Exotic Garden feels the heat

Wed, Jul 30, 2008

Climate Change Gardening

This picture of Will’s Giles front garden could easily be a scene from the Caribean – it is actually located in the centre of Norwich right next to office blocks, factories and within 500 yards of Delia Smith’s beloved Norwich Football Ground.

Every inch of the garden is crammed with wonderful tropical and exotic species that love our increasingly monsoon style summers with muggy atmosphere and torrential downpours. Will also has a spectacular range of fabulous drought-loving plants that look as though they have spent months in the desert. The garden is open to the public every Sunday from June 20th to October 26th between 1pm and 5pm . hhtp://www.exotic-garden.com.

Will makes a tremendous contribution to climate change gardening. He actively demonstrates the enormous variety of plants we can now grow in the UK and to my mind replaces the traditional english herbacous border with far more stimulating design and planting ideas .

Will has written the first ever guest blog for Global Gardening about how climate change is affecting his garden:

Gardeners love to complain- it is one of our great British traditions, but the extreme weather patterns of 2007 and 2008 have given even the most patient among us ample opportunity to whinge with the best. Last year may beremembered for the summer deluge, but in spring 2007 the UK was still suffering from the tail end of the 2006 drought!

Many gardeners are confused by our weather especially as we have been told in recent years to be prepared for drought conditions. During the 2006 winter an area of the Exotic Garden was converted into a xerophytic garden in preparation for the looming drought conditions forecast, only to be followed by some of the heaviest summer rains in years! Luckily the ground here was prepared with several feet of sandy gravel which drained the water away
quickly, stopping the arid plants from rotting.

Every year I hear more complaints about spring. It is either ‘late’ or ‘unusually cold,’ ‘abnormally dry’ or ‘fantastically wet,’no one is ever willing to admit that there is now no such thing as a normal spring – welcome to global warming!

The effects on the Exotic Garden are very evident. In my twenty six years of
living here I have found many more plants not only surviving our winters but
thriving. Up until about five years ago plants such as the towering banana
Musa basjoo were annually wrapped in November with insulation to stave off
killer winter frosts. Now these stately stalwarts of the garden are allowed
to die back naturally forming a skirt of dry foliage around the trunks. Many
visitors to the garden ask what would happen if we did get a killer frost?
Wouldn’t I be annoyed that I hadn’t made the effort to protect them? In the
case of Musa basjoo, if they were to get cut down by frost, they would
re-grow from the base the following spring; hence this is a risk I am
willing to take, but a risk that appears to be becoming less so as the
decades progress.

Living in the city obviously does make a difference as the ambient
temperature is often a degree or two warmer than in the country because
buildings act like a heat sink radiating heat back out again on cold nights
and equally keeping gardens hotter in warm weather. My garden in Thorpe,
Norwich is on a hillside facing south dropping about sixty feet from back to
front, surrounded by tall trees on three sides creating a mild microclimate.
Last winter -4C was recorded here for a short period in the lower garden
while in the xerophytic garden some fifty feet higher, temperatures barely
dropped below 0C, allowing many plants such as the beautiful dark purple
Aeonium Zwartkop to come through the winter without a mark – something I
have never seen before, although I have been growing Tradescantia
fluminensis – the common house plant, Wandering Jew, for many years now with
only light winter die-back.

Milder winters are certainly a boon for the more borderline plants that many
of us like to grow, but cool summers like this one has been so far, equally
have a strong effect on plants and their growth habit. In a good summer
(warm or hot) Cannas for instance will grow (depending on variety) to a good
height often flowering in high summer at 6-7ft tall.
I have many Cannas which should be very tall and
lush by this time of year, attempting to flowering at a mere 1m (3ft) tall.
Last year my crop of the annually grown Ricinus communis, which are usually
tall statuesque plants from 6-10ft tall were an absolute failure, as they
were planted at the back of the borders to give height and colour and
dramatic leaf shape but were lost behind other taller plants , hence gave no
show at all.

Like many things in life, being a successful gardener is about learning from
your experiences, both good and bad, and the last couple of years have
provided plenty of insight into gardening conditions to come and being
prepared to adapt to the currant conditions.

Whatever the rest of the summer weather throws at us, a preparedness and
acceptance that we are heading into unknown territory now and into the
future is vital. Like-it-or-not, severely unpredictable weather is here to
stay and adds great fuel to one of our greatest garden pastimes –
complaining about the weather!

Will Giles has written a book entitled ‘The Encyclopedia of Exotic Plants For Temperate Climates’


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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