend?

I currently use Melcourt Sylvagrow compost and either make my own mixes depending on the plants I am growing or the guys at Melcourt do that for me. They are experts in peat-free compost after all. I also sell this compost too through the website, so if people do want to branch out into a more sustainable way of growing, which I think everyone should, then head over to the botanical wares section of my website.

A final word on the problem with peat…

Until we stop extracting altogether or reduce the amount we do extract drastically, then peat will never be sustainable. How can it be? If a peat bog typically grows 2mm per year but the extraction rate is over 100 times that amount, it is impossible for each bog to grow back at the speed that we extract. Peat bogs also act as a HUGE carbon store, so when extraction occurs all that carbon is lost meaning it has a massive negative effect on global warming, further damaging our environment.

The government has now announced a partial ban on peat burning in protected areas, but is this good enough? Personally, no it is not. With Peatlands being one of the most important carbon stores and also being home to an abundance of wildlife, should we not ban burning and using peat altogether?

As a commercial small scale grower I have taken it upon myself to educate and help other people see how important this subject is. If we can grow with sustainable products, then why would we choose anything else?