Seabrook on...the need for products that gardeners can rely on

Two messages came loud and clear from the Glee Exhibition: first that brand is more important than product content and second, high peat composts are back for 2014.

The switch from active ingredient to brand is in one way understandable, but for me a retrograde step and another example of dumbing down.

Manufacturers may feel consumers can be persuaded to trust Clear, Provado and Revolva to do what it says on the bottle, but I want to know what is being sold for pest and disease control. 

It has reached the point where a magnifying glass is needed to find and read tiny white print against a pale green back ground.

The man-made plant protection materials for pest, disease and weed control are changing so fast, for a variety of reasons, it is understandable makers are moving to one constant brand. 

Even so, how are sales staff, and even more importantly, the consumer, to sort one ready-to-use product from another?

It is of note that the majority of gardening communicators now stick with organic treatments with no reference to the active ingredient that is supposed to do the job. Oils, for example can be more damaging to beneficial insects than modern systemic insecticides. Homemade comfrey extracts are widely recommended with no reference to their possible carcinogenic properties.

When it comes to composts, unsatisfactory recipes sold last spring have had gardeners up in arms, seedsmen and young plant retailers worried about their future, and some home gardeners put off growing plants altogether.

Fortunately the hot dry summer has given a bumper peat harvest and manufacturers can now transfer the variable composted green waste to its proper use, soil improvement.

I read with a wry smile the report from Glasgow University that uncontrolled peat bog fires in Scotland this year, and presumably much worse in Russia last year, released considerable quantities of carbon.

It must be better used in compost than burnt, after all dry compressed peat composts have a lighter carbon footprint than anything else currently available. Less fossil fuel is used to make wrappers and transport the contents when compared to dead-weight alternatives, quite apart from good, repeatable results from clean to handle and safe peat mixes.   

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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