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Peat free growing Glee Round Table

M ak i n g p ea t -f re e w o r k f o r e v e r y o n e

Ahead of Glee this month and the expected Government announcement of a ban on retail sales of peat, industry leaders met in the Glee Studio to discuss how they are working with the industry and their customers to successfully transition to peat-free growing media.

Chaired by GTN’s Trevor Pfeiffer, the Glee round-table discussion with Adam Wigglesworth, Director of Aylett Nurseries, Roger Crookes, part of the senior management team of Pughs Garden Centres, and Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director at Dobbies Garden Centres, was recorded for airing on the www.gleebirmingham.com website at 2pm on June 14th, in the run up to Glee 2022.

The group began by congratulating Dobbies on its new John Innes growing media range which was named RHS Chelsea Sustainable Gardening Product of the Year 2022. “We started developing that in 2018,” say Marcus Eyles. “It has taken quite a few years to put together with a lot of support from our suppliers to be able to achieve it and we were very, very pleased to get recognised by the RHS.” Dobbies has stopped selling peat-based compost and since 1st January this year has only offered peat-free growing media options. It now has a full portfolio of products that were previously peat based, from seed to multipurpose. “John Innes was the last part of that puzzle,” said Marcus, adding: “We’ve had a complete refresh across the whole range, and we’ve got great confidence and would like people to really embrace it.”

Ayletts Nurseries in Hertfordshire began its peat-free journey in 2008 when it was approached by Friends of the Earth who wanted to know the ingredients of the growing media it sold. Today it uses its in-house Peat-ometer so customers can, at a glance, see how much peat is in each product. “We’ve seen a huge change this year. Our numbers are now

L-R. GTN’s Trevor Pfeiffer, Marcus Eyles, Roger Crookes and Adam Wigglesworth.

80% peat free [14% up on last year] 20% peat. Suppliers have really worked hard on these and we can now be confident in what we’re selling,” said Adam Wigglesworth. “People want to do the right thing and they want the change and one of the most commonly asked questions is ‘what can I buy that’s peat free?’” Adam says information is key and the Peat-o-meter, the brainchild of a staff member, has been a game changer. Getting the information on the ingredients in each bag can now be easily gained from supplier helplines. “There’s no reason why anyone can’t easily get that information to put in their centre point of sale material, but manufacturers change batches so we need to keep an eye on that.”

To further promote sales of peat-free compost, Ayletts’ staff have been using it in their gardens at home so they can pass on their experiences and it has been keenly priced so it’s the best value package deal. “It does result in a little bit less margin but we all need to do our bit,” says Adam.

In South Wales, Roger Crookes has been personally engaging with customers and inviting them on the journey into a peat-free world. It’s similar, he says, to the one taken in the 1960’s-1970‘s when transitioning from selling plants grown in the ground to container-grown stock using peat composts. “This is a kind of new millennial version of that journey,” he says.

“Once they [our customers] understood the journey that we as a trade have been on and the challenges we’re facing, particularly with consistency and wanting to make sure that what we’re supplying them is a good compost, they joined us on the journey and now we’re actually comparing notes,” he explains. Pugh’s customers can now be part of a forum sharing their findings using peat-free composts in their gardens.

A learning curve for staff and customers

Many customers, especially those with a bit of gardening know-how and those that are used to peat-based growing media may be a bit nervous or unsure about buying peat free, so what ideas does the panel have?

“We can sit here, we can talk about it, but the point of contact for the consumer quite often is somebody on the shop floor,” says Marcus. Dobbies has put together an e-learning package which includes an RHS video explaining the environmental reasoning behind reducing peat use plus informal questions with answers that customers are most commonly asking. “We want to make sure we are all giving the same message and that everybody is on this journey,” he adds.

Adam from Ayletts says everyone, including staff, are still learning. “We’re seeing the mixes that are coming through from growers where they’re reducing their peat content. We’ve got lots of different suppliers, and lots of different SKUs need treating differently… our team in the plantaria are learning.”

Adam is also noticing an increase in requests for specialist rather than multipurpose growing media and Marcus too says that now Dobbies has a John Innes range customers are happy to buy what they are used too. He adds that it’s great to be able to offer a full range and even on the small bags, including houseplant compost it’s making a big difference and creating volume sales.

Around the table there was agreement that customers should be steered towards buying the right compost for a specific purpose. “We are not advising people to use multipurpose for seeds, because we have a seed compost and therefore we should be using that,” says Marcus.

“We’re all getting better at putting the right signage and telling people ‘you need to use the right thing’. I sometimes say to customers, ‘you’re spending a huge amount of money on that lovely plant and you’re trying to find the cheapest compost. You don’t fill your Bentley with any old rubbish, do you? So, you’ve got these lovely plants. Let’s give them a really great treat,” says Adam.

Opportunities for the future

Change is in the air and although the industry has made good progress everyone agrees there is still a long way to go.

“The past is gone,” says Roger. “There’s an exciting future ahead. We’re not powerless in this. We have huge power to influence and cooperate with this amazing trend. I’m excited.”

Adam says the industry shouldn’t let perfection in gardening get in the way of progress. “We need to go forward and customers want us to do that and they want to do the right thing. We need to facilitate it. We shouldn’t let perfection hold us back.”

Marcus says the industry should now be proactive and has seen it coming together on the peat free issue, which has fast tracked and gained momentum really quickly. “We should be sharing [the issues], discussing them and getting on the front foot rather than being caught lagging behind.”

“We’ve got an opportunity,” says Adam. “Let’s grasp it”.

More information

To watch the full video visit https://www. gleebirmingham.com/newsand-views from 2:00pm on Tuesday 14th June.