• 17 January 2022

    Juniper 2 - by the RSPB

    In the second of our RSPB blogs on junipers, Jo Chamberlain, Tree Nursery Officer for the Wild Haweswater project, explains how she uses Dalefoot Compost in her mission to propagate them. Juniper is one of our three native conifers, Yew and Scots Pine being the others, and the RSPB is working to restore juniper at Haweswater in the Lake District:

    It can come as something of a surprise to learn that Juniperus communis, or common juniper, is an ancient, pioneering species that has been found in the British Isles for over ten thousand years. It was one of the first species to colonise after the end of the last ice age, but sadly, it is now amber-listed as a vulnerable, near-threatened species and no longer the common sight it was once was.

    Thankfully, at RSPB Haweswater, we are lucky enough to retain mature stands of remnant juniper forest, providing a viable seed source that can be both encouraged to naturally regenerate in the landscape, and collected and cultivated in our peat-free Haweswater tree nursery. With the help of Dalefoot Composts, we have been able to successfully propagate thousands of young juniper trees, all grown from native seed collected on the fells around Haweswater. The open structure, nutrient balance and moisture-retaining properties of Dalefoot peat-free potting compost has proven a perfect mix for our young juniper trees.

    Although notoriously slow to germinate and grow, we have found that many of our young trees will put on an impressive amount of summer growth if potted up into this compost early in the season. So much so, that our next challenge is to transport these larger saplings to higher altitude areas that will ultimately become their home. Being able to restore this species is an important aspect of strengthening ecological processes: providing habitat for a wide range of invertebrates, sequestering carbon, stabilising ground and maintaining an important connection with our natural as well as cultural heritage.

    Home - Wild Haweswater
    Why Use Peat Free Compost? Alternatives to Peat - The RSPB
    Plantlife :: The Great English Juniper Revival?

  • 13 January 2022

    Juniper - by the RSPB

    To get us through the dark days of January, Dalefoot has teamed up with the RSPB to highlight one of our most important native conifers, the juniper. With its evergreen symbolism of life, even in the depths of winter, Jo Chamberlain, Tree Nursery Officer for the Wild Haweswater project, explains more about this very special tree:


    The juniper woodland of Haweswater is a special place, and particularly so during the winter. Offering an important food source to many native and migratory birds, time spent among this ancient tree species can be richly rewarding. You may hear the gregarious chatter of fieldfare, known as the juniper thrush, or Walcholderdrossel in German, or the gentle seep of the redwing call, as visiting flocks make the most of the berries on offer. Wildlife watchers with a talent for being in the right place at the right time, could also be rewarded with a spectacular sighting of waxwings from Scandinavia making the most of the bounty. Stunning birds in an equally stunning landscape.

    Culturally, Juniper has been used by our ancestors in a range of practical and fascinating ways. Hung above doorways and burnt at Hallowe’en as a deterrent to evil spirits, it was also burned indoors to sanctify the home. Medicinally, the cedar-like fragrance was also thought to offer protection against infectious illness. Our ancient forbears used juniper to treat stomach ailments and epilepsy and more recently, its essential oils have been applied in aromatherapy practice, particularly in relation to arthritis, respiratory infections and skin complaints. Producing almost invisible smoke when burning, juniper became the timber of choice for the illegal Scottish whisky distillers of the past, ensuring a ready dram that did not catch the eye of the local excise man.

    Now, we particularly associate juniper berries with the production of gin. The word gin has its roots in the French genievre and Dutch jenever for juniper, highlighting how the natural world can embed its roots in our language too.

    Juniper is a fascinating species, richly adapted to thrive in a range of soil conditions, and at various altitudes, and is an important source of food and shelter for a wide range of invertebrate and bird life. It is an ancient member of the flora that has evolved in the British Isles since the water retreated following the last ice age, an evolutionary link in the natural and cultural heritage that binds us to both the present and the past. It should be given every opportunity to grow, regenerate and flourish in the wider landscape.


