Gardening and Climate Change - Adapting your gardening year.
The garden in January
This is the perfect time as gardeners to reflect on the year that has closed and plan our new and exciting adventures for the year ahead. When those long dark days force us indoors to brood over our seed catalogues and lovely new gardening books that turned up as Christmas presents….in our case, Justine is loving Arthur Parkinson's The Flower Yard and Vanessa has her head stuck in Michael Marriott’s “Roses” . Speaking of which we both attended one of Mr. Marriott’s rose pruning workshops in his garden at the beginning of January and thoroughly loved it, coming away with new levels of confidence and even higher commitment to these amazingly hardy yet beautiful plants! A new rose bed is under preparation for Vanessa in Shropshire and is to include some real old roses that will go in as bare root in the next few weeks. Damask and Bourbon varieties from David Austin and Trevor White.
Bourbon- Variegata di Bologna Damask- Leda
Anyway back to the point of reflecting on the year that was 2022….what a strange year!
We learnt most of what we know about gardening from our mum and auntie and have both somehow absorbed the patterns and disciplines of gardening over years of observation, and always with the seasons. I’ll bet many of you are the same, and yet I wonder if you found yourselves confounded last year by the weird weather? Things just seemed to be happening at the wrong time and either too much or too little of either rain or heat, both essential ingredients to a successful and beautiful garden. It’s become clear we will all have to adapt, but how?
Spring gardening in the early warm weather.
Vanessa’s newly planted crocus, and other bulbs, in the meadow failed largely. Could this have been down to the prolonged rainfall early in the year? But then from March onwards it was warm and lovely and the ground was nicely damp to get the season started. She planted a small lilac and small magnolia variety in her garden, both of which were part of planning for that lovely spring season (more of these when we reach autumn when things went badly wrong!)…..Everything flowered early so the peonies and roses looked lovely .
Justine's spring garden (tulips, alliums, narcissus, tree blossom etc.) doesn’t seem to have been affected by altered weather patterns at all over the last few years. She has perennial tulips and alliums in some of her garden beds that come up like clockwork, so by mid April the Tulips are in full bloom and the blossom is in full froth. Maybe this would happen whatever the winter weather threw at it?
Things like autumn sown Ranunculus and Anemones would always have the protection of a greenhouse or polytunnel until well into April anyway, so they seem to manage too.
Find some tips here for growing Ranunculus and although this is for starting in Autumn, ranunculus and anemonies can be started as late as the beginning of February. They will just flower a little later. Many flower farmers stagger their corm sowing so they have blooms over a longer period.
Summer gardens in drought conditions.
In summer 2022, the July and August heat waves were quite spectacular. On two of the hottest days we found ourselves setting up stands at flower shows. A challenge! But then the temperatures would change dramatically overnight by 10 degrees or more.
We couldn’t keep up with the watering, even Vanessa struggled with a huge rain water collection system of stored rain water. As her garden is still being re arranged after the previous owner, she is thinking about how to plan new parts of the garden to be able to survive these summer conditions…..the middle section of the back garden bakes in the heat all day long and on clay soil that splits and looks like an African wildlife film! It really does feel like gardening in climate change. Some of her new beds will have to be radically replanned, and she is now moving hydrangeas and daphne etc, out of what have become “ hot beds” and put them nearer the house. She will plant trees for shade in the middle section. Selecting the right trees for hot dry summers will be crucial however, and Gardener’s World recommends planting natives that will work with climate change and be more resistant. This is a good article to help getting started.
The front of her house is totally south facing with little shade. So the front garden is being turned into a Hot Dry Garden. She bought plants over the summer months and kept them in pots, ready to go into the ground in the autumn. Much of her inspiration came from The Beth Chatto Garden in Essex and her book The Dry Garden. She also ordered plants from the nursery there that were great quality when they arrived.
One thing we both invested in this summer was automatic watering systems for our greenhouse plants such as tomatoes, peppers, chillies, cucumbers etc. and we both reaped the benefits. There are many different types available that can be rigged up to your water butt or outside tap. They release drops of water on a timed schedule that you can program, and it's amazing how little water is actually used or required by your plants. Tomatoes benefit from this method particularly as they don’t like dry soil and require regular watering. There is no wasted water, unlike using a hose or watering can that just drains through the soil and out of the pot, so if you found yourself short of water during the heat think about investing in one of these.
