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Gardening in a changing world


I have been doing some work recently on finding out what businesses and other organisations are doing to adapt to the changing climate, and it has made me wonder rather about the impact it will all have on our gardens.

So I thought I would share some of what I know with you and see what you think we ought to be doing about it. From what I have seen of your gardens I reckon we could put together some pretty good answers.

Of course it isn’t just the climate that is changing so we might spread somewhat wider. More than one blog’s worth of course but it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Seems funny to talk about a warmer climate after all the snow we’ve just had doesn’t it, but it seems pretty clear that on average that is what we will get, and amazingly that goes for this year too – despite the snow I am so glad that I’m not in Australia this year – the fires have been horrendous.

In broad brush terms then, the key weather messages seem to be in the UK:

- warmer, with more days of extremely hot weather and generally (though clearly not this year) less days of frost. The average temperature has gone up by 1 degree since the 1950s and is expected to rise more than a degree in the next ten years!

- generally wetter in the winter and dryer in the summer – overall a bit less rain and quite a lot of variation by region; the big news here again is that again we can look forward to many more floods and drought – horrendous news for parts of the south east that already suffer badly from both!

As I understand it not all this impact is climate change, its also because of more people, changes in the way we use water, and our habit of concreting over land whenever possible.

- Sea level rise and threat of coastal inundation – not a lot a gardener can do about that one – but also some salt water intrusion in places.

There is an awful lot of detail around if you are interested in following it up. The Government produced projections for the 2050s and 2080s on the website that are worth a browse. Crikey are they technical, but interesting all the same!

Its interesting isn’t it that there is nothing said about wind. Apparently the experts just don’t know whether it will get windier or not. However, personally I reckon that no one complains that there’s not enough wind in a garden so its worth getting rid of it if we can.

The other trends I think we ought to consider in this are:

• We are all getting older!
• Gardens are generally getting smaller.
• A lot of our native birds and wildlife are under threat – not just from climate change but also habitat loss, pesticides and changes in farming practices.

At this point in my considerations I normally feel like a beer and a quick sob! Ah that’s better.

The first consequence from all this is the one we’ve just seen. We all rush out to buy fairly tender plants that we keep and get to know and believe we have a right to grow in our neck of the woods, and then the winter weather knocks them flat again! Ah well, they were beautiful whilst they lasted.

It would be good though to know what has made it through the winter that you didn’t think would. Any figs left? How are the camellias further north?

Does anyone have views on things that really appreciate the warmer weather we’ve had but can still cope with the really bitter winters when they come?

Another big issue is the dreaded rain. If this feast and famine approach is set to get worse I feel rather stumped. I know what to grow for really wet soil and what can cope with very dry soil, but what copes well with both?

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden ran some trials on lawns to see what happens when there is a hot drought. They found that lawn is pretty resilient, but you can help it along by returning your lawn clippings to the lawn surface. I’ve never done this myself but I think there are some lawn mowers that chop up the clippings and blow them back in. Has anyone got one?

The more general message of course is the old one – return the goodness from the garden back to the garden in the form of compost to help it soak up and retain water. That’s a sound and useful message, but of little use when dealing with anything that gets its roots well down, well past the top soil. In particular which trees cope well with both flood and drought? If I read another label that says well-drained but moisture retaining I will scream. What about soggy all winter and then dry as a rock all summer. Now that is far more like it.

I don’t want to go on now, because I could write all night and end up with a readership of one (thanks mum ! ), but I would really appreciate your views on all this.

What can we do?

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Great informative blog raising questions I wish I had the answer to! I realise your blog was aimed at the UK - I'm in northern Spain and after the extremely harsh winter we've just come through I'm still waiting to see what has actually survived in my garden, apart from the prolifically self-seeding Sweet Williams. My lupins seem to have made it through, along with a couple of hollyhocks. There are buds on the rhodo and the acer, but my 4 year-old olive kooks rather in need of some sunshine. I fear I may have lost all my pelargoniums and I have yet to see life emerging from the fuschia stems.

As long as our yet-to-be-planted veggies make it through the seasons we'll be OK. We have plenty of natural springs in our region so water is not a problem.

Good blog! Well done!

1 Mar, 2010


Thanks Nariz - It will be very interesting to see what survives in your garden as you are probably where the west part of the UK will be in twenty years given that you have enough water (you lucky thing!). In particular let us know what happens to your olive tree as they have been all the rage in part of the south east!

1 Mar, 2010

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