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Gardening and climate change

16 December 2018 have lots of advice for gardeners trying to cope with the effects of climate change

The recent discussions on climate change in Poland, the Beast from the East followed by a summer drought, as well as the long line of record breaking years including the hottest globally in 2018, have all emphasised again the need to take variations in the weather into account as we respond to climate change.

It’s not only an issue for politicians, scientists or environmentalists. Gardens in urban areas for example, can have a significant impact on aspects of climate change. Covering about 25% of the space in Britain’s towns and cities and up to 50% of all urban surface area, these gardens help to absorb rainwater and slow the flow of surface runoff which can overwhelm storm drains and sewers, create areas of cooler air that help lower the “urban heat island effect”, and capture dust and dirt in the air.

A recent survey found that two-thirds (62%) of British gardeners feel optimistic that they can adapt to the challenges climate change may bring, while 70% believe changes in gardening practices can help them garden successfully in a changing environment. Gardeners will need to start adapting how they grow and what they grow, for example:

  • Planting perennials rather than annuals – the root structure of perennial plants binds the soil and helps protect the effects of wind, heavy rain and flooding
  • Taking account of waterlogging – this means spring flowering bulbs, delphiniums and lupins might need to be replaced with other plants or found different parts if the garden to be planted in
  • Planting windbreaks that help to protect the garden from stormier weather
  • Establishing water saving devices such as water butts and other water saving measures such as abandoning lawns that help to overcome drought and dry weather
  • Getting to grips with new pests and diseases e.g. rosemary beetle and lily beetle migrating into Britain and surviving warmer winters by changing planting schemes or being more vigilant about pest control.

There is a lot we gardeners can do to “act local, think global”, it’s just a matter of getting our thoughts and actions up and running to respond to the new challenges.

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Flowers out of season: Daffodils in December, Magnolia in January

8 January 2016

December daffodils at Queen Elizabeth Park London as tweeted by @diamondgeezer #climatchange December daffodils at Queen Elizabeth Park London, as tweeted by @diamondgeezer #climatechange

The British winter this year has been warm as well as wet. October, November and December have all been unseasonably warm. October was around 0.5 degrees warmer and was also a drier than average month, but November and December broke records for temperature and rainfall. Some parts of the country experienced 200% of average rainfall, with November temperatures being 2 degrees above average and December 6 degrees warmer than average, and in Central England the warmest since records began in 1659. Remarkably the Met Office did not record any frosts in England and Wales through the whole month of December.

The effect on gardens has been very noticeable. In many areas of the country the sound of mowers has continued through November and December as grass has continued to grow. In other areas Spring flowers have come into bloom months early. There have been reports and pictures of daffodils in December in London, Windsor, Cheshire and even Lancashire. Kew’s Wakehurst Place has seen carpets of Spring flowers up to two months earlier than last year, over eighty flowering varieties including crocuses, camellias and rhododendrons. At Kew gardens in London the magnolias are in full bloom, also a few months early. The RHS Chief Gardener told the Independent newspaper that “There is nothing we can do about the weather, but on the other hand, it is nice to be able to get on and do things in the garden without having to put on heavy jackets and thick gloves and so on.”

Whilst this mild weather might present us with the chance to get out there and garden, this out of season flowering feels rather uncomfortable. The effect of not having these flowers available to insects when they start getting busy again later in the Spring remains to be seen.  Here in the Genus garden we may also need to think about what we can do to fill the spaces in our Spring displays.


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Is the gardener's calendar changing?

2 June 2014

Changes to blossom time are one of the effects of climate change
Changes to blossom time are one of the effects of climate change
There is much talk of climate change and how gardeners will need to adapt their gardening practices as a result.  When we think about the last few years it’s easy to remember the extreme events: The severe storms and flooding in the winter of 2013/14 a new challenge for soil management; the late deep snow in 2013 which extended the winter and shortened the growing season; the long hot springs of 2011 and 2012 which increased the need for watering and saw spring and summer flowers out at the same time; and the terrible washout summer of 2012 prompting extreme slug control measures!  These kind of weather events don’t tell the whole story.  What’s more telling is evidence about the long term trends.  The science of phenology is all about this, including observations about flowering times and the emergence of species and the arrival of migrating birds.  There are gardeners who blog about the weather and garden phenology too.  When I was clearing out the attic of old clothes and assorted junk last weekend, I came across one of the children’s books from the 1960s.  The “Golden Book of Mother Goose Verse”.  Inside was a British folk record of the climate past captured in a rhyme which read:

January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.

February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lake again.

March brings breezes loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil.

April brings the primrose sweet, scatters daises at our feet.

May brings flocks of pretty lambs, skipping by their fleecy dams.

June brings tulips, lilies, roses, fills the children’s hands with posies.

Hot July brings cooling showers, apricots and gillyflowers.

August brings the sheaves of corn,  then the harvest home is borne.

Warm September brings the fruit, sportsmen then begin to shoot.

Fresh October brings the pheasant, then to gather nuts is pleasant.

Dull November brings the blast, then the leaves are whirling fast.

Chill December brings the sleet, blazing fire and Christmas treats.

 Seems to me things have shifted a little since that was written?  I’m sure spring comes earlier (we get the primroses inFebruary and March now?) and winter (leaves stay fixed to some of our trees well into December?) later?

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