On the whole, both our gardens survived the extreme weather over the summer. The exceptions were Justine’s Sweet Peas and Garden Peas. Both finished early with powdery mildew, a sign of not enough water at the roots. This also inflicted her squash plants earlier than usual too. Conversely, Vanessa’s huge squash bed on her allotment was a great success! They certainly didn’t get the attention that her garden did and were left un-watered, unless it rained! She got a bumper crop that will last until this years crop are ready to harvest, and had no powdery mildew.
One reason we think this could be is in the soil management. We both try to follow the No Dig method. A good layer of compost added to your beds once a year, without disturbing what is already there, feeds the soil, helps retain that important moisture and suppresses weeds. Vanessa’s allotment beds were all given a hefty layer of goodness over the previous winter so this could account for the squash bed success!
If you’d like to find out more about No Dig Gardening, there is no one better to follow than Charles Dowding. He has written many books and has a hugely informative website and YouTube channel.
There were plants that loved the heat of course! Echinacea, Salvia, Lavender, Vipers Bugloss and Gaura. Growing like a hedge in the Mediterranean, both our Gaura just kept on flowering with little attention, as did Justine’s Vipers Bugloss.
Wet and warm autumn gardening
Although the weather remained incredibly mild into autumn, the rain came back with a vengeance! Dahlias that had been so slow to get started in the summer took forever to flower but finally got there and kept going and going late into the autumn. Another bumper crop. The roses kept flowering as did the gaura, salvia and michelmas daisies. The late chrysanthemums were in their element!
But the big crisis in Shropshire was the appearance of Honey Fungus….that new bed that included lilac and magnolia planted in the spring suddenly produced a huge crop of the fungus. Vanessa has had a horrid time of it and taking advice form the RHS web site and various horticultural folk decided she had to empty the new bed and put all the plants into individual “isolation” pots and then dig up all the rotting roots of a huge cedar that once grew in that part of the garden…..leaving that part of her garden looing like a war torn landscape where new trees cannot be planted for about a year to be certain the fungus has gone.
Sting in the tail - freezing conditions in mid winter.
At the end of November the weather turned, and it turned quickly. Very cold weather seemed to be on the horizon and with the ground sodden and getting cold those dahlia tubers had to be lifted and dried before storing them for winter or as we know they can be lost to rot and mould.
In previous years Justine has left many of her dahlias in the ground, giving then a good mulch to protect them. But luckily this year she had already taken the decision to lift them all as some of them were getting very big and needed splitting. A wise move, as a hard frost arrived at the beginning of December which lasted for what felt like weeks. Neither of us could remember it being so cold, for so long.
Vanessa had spent the previous year predicting we wouldn’t see frost or snow again and worrying about the trees not resting and the bugs not being killed off, but then… suddenly all our theories were proved wrong! Justine's Tree Fern was quickly wrapped up in horticultural fleece, as was Vanessa’s Oleander!
What other plants have perished in this winters harsh conditions, only time will tell. But we are both certain that there will be casualties.
Gardening and Climate Change.
So where does this climate change and random weather leave us and our gardens? We will have to adjust, that's for sure. Plan ahead and tweak what we would normally do.
This is a great resource form the RHS https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/gardening-in-a-changing-world/climate-change
It includes a free to down load report, but also has recordings on the website by various academics, and gardeners etc. so its also a nice listening resource. You might find that you don’t necessarily agree with everything it has to say but it feels from our experience of this year that a couple of things are clear;
- We seem to be getting warmer springs and autumns and overall a longer growing season….will we be able to grow new varieties? And should we be growing more drought and heat tolerant plants?
- Extreme weather events, whether its floods and torrential rain or prolonged hot periods are becoming more common... we will need to plan and be prepared for those times, watching weather reports more closely and not just assuming the weather will unfold as it always has.
And yet the roses keep going…..this is one of the reasons Vanessa loves these plants so much, they can thrive in heat waves and ice blasts and still fill our gardens with colour and scent! ....You could say that a rose is not dissimilar to a pair of Poddy & Black shoes, the perfect perennial and they work in all weathers!!