We are passionate about helping the natural environment continue to thrive and about increasing plant diversity in the UK. Our ethos of offering a different range of plants to those you find in the typical garden centre is a valuable contribution to increasing plant diversity available to the insects and pollinators in gardens across our country.
Our site in rural Buckinghamshire is home to much wildlife, including frogs, toads, newts, field mice, bees, butterflies, ladybirds, beetles and many other insects. Woodpeckers, Fieldfares, Buzzards, Red Kites, Robins, Wrens, Goldfinches, several types of Tits and many other birds are frequent visitors. We see Badgers and Foxes and even a grass snake from time to time.
Our Environmental Policy is ever changing and, as and when new technology allows us to reduce our impact on the environment, so we will update it. The following outlines some of the steps we have taken, or are taking, to make our business ‘greener’. If you have a particular question which is not answered here, please email us and we’ll be happy to answer it.
Click here to jump to the Pests and Diseases section.
Pots and Trays
All the pots and trays we use at the nursery are made from 100% recycled plastic. This is plastic which would otherwise have been burned or buried. We wash and reuse these many times at the nursery and encourage customers to reuse the pots they buy their plants in. While these pots cannot yet be recycled in many counties (some do), they can at least be reused many times.
We are happy to receive back any of our own pots for reuse. These can be posted back to us, or returned in person to the nursery (you can drop them over the gate if we are not here).
Pot manufacturers are slowly bringing to market pots which can be included in household recycling bins but these are currently several times the cost of normal pots and not yet economical for small nurseries. We have a large stock of our current pots, due to the cost benefits of buying in bulk, and we hope that when these are used up, the cost of the easy-to-recycle pots will have reduced.
To reduce waste we print our labels on demand. This means that when an order comes in we print the labels and don’t have thousands of labels fading in the sunlight, which then need to be disposed of at the end of the season. If a customer orders many of the same plant, we usually only print one or two labels for the batch. We reuse any waste labels at the nursery, for labelling cuttings and seeds etc.
We use plastic blister packs which are made from 100% recycled plastic. This is plastic which would otherwise have been burned or buried. These packs can be reused and we are happy to accept them back for re-use, or they can be recycled with most household plastic recycling collections (PET1). We are constantly on the lookout for viable alternatives to plastic blister packs but have not yet found any. There is definitely a market for strong cardboard equivalents, should an enterprising person be interested!
The blister packs are sent in strong cardboard boxes which are made from recycled board and can be reused by our customers and then easily recycled with other cardboard. Other packaging we use includes newspaper, which can be recycled, and very occasionally plastic bags or plastic packaging which we have received in parcels sent to us and we reuse.
Carbon Neutral Delivery
In July 2022 we moved to DPD for the majority of our deliveries. All DPD deliveries are carbon neutral and this is achieved in various ways, from the vehicles they use, solar harvesting on warehouses, investing in carbon offsetting and many more initiatives. You can read more about this on the DPD website here.
On our site we maintain a large pond, home to many insects, frogs, newts and occasional visiting ducks, herons and other birds. We have planted a mixed orchard and keep a large area of the site as a semi-wild wildflower meadow to provide habitats for pollinators and small mammals, which in turn attracts birds and provides food for owls and birds of prey.
Pests and Diseases
The nursery trade faces constant challenges with Pest and Diseases. At Shire Plants we are committed to using as few chemical treatments as possible and operate as organic (although we are not certified as such).
- No Herbicides are used on our plants
- Natural predators are used to control slugs, vine weevil and red spider mite. These are mainly nematodes but it also includes 6 chickens who all love slugs!
- Natural soft soap is used to control aphids and compost flies
- No pesticides containing Neonicotinoids are used at the nursery.
Question: Why is there a slug/vine weevil/leatherjacket/aphid in the plants you sent me?!?
Answer: We follow best practice as advised by the Royal Horticultural Society when it comes to pest control. This involves an integrated system of Cultural, Biological and Chemical control, with an emphasis of reducing chemical control as much as possible. In practice, at Shire Plants, this means that we don’t use any chemicals (other than natural soft soap) for pest control.
