Chelsea Flower Show – Green Gardens

Thu, May 22, 2008

UK Climate Change

The greenest gardens and exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show for me are those that use planting ideas based around the changing climate with its rising temperatures and unpredictable rainfall. An exhibit that captures this concept extremely well was created by the University of East Anglia where I used to be a student.


UEA has a reputation for progressive and creative thinking and their vision for the Chelsea Flower Show is certainly no exception.

Experts from the university’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Climatic Research have developed a unique idea that involves 3 distinct areas telling the visual story of how gardening is already changing:

* A traditional 1950’s garden features plant species that would have been featured strongly at Chelsea in that decade such as delphiniums,foxgloves,lupins rhododendrons and azaleas.

* A 2050s garden in a “low emmissions future” that is conditional on a global reduction of carbon dixoide emissions. By this time both the lowest winter and highest summer average temperatures will have increased by over 1c from today. The growing season will lengthen with fewer cold spring and autumn nights which means that sowing can take place earlier and plants can be grown successfully into the auutmn.

This means there will be less soil moisture and gardeners will need to mulch regularly and practise everyday water conservation such as rainwater harvesting and re-using grey water.

Plant selection will be absolutely crucial, as shown by UEA, who use plants currently grown in the UK in a sheltered postion, but which would thrive without protection in a low emmissions future. Species include cupresses, acacia, japonicas, and the European fan palm chamaerops humilis.

* A 2050s garden in a “high emmisssions future” is based on continued burning of vast quantities of fossil fuels. If we fail to stop this scenario, the lowest winter and highest average summer temperatures will have increased by 2c from the current avaerage – producing 26 more very hot days compared to today.This will most certainly result in the growing season starting slightly earlier in spring but becoming significantly longer in autumn.

Extreme weather is likely to be yet another challenge for gardeners. Planting will need to take into account the likelihood of increasing storm damage. Annual rainfall will come in intense bursts and droughts will be far more common with gardeners dealing with many more consecutive days with no rain.

Plants for this garden include species more usually grown in a cool greenhouse at least part of the year such as boungainvillea, plumbago and hardier cacti or succulents such as agave and aloe.

The Italain cypress is suitable for the high emmissions and low emmissions garden because it tolerates both high temperatures and variable rainfall.

This garden demonstrates very clearly the effect that climate change is already having on our plants and gardens and the future scenarios that the horticultural industry and gardeners need to prepare for as soon as possible. This was the university’s first exhibit at Chelsea and it was created by Johanna Forester and Saffron O’Neil who are both young climate change scientists at UEA and keen to pass their expert knowledge to the horticultural world.

Their effort was rewarded by achieving a Silver Medal and gaining invaluable plant knowledge as Johanna explains ” It has been a tremendously fun experience, but with a very special message: climate change is real and we must all dig deep to mitigate its dangerous effects.”

Wise words for everyone at the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show.

This post was written by:

- who has written 872 posts on My Climate Change Garden.

I am not an experienced gardener - more of an enthusiastic amateur who learns by trial and error and who is keen to "manage" the effects of shifting weather patterns on my garden. Writing this blog is my passion and it has evolved over 12 years to inspire engagement with climate change outside our back doors, in our personal gardens and green spaces. My mission is to fertilise and expand this platform to grow a community of global gardeners communicating about the effects of climate change on our plants and exploring how each individual can make small changes in our lives to become more sustainable. The future of our gardens and #OurPlanet is in our hands - please plant your own seeds for our collective sustainable future.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Vicky Says:

    Thank you for sharing this Debbie and well done to UEA for this very thought provoking and beautiful garden. The silver medal is well deserved!

    As an ex UEA student too, this makes me feel extremely proud.