    Part 2 will be posted next week...

    Home - Wild Haweswater

  • Caption: Becky Searle using our Wool Compost for Seeds
    Caption: Delicious veg grown by Becky
    Caption: Becky’s productive garden
    Caption: Leave stumps in the ground as they are full of carbon and nutrients

    Sunday 5 December marks World Soil Day, when we can focus on the importance of healthy soil, so our sort of day! We’ve asked Becky Searle, expert kitchen gardener and ecologist, to explain why our soil is so vital and how you can take care of it....


    'As gardeners we are constantly being told to look after our soil, feed our soil and care for it like it’s a living organism. But very few of us actually understand what this means.

    Then there are those who treat their soil like dirt; as though it is simply a convenient place to put our plants. Sometimes a bit too clayey for our liking, or perhaps too sandy, but rarely considered for what it really is.

    The truth is that the soil is a diverse and teeming ecosystem. It’s absolutely full of tiny microscopic lives. In fact, there are more lives in one handful of healthy garden soil than people who have ever lived on the planet.

    Healthy ecosystems exist in a form of balance known as dynamic equilibrium. Ecosystems are subject to many factors that could destabilise them such as weather events, change in temperature and new species arriving. But a healthy ecosystem is resilient and will possess all the tools needed to cope with this change, and stabilise itself once more.

    All the organisms in an ecosystem interact with one another, fighting pests, feeding one another and maintaining their environment together. As they move about and feed they decompose organic matter, release nutrients from the bedrock and the sediments and aerate the soil. This means that if we have a healthy soil ecosystem we have soil that is rich in nutrients that doesn’t get flooded or dried out. This makes it the perfect environment for our plants’ roots that need to take in oxygen to respire just as much as they need to take in water. But also it is instantly hostile for those disease causing microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions.

    In a garden ecosystem we tend to remove organic matter from the system either by clearing fallen leaves, pulling plants that have gone over or by harvesting from our vegetable gardens. Either way, we interrupt the cycle of returning carbon to the ground and feeding the organisms in the soil. It is therefore vital if we want to care for our soils and reap the benefits of having healthy soil that we add organic matter to our soils.

    Compost is the perfect solution. Whilst it may look fully decomposed to us, it is in fact just at the beginning of the decomposition process with much farther to go. It therefore makes a perfect feast for our soil life. This and it doesn’t create any nice hiding places for things like slugs!

    The life within the soil is programmed to come to the surface to feed, as this is where dead organic matter would fall in nature. Therefore it stands to reason that mulching, rather than digging in is the best way to feed the life in the soil.

    It is important when choosing a compost mulch that we make sure it is not contaminated with pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Sadly there have been many issues in recent years with compost contaminated by the aminopyralid herbicides and reducing a thriving garden to toxic wastelands.

    Mulching with a good quality, peat-free compost such as Dalefoot provides a nutritious meal throughout the year for that all important soil life. And its status as certified organic reassures us growers that there are no nasty chemicals that will harm our plants and ecosystems.'


    To find out more about Becky, check out her website https://sowmuchmore.co.ukYoutube Sow Much More, Instagram @sow_much_more and Facebook Sow Much More 

  • The Rose Garden, Lowther Castle
    Caption: The Rose Garden, Lowther Castle
    Caption: The recently erected rose pergola with fountain makes a bold statement
    Caption: Four of the many thousands of roses looking spectacular in rain
    Caption: Head Gardener, Martin Ogle (Right) with Dan Pearson (left) who worked closely together along with the team to make the new rose garden such a success.

    We're lucky enough for Head Gardener, Martin Ogle to have taken time out from his busy schedule at Lowther Castle and Gardens to let us know a bit more about his gardening background and current challenges. 


    1. What’s your earliest gardening memory?

    Helping my grandad care for his garden with duties such as pruning roses and mowing lawns.


