Turning up the heat in the garden. Coping with climate change
Heat... how wonderful that most of us are able to continue wearing summer clothes. Its officially the hottest September s
ince 1911. An Indian summer is a great thing for most of us and for our gardens. Or is it? What do these unusually warm spells mean for our plants? Do plants like the heat or will they wilt and lose the will to live? Generally the warm weather has a positive impact because annuals keep flowering and everything continues to grow. But there are some late-performing plants
that would be much happier with cool and damp conditions. In fact the weather in the UK can have a gradual effect on many of our familiar plants. Some think that the traditional green and pleasant land will not fit the description for many more years.
Theres no doubt that climate is changing, although the reasons why this should be the case are up for continual debate. Most experts feel that within 80 years or so there are certain British plants that might not be able to survive here.
Sweet peas in a vase. But Lathyrus like their roots to have regular moisture. Can they survive warming temperatures?
Take the traditional cottage garden, for example. Many of these beautiful shrubs and perennials can cope with heat but they do love a bit of damp, shady soil. They couldn't cope with prolonged spells of hot, dry weather. Foxgloves (digitalis), for example, inhabit the woodland edge, light woodland and shady ditches. Delphinium, with their towering blue flower spires like a rich soil with plenty of moisture and Philadelphus, or mock orange, is a cottage garden shrub that also prefers its feet to be shady and moist. Lupins are similar, they love moist but well-drained soil.
Delphiniums, a wonderful cottage garden plant that we would be sad to see disappear.
A cottage garden is quintessentially English. Most people love to see such flowers in the summer.
Roses enjoy sunshine but also like to have dampness in the soil, which is a very good reason to mulch around them. There are other plants, such as Mediterranean varieties, that will be very happy with hotter, drier temperatures. Lavender, rosemary, olives, Phlomis, palms, Sedum, Salvia, Santolina and Ceanothus are all drought-tolerant plants that will be happy not only with an Indian summer but with non-stop sunshine.
Drought tolerant planting can be beautiful. We can adapt to climate change.
Perhaps the main casualty during dry summers and prolonged hot periods is likely to be the lawn. Lawns love heat but they can't do without water for long. But not too much as they are prone to drowning. Wetter winters tend to create waterlogging, leading to compaction, whilst prolonged dry spells dry lawns out so much that they turn brown. We all know that watering the lawn is a no-go area now that we are all so much more water-conscious. But how can you help your garden lawn during hot, dry periods or excessively wet times? The number one tip: keep off the grass! Or plant different grass species that are tolerant of a wider range of conditions.
Anyone for bowls? This lawn wouldn't look quite so lush if it was brown.
The climate has already had an impact on gardens. Early heat in the year causes spring bulbs to flower earlier than was once the case. Trees often come into leaf early and many plants that are not officially considered to be frost-hardy are now happily overwintering in the UK. There are now far more opportunities to grow exotic fruits and sub-tropical plants. Although the generally wetter winters wont be favourable to cannas and citrus plants that like dry heat rather than damp.
Spring bulbs are tending to flower earlier in the year.
Gardeners might discover more pests and diseases than ever before. There are more lily beetles, red spider mite and vine weevils. During wet, warmer spells the spread of fungal conditions is rampant and plants such as Buxus (box) and Taxus (yew) are already suffering from foliage-damaging Phytophthora.
Planting for the future
We humans are adaptable folk because we can change with the climate and plant accordingly. We generally bathe in the heat with joy! Celebrate the opportunity to grow exotic fruits such as apricots, peaches
, nectarines, figs, pomegranates, grapevines,
a wider range of kiwis
Palm trees that werent considered hardy might eventually thrive. Just imagine being able to grow climbing beauties such as Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea 'Vera Deep Purple' are grown as house or conservatory plants here in the UK. But perhaps we will soon be able to grow them in the garden.
Choose drought-tolerant trees such as some of the maples, oak, Ginkgo and hawthorn rather than those that naturally grow along riverbanks. But if you do live near a water course, bear in mind that rivers will be in danger of overflowing during the wetter periods, so plant more moisture-loving trees and shrubs such as willow
They will help to soak up some of the moisture and will anchor the riverbanks in position. The same applies on slopes. Dont be tempted to remove too much vegetation because the plant roots actually stabilise the soil. Some say that climate change has been caused by removing too many trees.
Plant trees such as birch, alder and willow along watercourses to help stabilise the soil
One things for sure, you cant change every aspect of nature. You would be wise to work with what youve got and make the most of it.