Natural predators are used to control slugs, vine weevils, leatherjackets, red spider mite and aphids etc. These range from frogs and toads (the polytunnels are home to dozens of frogs) to natural nematodes which are bought from specialist companies. We also have half a dozen free range chickens which love slugs!
This policy naturally means that we are never 100% free of pests and is an accepted consequence of the RHS policy. Clearly, natural predators require pests to feed on, but there is a balance and that balance is very much in favour of the predators. However, it does mean that the occasional slug, greenfly or other pest may end up being delivered with your plants. As much as we obviously check the plants, we cannot rip the plants apart to check them before we send them and as you know from your own garden, pests are very good at hiding. We have taken the conscious decision that this is better than dousing our plants and land with chemicals.
While your pot may contact the odd pest, it is also very likely to contain predators of that pest. These may be nematodes (invisible to the eye), Ladybird larvae, parasitic insects etc. For more information on using these controls in the home garden, see this page.
Update March 2022: The RHS will no longer class Slugs as pests because very few slug varieties actually eat plants! More details here.
This is a very difficult and involved subject and it is impossible to cover all the intricacies in a few paragraphs, but we summarise here.
Recently, peat free alternatives have come under the spotlight for their heavy carbon footprint and, in some cases, plastic particle content. An example of heavy carbon footprint compost is coir, which has to be transported half way around the world for our use. We regularly run trials of peat free compost but have yet to find a suitable alternative to peat which doesn’t have a heavy carbon footprint and offers anything like the right composition and structure that healthy plants need. The reduced-peat compost we use contains peat from certified sources which are not environmentally sensitive and are not active peat bogs.
The compost contains slow-release fertiliser which lasts up to 6 months and we supplement this with a natural seaweed foliar spray.
Update December 2020: We ran trials of a couple of peat free options this year with varying results. One problem is the lack of consistency across batches, meaning we sadly cannot rely on the quality of the products.
Update spring 2021: We have trialled a new (to us) blend made from a mix of sheep wool and bracken. Sadly, the plants did not fair well (rooted cuttings rotted and larger plants did not grow well) and we have had to rule this mix out.
Update August 2021: We are running new trials with peat-free compost from another UK-based company. In the meantime, we have switched to a new compost which contains a blend of materials, including peat, but at a much reduced quantity.
Update October 2021: It has come to our attention that well-known compost brands are now using shredded recycled kitchen worktops in their compost, to bulk it out. While this may sound like a good recycling option, in practice this must mean that there is micro-plastic and glue particles in the compost, which is now being distributed to gardens across the country. Heaven only knows what environmental problems this is setting up for the future.
Update autumn 2022: We ran a further peat-free trial this year without success. The government have announced that peat will be banned for retail use from the end of 2024. This does not extend to trade use because DEFRA have accepted that there is not yet a suitable alternative that a) is reliable or consistent enough and b) is available in sufficient quantities. From our own discussions with compost producers, we know that they have increased their efforts in trialing more alternatives to peat and we hope that this will yield fruit.
Update autumn 2023: We now grow a small percentage of plants in peat-free compost. It is becoming widely acknowledged that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for peat-free growing. Some plants cope well in coir, but many do not. Other options are better for different plants but sourcing sufficient supply is still a problem. DEFRA is at last acknowledging the scale of the problem in the commercial horticultural industry. The RHS has started a new project trialing various peat-free options to try to assist commercial growers and we look forward to seeing the results in due course.
We are on a water meter so we have an incentive to use as little as possible! We are currently looking into ways of capturing run off water from our buildings for use on the plants. In 2023 we installed irrigation systems on approximately 70% of our growing space to enable targeted watering, cutting down on wasted water.
We recognise that all our activities have an impact on the environment and we are doing all we can to reduce this impact. There is always more we can do and we will update this page as we learn more, or appropriate new products come to market.