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Turning up the heat in the garden. Coping with climate changeHeat... how wonderful that most of us are able to continue wearing summer clothes. It's officially the hottest September since 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.
There's 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.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. 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. Lawns 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. 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 won't be favourable to cannas and citrus plants that like dry heat rather than damp. 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.