Climate change in the garden
According to the old rhyme, we should be preparing ourselves for April showers. But these days who knows what type of weather we’ll get from one month to the next? Gone are the distant childhood memories of roasting hot summer holidays and snowy winters. It seems that wherever you live the chances of predictable weather are shifting, with each season slipping slightly into the next.
Whether this change is our doing or part of a natural cycle, one thing is for sure – we will have to adapt to survive and that applies to our gardening habits too.
This week, European forestry scientists started a huge study to assess the impact of climate change on forestry. Test plots of a wide variety of tree species are being planted, measured and assessed throughout Europe, with the measurements scheduled to continue for decades.
In the UK, water companies covering the South East and East Anglia have already declared hose-pipe bans due to draught conditions, and there is a real possibility of those bans being extended across the country, so we need to be prepared.
We’ve written before on how to deal with drought in the garden by conserving water using butts and choosing drought resistant plants. But I don’t think we should be worrying solely about drought – if climate change predictions are accurate we should also be wary of other extremes, such as flooding.
My approach is to look closely at the conditions in your garden, and make those conditions work for you by planting accordingly.
For example, if you have an area that fills up with water in the winter but dries out and starts to crack in summer, leaving your plants either drowning or gasping for water, then take advantage of those conditions by creating a bog garden.
Excavate the area and line with polythene sheeting or butyl pond liner. Refill with gravel and soil, maybe a few well placed rocks and cobbles, and plant with moisture-lovers such as ferns, Lysichiton, Hostas, Astillbe, Rodgersia and Rheum (Gunnera if you have lots of room), and water in well. These plants will thrive in a damp position and, by lining the area with polythene, you’ll have helped keep moisture around their roots through any dry periods.
Alternatively, if you have a hot, dry site, think Mediterranean. Herbs love poor soil, so you don’t necessarily need to improve it greatly. Grey-leaved plants like Lavender, Stachys, Santolina, Verbascum, Eryngium and Phlomis will also thrive on this type of site.
With a bit of forward planning and thought we can prepare our gardens for whatever weather comes our way.
An abridged version of this article first appeared in Village Breeze magazine, April 2012