Is gardening fundamentally changing, or haven’t we noticed? I throw these topical questions in at a time when the horticultural industry of professional growers and gardeners ponder just that.
For those not new to gardening the gardening ‘year’ is remarkably different now to how it was when I started out in the 70s (the 1970s that is in case you were wondering!) Have any of you noticed how long the season has become; the fact that the lawn mower has barely time to be serviced before it is filling up the compost heap with grass cuttings in, well the ‘dormant’ period? Well I have, so I wasn’t surprised when I read an updated report by the Royal Horticultural Society entitled ‘Gardening in a Changing Climate’. It is well worth reading even for those with a degree of scepticism.
It is of course difficult for anyone to say with any certainty what the future of gardens and gardening will be, but the facts speak for themselves in relation to just how long the season is compared to just a decade ago: it happens to be a month. Actually 29 days according to the industry.
Moreover most will have noticed that whilst cold winters do occasionally manifest themselves, many years are just wet with relatively few days of air frost let alone snow. These things matter to professional growers and amateur gardeners alike; the very plants we can grow, the preparation requirements of the soil. No one is saying that the weather hasn’t always been variable in the UK but more the fact that our seasons have modified, and that over time we will all approach gardening a little differently.
The report makes a number of predictions – more lawn mowing is one of them! The West Country will see a rise of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with more storms and heavy winter downpours. East Anglia could see an increase of 5 degrees, with drought in the summer necessitating underground storage tanks. In the North of England a more modest temperature rise of 2 degrees, more storms and heavier rain.
Changes in climate could well extend the range of Mediterranean plants grown in drought areas, whilst the use of smaller tree species less vulnerable to storm damage may become necessary. In each situation there will be challenges but opportunities too. I rather like the idea that at least in East Anglia gardeners might be growing more peaches, olives and almonds.
I already encourage people to grow more in raised beds, where control over drainage, not to mention ease of access, is better than struggling with areas of flood in the garden. Our gardens will change away from traditional herbaceous borders, and many summer displays of bedding may well become increasingly difficult to irrigate in periods of drought. But whatever happens gardens and gardeners will adapt as they always have. To those new to gardening welcome to a gardening year where you may have Christmas off away from gardening (except to make a wreath for your door), but every month will be busy, and if you have a lawn you’ll virtually be mowing through the night!
At the end of the day the gardens we tend, love and cherish are a legacy for the next generation, and a way we can help preserve and protect the environment.