Casual Gardener: Gardeners must learn to weather climate change

The recent unseasonal weather looks set to become more typical...

Gardeners experiencing higher temperatures will turn to heat loving plants like lavender. Picture by Stephen Patterson/PA

IT may appear a little churlish to complain about the recent spell of mild, settled weather but let me remind you that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. That's not to say I haven't been enjoying the still, spring-like days and taking advantage of the opportunities to get outdoors into an uncharacteristically dry January garden, yet as I do so there's always a niggling thought that it's just not natural.

The unseasonal warmth we've been experiencing so far in 2022 is apparently caused by a low-pressure system drawing up warm air from further south in the Atlantic. While this in itself is not unusual, rising temperatures as a result of global warming mean this month looks set to break previous records, as the mercury soars to levels that are double the average temperature for this time of year. In isolation, we could regard these unseasonal heatwaves as an outlier or an exception but their regularity has been steadily increasing, blurring the lines between seasons.

Before Christmas, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) reported exceptional displays at its gardens in Britain, as plants that generally flower in distinct seasons bloomed at the same time. Staff at Harlow Carr garden in Yorkshire and their counterparts at Wisley in Surrey noted the unusual appearance of both summer and Christmas roses (Hellebore) flowering simultaneously, while autumn-flowering plants such as nerines, which typically flower in September, and winter flowering mahonia were also in bloom.

Meanwhile, at the RHS garden at Bridgewater near Manchester, curator Marcus Chilton-Jones said the atypical flowering of plants in the Paradise Garden, including Rhaphiolepis x delacourii ‘Coates Crimson’ (Indian hawthorn) and Knautia macedonica (Scabious), has resulted in a an unusual but remarkably impressive display of colour for the time of year.

It's predicted that the changing climate will continue to disrupt the traditional growing season in the coming years, with plants flowering later and for longer periods more regularly. While this may bring its own pleasures, again one can't help think it's unnatural, especially when unseasonal weather starts to affect wildlife, who may emerge from hibernation or arrive from overseas too early. Gardeners may also begin to miss the frosts that kill off pests, with certain fungi and insects expected to thrive all year round.

There are many steps we as gardeners can take to help combat climate change, however, it looks like we must also learn to live with it. In the coming years we can expect more extreme weather, with more variable, intense rainfall, combined with an increase in dry summers, which will be most pronounced the further south you travel.

Gardens are expected to transform as a result, with designs and practices modified to cope with the new conditions. Where there’s increased rainfall, for example, traditional plants such as tulips, alliums and asters may have to be planted in raised beds or containers so their roots are clear of the water table. Gardeners experiencing higher temperatures will increasingly have to turn to heat loving plants, such as Aloe vera or lavender, while lawns, already under threat from changing tastes, may be converted to dry meadows, as pressure on water supplies increases.

We more northerly gardeners will be able to grow a wider variety of plants that would have previously struggled to survive at this latitude – that's just as long as new breed of year-round pest or disease doesn't destroy them.

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