My John Innes epiphany

I haven’t yet told my ‘normal’ friends about this blog, and I’ll continue to delay its ‘launch’ (!) while this post is headlining. Because this is the geeky post I knew I had to write when a big gardening mystery was solved for me by a recent BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time.

The mystery in question was who on earth is John Innes, and what’s his compost system all about? It was only this year that I realised the basic premise of the numbers (1-3) corresponding to the size/age of the plant. E.g. John Innes #1 is for young seedlings, John Innes #2 for potting-on and #3 for mature potting.

This, in itself, was a revelation. Then I listened to a recent download of GQT from Norwich while walking the dog, and heard all about the history and development of the John Innes system – as well as about the man himself.

[Radio 4 regularly cures my ignorance in unexpected topics with absolutely no effort on my part – perfect for a lazy person like me.]

As it turns out, John Innes had absolutely nothing to do with horticulture or compost. He was a property developer who [it’s thought] was fed up with employing rubbish gardeners. So he left money in his estate (in 1904) to set up a facility to train local boys in horticulture, in what became the John Innes Centre.

It was a gardener there, having trouble growing primulas in the 1930s, who mixed together various organic and mineral components and developed sterilisation techniques to create a reliable seed compost and the various other grades.

The ‘John Innes’ recipes were publicised widely during WWII to help the nation ‘dig for victory’. It’s not patented so any manufacturer can use the John Innes name, but there’s a code of practice to try and sustain the quality and consistency of the products.

GQT has provided a great factsheet all about John Innes if you’re keen for more of this clarity on compost!

Do all you non-UK gardeners use John Innes composts too?

NB. A more recent GQT suggested you could grow bulbs on just about any moist substrate. They don’t need nutrition because it’s all stored in the bulb. As such I’ve stuck my final few daffodil bulbs on some moist kitchen roll in a nice little jar on the kitchen windowsill. I’ll be dead chuffed if they grow and flower for me to enjoy while I wash the dishes!

Daffodil bulbs in a jar

Having a go at growing a few daffs to brighten up my kitchen before spring.


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