What is composting?

Composting is the decomposition of waste plant material to create a bulky organic matter (compost) that can be used to improve the soil in your garden.

If you want to improve your soil, for example if you have sandy or clay soil you should add bulky organic matter in the forms of: Garden compost, Leafmould (both of which can be home made), well-rotted farmyard manure, mushroom compost and composted bark.
nB Mushroom compost is alkaline and so do not use this around acid loving plants like Camellias.

Some clarification over the term ‘compost'

The gardening industry have confused things slightly as the word ‘compost' generally refers to the multi-purpose compost that you can buy from the garden centre. This has a large mineral element and can be used in planting up containers but for improving soils or as a mulch a product made entirely from well-rotted animal or plant waste is more effective.

Why should we compost?

You can use home-made compost either as a layer on the soil surface (mulch) or dug into the soil. I add a 5cm layer to my soil every spring topped up with bought in well-rotted green waste if I don't have enough. Used as a mulch like this it can help to retain water in dry spells, keeps the soil warmer and keeps down weeds. Eventually, worms take it down into the soil and it improves the soil structure.

Once in the soil, it improves the drainage on clay soils and improves water retention in sandy soils. Soil becomes easier to work, plants root more easily, and nutrients are released for the plants to use. In addition, by using home-made compost you are reducing the carbon emissions from processing and transportation of garden waste... and don't forget it's good for the pocket too as it's a free resource.

How does it work?

The soil is teeming with micro-organisms which break down organic material into smaller particles which help improve the soil and eventually releasing food for plants.

What container should you use?

There are a variety of compost ‘bins' available. Plastic compost bins are often available from your local council at a reduced cost but I personally prefer a timber construction. You can buy these or if you are good at DIY, or know someone who is, you can make one from old pallets.
It should be no less than 100cm2 and about 1-1.2m high, and if you have the space have 2 or even better, 3 of these.

The sides can be solid or slatted. I prefer solid sides as this prevents it drying out and keeps it warmer.

Where do you site it?

Preferably site the bin in light shade.  Ideally it should stand on soil to encourage micro-organisms to enter the heap. If it has to sit on a hard surface, add some garden soil to start it off.

What do you put in it?

You can put in:
Soft waste: Plant stems, grass clippings, annual weeds, vegetable peelings, egg shells, non-plastic tea bags, coffee grinds.

Woody waste: Chipped woody waste, scrunched up newspaper or waste paper, toilet roll inners, small pieces of torn up cardboard, shredded paper (not heavily printed or glossy though)

Don't put in: Cooked food, meat, cat litter, perennial weeds, large pieces of wood, and plant material including grass which has had chemicals applied to it.

In a full heap there should be about 60% woody waste and 40% soft waste.

Try not to let one type dominate the heap. For example, if you put in too much soft material e.g. lots of grass clippings, it becomes too densely compacted, oxygen cannot get in and you will start to get anaerobic decomposition (without oxygen) which is slower, does not kill off all weeds and seeds and can often make the heap smell. To counter this, you could add a layer of woody waste e.g. scrunched up newspaper.

Managing the heap

If you only have the space for one heap, you will need to fill up the container and put an old piece of carpet, or other insulating material over the top. This helps to retain the heat and stops it getting too wet, but you also need to make sure it does not dry out in hot weather, so water if necessary. Leave it for 6 months by which time it will be ready to use.

If you have space for a 2 bin system, you can either do the above in both of them, or, as I do, keep adding to one only and leave the other vacant. Every couple of months, if you are feeling energetic, turn the heap into the other container, but keep adding only to the filled one leaving the other one to turn into. After a few months of doing this you will find that the material in the middle and sometimes at the bottom is ready and can be taken out and stored or used.
(I use old compost or bark bags to keep mine in until I want to use it).

If you have a 3 bin system, like this one at Stockwood Discovery Park in Luton you take the following approach:

Fill Bay 1 with material.
 Bay 1 - Full  Bay 2 - Empty  Bay 3 - Empty
After a month or two turn this material into Bay 2 so you have:
 Bay 1 - Empty
 Bay 2 - Full  Bay 3 - Empty
Then fill Bay 1 with new material until after at least a month and when it is full
 Bay 1 - Full  Bay 2 - Full/Decomposing  Bay 3 - Empty
Turn the material from Bay 2 into Bay 3 and Bay 1 into Bay 2
 Bay 1 - Full  Bay 2 - Full/Decomposing  Bay 3 - Full/Decomposing
Then start to fill Bay 1 again with new material.
When the material in Bay 3 is ready, remove it and either use it or store it, and turn the material from Bay 2 into Bay3 and Bay 1 into Bay 2, and continue like this. Only ever add fresh material into Bay 1 and allow the other bins to decompose fully.


“We were really impressed with the design service offered by Jayne. Jayne was able to take our initial brief and translate this into a stunning contemporary design that really made the most of the small space we had and provided a great backdrop to our new kitchen extension. The combination of hard landscaping and planting have completely transformed the garden. Over several meetings she was able to communicate the concepts and hone the design and even sample materials. She then recommended and then liaised with the landscaper to ensure the implementation went to plan before completing the final planting.”

Mrs Fenner
Marston Moretaine

"I found Jayne to be very friendly and pleasant to work with. The design is lovely - very attractive. I was impressed with Jayne's willingness to adapt to and take account of our cost constraints and likes and dislikes regarding plants. All work was carried out efficiently and pleasantly. Jayne was always ready to discuss and advise about design and plants and has transformed a boring and rather difficult small garden into an interesting area which will only improve as the plants grow and mature."

Mr & Mrs Barwell
Welwyn Garden City

We love our garden now. Our two dogs had pretty much destroyed it and it had become an embarrassment. We never used it, not even just for ourselves. It now has structure and a proper patio area and is always good to look at even in this bleak weather!

This will be our second spring with it and I'm really looking forward to seeing everything grows again and how it will change this year.

Mr & Mrs Crooke

Jayne was always totally reliable, whether coming out to look at the garden or providing plans and ideas, and is a very knowledgeable plantswoman.

She had a good understanding of what I wanted to do with the garden, and always listened to my ideas and then made suggestions that were appropriate to the location and aspect.

Mr & Mrs Townsend
Houghton Conquest

Jayne's ideas of how to transform a long straight garden into something more interesting were quite inspirational. By introducing shape and perspective the garden now has structure.

The planting plan she suggested has added interest and constant colour which changes with the season.

Needless to say we are delighted.

Mr & Mrs Collier

We were delighted with Jayne's approach to our garden and her understanding of what we were trying to achieve.

Her knowledge of plants and what will actually work is fantastic.

Three years on we are still delighted with our garden.

Mr & Mrs Bryant

Jayne has a real passion for gardening and her knowledge of plants is highly impressive. She seems to know exactly which plant will thrive in a particular part of the garden - sunny, shady, soil type and so on. She also thinks about the proportions and overall effect.

To work with, she is extremely flexible and happy to give you just the bits of advice or help you need.

Mel Henson
Welwyn Garden City