Gardeners are probably best placed to notice and understand the effects of climate change. Their plants are affected by whatever the weather delivers daily, hourly or sometimes even minute by minute .
According to the RHS many gardeners see increasingly unpredictable weather as an opportunity rather than a disaster. Here are the results of a nationwide survey they commissioned about Gardening in a Changing Climate.
A Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) survey has found that two-thirds (62%) of British gardeners feel optimistic that they can adapt to the challenges climate change may bring, while 70% believe changes in gardening practices can help them garden successfully in a changing environment.
The survey, the most comprehensive interrogation of British gardeners’ perception of climate change with more than 1000 respondents, will form part of a larger report the RHS is undertaking into the present and future impact of climate change on gardening in the UK. The complete report will be published later in the year.
While a minority of respondents thought climate change was definitely not (1.6%), or probably not (4.6%) occurring, those who thought it was definitely (52.8%), or probably (34.4%) taking place were already taking action to adapt to climatic changes.
Four fifths of respondents reported that they had started paying more attention to the weather in recent years while 65% said they were being more careful to protect their plants from weather extremes, especially the cold.
The survey found that gardeners were optimistic that their understanding of climate change and personal gardening skill could help them in the future as long as they adopt a flexible approach to the new challenges. Although many worry about the future, the survey reveals real optimism about their abilities to adapt and face the challenges that climate change is bringing.
To assess just how willing gardeners are to adapt to these challenges, participants were asked to rate what changes they would find disappointing or unacceptable. Again, gardeners revealed a high degree of flexibility with 59% stating that maintaining a green lawn in summer was not a priority, while 74.5% agreed that if climate change meant growing their favourite plants became a challenge they would be moderately or definitely willing to replace them with more suitable ones. Only 2% would not be willing to make the change.
A hardy third of the sample said they were willing to challenge the climate in order to grow their favourite plants and a further 35% would occasionally try this approach, depending on the species involved.
Participants were generally open to the idea of receiving support to help them deal with future gardening challenges, with garden institutions (72%), the garden industry (55%) and the climate change science community (43%) cited as the most appropriate organisations to provide that support.
The type of information and advice gardeners wanted included:
• Information about plant varieties that are more resistant to weather extremes
• Better labelling in garden centres about the suitability of plants for a changing climate
• Clearer information about sustainable gardening and horticulture practices that can help mitigate the effects of climate change
• Real-time regionally specific tailored advice on how to cope with current weather conditions.
Speaking about the survey RHS Chief Scientist Dr John David says: “This research provides a valuable insight into how UK gardeners and the garden industry are coping with a changing climate and will be an important addition to the full climate change report which will be published by the RHS, the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield later in the year
“The responses we’ve gathered reveal just how incredibly resourceful gardeners are and how willing they are to adapt their gardening behaviour and expectations to take account of the challenges that emerge from climate change. But the survey also highlights the crucial role the horticultural sector has to play in helping gardeners garden successfully in a changing world.”
The survey was conducted by the RHS, University of Reading and University of Sheffield from March to June 2013.
The online survey collected data from 1007 participants. The questionnaire was designed to collect quantitative information with closed questions (or multiple choice questions), but a large amount of qualitative was gathered as participants were encouraged to express opinions.
98% of respondents were actively involved in gardening and horticulture activities
94% of activities were performed in domestic gardens,
21% in allotments
16% at work
52% definitely thought climate change is happening
34% thought climate change was probably happening
6.60% did not know if climate change was happening
4.60% thought climate change was probably not happening
1.60% thought climate change was definitely not happening
Perceived changes in flowering times
More than 70% thought flowering times were later More than 60% thought flowering times were earlier
30% experienced a longer season
More than 20% experienced a shorter season
More than 30% experienced two or more flowering events
More than 10% experienced no flowering events
How concerned are you about climate change?
36.60 very concerned
41% fairly concerned
16.40% not very concerned
5.10% not at all concerned
0.08% don’t know
I’m worried that weather extremes will make successful gardening more problematic
More than 20% strongly agree
More than 40% agree
More than 10% neither agree nor disagree
Between 0-10% strongly disagree
I’m optimistic: I will adapt to the changes
Between 0-10% strongly agree
More than 20% neither agree nor disagree
Between 0-10% disagree
To assess the level of adaptability to changes in parks and public gardens participants were asked to rate what changes they would find disappointing and not acceptable.
Garden style is the most important aspect people would not want to see change in the favourite gardens (47%), followed by garden plants (33%),
garden services or facilities (31%)
garden features (25%).
Among the specific aspects participants would not like:
AstroTurf is the most unacceptable change (83%).
Followed by: Ill looking plants 72%,
waterlogged lawns and paths 43%,
occasional algae caver in ponds 23%,
brown and dry lawns in the summer 20%,
occasional dry water features 17%,
temporarily flooded area 17% ,
weedy lawns 15%,
occasional dry flowerbeds 11%,
leaf litter on paths and lawns and long grass 6%.
If the climate changed and growing favourite plants became a challenge:
74.5% of gardeners would be moderately or definitely willing to replace those species with more suitable ones
2% would not be willing to replace those species with more suitable ones
33% were prepared to challenge the climate in order to grow their favourite plants
33% would be willing to challenge climate change occasionally depending on the species available.