I spoke at an industry event this week, about climate change and how it's affecting the way garden designers design gardens. Much of what was discussed could be applied in any domestic garden, large or small. (If you are interested in getting the low-down direct from the designers, you can listen to the discussion by following the link at the bottom of the page).
Here are my main takeaway points from the panel discussion that are relevant to you and your outdoor space:
- Right plant, right place is a phrase often repeated by gardeners, designers and nursery people and that’s because it’s undeniably great advice. If you start by putting a plant where it wants to be in terms of soil moisture, light, temperature, etc. it’s already got a head start. If you’re artificially propping up a plant by supplementing things like nutrients and water this suggests it’s not able to survive of its own accord where you’ve planted it. These problems are likely to be exacerbated in times of drought or cold temperatures, for example, i.e. any climatic extremes.
- Warmer temperatures will not necessarily allow us to grow a wider range of plants. The trend appears to be that our summers are getting warmer and drier here in the UK and that our winters are getting milder and wetter. This doesn’t mean we’ll be able to start growing all our favourite exotic plants, the UK won’t suddenly become covered in silvery-leaved, Mediterranean delights. Many of the plants that don’t make it through UK winters are surprisingly tolerant of cold, it’s wet that finishes them off. Extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent too (flooding, high winds, harsh winters), keeping us all on on our toes and no doubt sometimes catching us out!
- Irrigation stations! Not only does putting the right plant in the right place act in the best interests of the plant, it also reduces the need for additional resources. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t water our plants once they’re established, they should be able to get their roots down and cope with whatever the weather can throw at them. However, less summer rainfall means we may need to supplement water to plants throughout the driest months. If you’re away often or are pressed for time, some sort of automatic watering system may be necessary but hand-watering is always an excellent opportunity for you to get up close and personal with your plants. You may need to think about clever ways to harvest and store water too – it’s good for the environment and since many of us are on water meters, can save money.
- Variety is key. In order to make our gardens more immune to changes in climate, it’s generally a good idea to include different types of plants. It’s long been known that monocultures, i.e. one type of plant grown en masse, are more susceptible to pests and diseases and more vulnerable to external factors like weather. Think of your garden as an extension of the surrounding natural environment and copy its style. I’m as guilty as the next person of falling for perennial plants and their flowery charms, but be brave and include shrubs, bulbs, annuals, trees and every other type of plant you can stuff into the nooks and crannies. A garden that relies on plants will help with climate change in a number of ways, but will also be more resilient to it – it’s a win-win.
I’ve released a recording of the discussion and uploaded it as a Bonus Episode on the podcast page. The sound quality isn’t up to our usual fantastic standards (thanks Paddle Productions for our normal top quality audio!), but if you’d like to listen you can do so here.
Many thanks to How Green Nursery (www.howgreennursery.co.uk) for hosting the event and to my fellow panellists Emma Page of Nature Redesigned and Nic Howard of We Love Plants.