    2. Have you followed a formal route into horticulture via college?

    Yes, I trained at Newton Rigg College for a diploma in horticulture and then progressed to a certificate in gardening.


    3. When did you join Lowther and what was it like to start working on such a large garden?

    I joined the project at Lowther in 2012 and became head gardener in 2013. It is a pleasure to be able to work on such a large project and work alongside a talented group of gardeners and garden designer.


    4. What are the main challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?

    Regular challenges can always be weather or ground conditions, we also have the challenges of working around visitors and ensuring a safe environment is maintained.


    5. What are the best things about your job?

    Being able to influence and manage such a large-scale project which will have influence on visitors and gardeners, now and in the future.


    6. How long have you been using peat-free compost and what are the issues this poses?

    We have been using peat-free composts for many years now, so have become accustomed to it. We do not encounter any issues using peat-free products.


    7. Next year are there any exciting plans for the gardens?

    We have many exciting plans for the gardens at Lowther. Over the next few years we will be concentrating on developing our western gardens, which will see a new layer of horticulture implemented for the rock garden, Japanese garden and sweet scented gardens.


    8. If you hadn’t been a gardener, what would you be?

    I am sure my path would have led to horticulture in some form.


    9. What’s your favourite season?
    Autumn. I enjoy late flowering perennials and how they offer individual moments through a retreating planting scheme. In the garden, autumn marks the transition from a busy summer and allows you to slow the pace and enjoy the changing colours in the trees and shrubs. Autumn is a time to plant bulbs, which is a favourite task of mine, and preparing for what’s to come in the next season.


    10. What’s your favourite plant/plants and why?
    I am very fond of trees and shrubs and their use in gardens and landscapes, one of my favourite shrubs is Amelanchier Candensis for its spring flower and also its autumnal colours.


    If you fancy a trip to visit the rose garden, visit the Lowther Castle & Gardens website.

    *Photo credit Tony Rumsey MBE

  • Caption: Vicky Nuttall of GIMA, Arabella Barker Bland - Daughter of Simon & Jane, Pauline Lewington - Sales Manager, Lizzi Meth-Cohn - Production Manager, Vernon Kay

    We are incredibly proud to be the very first recipient of GIMA’s (Garden Industry Manufacturer’s Association) Sustainability Award for helping to promote and encourage sustainable gardening.

    We have championed the benefits of using peat-free composts for 25 years. Our nature-friendly composts made from sheep’s wool and carbon fixers bracken and comfrey, reduce the gardener’s environmental footprint and offer a climate-positive substitute for peat while contributing to global greenhouse gas savings.

    Our peatland restoration work was also recognised for its sustainability credentials by the GIMA judges who described Dalefoot as, “a company that has sustainability and the environment at the very heart of what it does. As well as delivering a great peat-free product, its peatland restoration work makes Dalefoot a worthy winner of this inaugural Sustainability Award.”

    Our work restoring peatlands across the UK is invaluable in reducing carbon release and returning bogs to functioning, healthy eco-systems. Peat bogs store more carbon than trees and many are now in a poor condition, releasing carbon rather than storing it which is contributing to climate change.

    It was a busy week for Dalefoot’s co-founder, Professor Jane Barker, who shared her extensive knowledge when she presented on the culture of horticultural peat at COP26 in Glasgow last week.

    Sustainability is key at Dalefoot, from the sourcing and harvesting of renewable, carbon-fixing ingredients through to our innovative blends, packaging and delivery.

    The GIMA win is the second sustainability award we have won this year. We are also thrilled to be the winner of the Rural Business Awards North Sustainability and Environmental Impact Award 2021. As regional winners, we are now through to the National Final in 2022, watch this space…. let’s make it a hat-trick!

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Barker and Bland is a limited company registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Dalefoot Farm, Heltondale, Nr Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 2QL. Registered number: 8312959

This project is supported by the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for which Defra is the Managing Authority, part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas.

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