The majority of nurseries showing plants at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show still grow them in peat.

Bob Sweet wants less peat at Chelsea

Show organiser the Royal Horticultural Society tried to set an example to ordinary gardeners by forcing Chelsea growers to use ‘green’ alternatives to peat for staging and mulching.

But when it comes to the compost plants are grown in, calls to cut peat use have largely been ignored.

After AG asked if it was still okay to grow plants in peat for Chelsea (12 February), the RHS revealed that 85 per cent of Great Pavilion growers were still displaying plants grown in peat, according to the most up-to-date figures, from 2009.

When the RHS started monitoring peat usage three years ago, nurseries used an average of 57 to 60 per cent peat to grow plants. Now, peat content stands at 50 to 55 per cent.

RHS head of shows development Bob Sweet said: “The RHS banned peat as a mulching, staging and plunging material. We used to see great bales of Irish moss peat around the showground: there was tonnes of peat used for that purpose. A lot of it used to go to landfill after the show. It was fairly criminal. We’ve stopped it, and that’s amazing.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen peat content of plants at Chelsea come down by around five per cent. That’s not amazing or a vast improvement. We must work with the industry,” he added.

Bob said it was impossible for the RHS to police peat content of plants at Chelsea or enforce a ban. But with nurseries competing to get in, the RHS will give priority to those who minimise peat use.

However, nurseries that exhibit carnivorous plants or
Disa orchids, for example, which require high peat content, will not be penalised or left out.

Bob summed up: “We will not have a situation in the near future where I can put my hand on my heart and say no peat has been used for plant production at Chelsea.

“But I believe DEFRA’s former objective, of being 90 per cent peat free, is a realistic target for us,” he added.