Economists sprout green fingers

Thu, Sep 5, 2013

Climate Change Gardening


Gardening is a great antedote to stress – anyone feeling the financial strain might like to get their hands dirty and connect to their roots – or just read this article which appeared in The Economist magazine for inspiration. It captures everything I say about gardening in a changing climate. In particular, it confirms that water conservation and new planting schemes are key to the survival of our gardens in the future.

GARDENS are more than just yard decorations for the green-thumbed: they
also express a worldview. As concern over climate change grows,
environmentally sensitive gardens are becoming more popular. Many
gardeners try to conserve water and avoid the use of pesticides,
preferring instead biological controls, manual removal and companion
planting, in which certain plants are grown next to each other to protect
both from pests or diseases. Commendable as these measures are, they are
only a beginning.
Gardens need not change in the way that a natural ecosystem must in
response to climate change. With humans around to pluck out unwanted weeds
and provide nutrition, garden plants are cosseted, and thrive in
non-optimum conditions, because they are not subject to the struggle for
existence that plants in the wild are.
Still, gardens of the future are likely to change for two reasons. First,
warmer weather will transform the gardener’s palette (the olive tree and
the potted citrus, for instance, will continue their northward invasion
via the middle-class gardens of Europe). And secondly, gardeners may
realise that they can be greener by changing what they grow.
Horticultural fashions change constantly. The 1950s British cottage garden
features delphiniums, rhododendrons, foxgloves, lupins and azaleas. The
modern gardener—concerned as she is with “structure”, “texture” and
“form”—might sneer at such gauche displays of showy flowers. Out go the
daffodils and ox-eye daisies, and in come tree ferns, cycads, bamboo,
ornamental grasses and Japanese maple. But what else will change?
Broadly, gardens in the northern hemisphere will be uprooted and moved
southwards, horticulturally speaking. In places that are currently hotter
and drier, such as Spain and parts of the Mediterranean, gardeners will
come to appreciate the charms of cacti and succulents.
In drier but more temperate places, it might be time to rethink the lawn.
Grass is thirsty. On the Royal Horticultural Society’s website, Richard
Bisgrove, a senior lecturer in landscape management at the University of
Reading, suggests planting little thickets of drought-resistant plants in
gravel. Chamomile likes hot, dry soil and smells great—it could make a
lovely lawn in low-traffic areas.
Gardeners will also have to ask themselves whether the plants, fruits and
vegetables they are growing remain appropriate—growing, say, tomatoes in
water-stressed areas of the world is not exactly green. Figs might be
Similarly, one might also consider how environmentally friendly it is to
buy new annual-bedding plants each year from the garden centre, rather
than growing them from seed. More radical still might be to wave a
permanent goodbye to the tiresomely-thirsty pansy, and say hello to the
more resilient geranium.
In America’s hurricane corridor, offering gardening advice seems somewhat
beside the point. But elsewhere, more extremes of rainfall (a lot all of a
sudden, then none for a long time) are to be expected.
Earlier this year, The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the
University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, looked at what a
British garden might look at in 2050. Intense rainfall, it warned, leads
to nutrients being more easily washed out. Gardeners will need to respond
by digging in organic matter and mulching.
Tyndall’s entry in this year’s the Chelsea Flower Show shunned the use of
concrete, which is impermeable to rainwater and contributes to flooding
(because water runs off so quickly). The Tyndall garden has a path made
from an innovative porous material made from recycled Cornish china-clay
Gardens in a warmer climate will also find they have longer growing
seasons and fewer frosts. That may be good for the geraniums, but some
plants and trees—apples, pears, plums, rhubarb and raspberries—need cold
spells to stimulate flowering and fruiting. Pine and beech trees need cold
to start forming leaves.
Milder winters and warmer summers also mean more pests; aphids, spider
mites and thrips will all increase. Insects from elsewhere are also likely
to present new problems for gardeners. On the other hand, new pests will
also bring their predators. In the garden as elsewhere, a changing climate
present threats and opportunities, particularly for the green-minded and

© 2008 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group.

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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