The uncertain future for UK gardens

Mon, Feb 28, 2011

Climate Change, UK Climate Change

 In 1992, Tom Clarke became an apprentice gardener with the National Trust. He was a bright student, but he didn’t want to be stuck in an office job:he wanted to use his hands, and he lived the outdoors.He didn’t know exactly what he woudl be doing at the age of 35, some 17 years later, but it’s safe to assume that he might have hoped to have graduated past the intricacies of lawn mowing.

Today, Clarke is the assistant head gardener at the National Trust’s Trelissick Garden in Cornwall, but he has to think about mowing the lawn all the time. “In the old days, the mower would get put back in the shed for two or three months a year,” he explains. “Around now, it’d be gathering dust. But now we cut grass 12 months of the year, right through the season. It’s incredible really.” The trend has created significant amounts of additional work for gardeners all over the country, upped repair and labour costs for organisations such as the National Trust, and knackered more than a few industrial lawnmowers. On the surface, the explanation is simple enough:  grass that grows all year round. To Clarke, there is one clear culprit: climate change.

portugal-029April 6th heavy snowfall on one of my CordylinesBeautiful mauve crocus basking in the January sunshine

As we emerge from one of the bitterest cold snaps in recent memory, Tom Clarke and his colleagues are faced with a still knottier problem, and one that’s simultaneously utterly concrete and infuriatingly abstract: even though the impact of climate change is so visible, even though the vast majority of world’s climate scientists agree that our world is heating up, the local effects are extremely difficult to predict. To phrase the problem a different way, just when we think that we know something about the future of the climate, weather seems to be more baffling than ever.

That makes it hard for gardeners like those at Trelissick to plan for the future. Today, they are facing a host of problems that can be attributed to global warming. Their beech trees, crucial to the classically English feel of the garden, can’t put down secure roots in the soil left too damp by the heavier showers that come with warmer weather; Clarke spent last Monday hacking at two recently fallen trees with a chainsaw. The drainage for the garden’s paths, laid to what seemed like worst-case-scenario specifications in the 19th century, is totally inadequate for the downpours that are more and more commonplace today. And the host of pests and plant diseases that thrive in warmer conditions are hardly helping.

The programme for the next few years seems clear in only one regard: the news isn’t great, and the changes that we’re set to encounter will reach into every area of our lives. But if the prospect of a sweltering Britain seems like a grim – if distant – one, take heart. It’s not all bad. Even if we were to ignore the many things we can still do to mitigate the risks of climate change, and accept our fate, there will always be silver linings. Mike Roberts, for one, has reasons to be grateful for the coming heat: he’s a winemaker, and his business looks set to grow considerably, as the British gloom that we’re all so used to gives way to something closer resembling a European climate.

“We planted in 1994,” Roberts says, “and we have noticed the change since then. It certainly makes grape-growing easier.” The only blot on his landscape at the RidgeView Wine Estate on the Sussex Downs is a phalanx of French competitors, heading from Champagne to the south of England with their eye on the future. One small producer, Didier Pierson, has already moved across the English Channel to Hampshire, where he has started to produce sparkling wine; other champagne houses are sniffing around plots of land that cost a fraction of their equivalents back in France. But none of them has taken the plunge: the way the weather is going to change isn’t yet clear enough to justify the risk.

Roberts is sure they will move in the end. “They’re walking the downs now, but they’ll jump in eventually,” he says. “The climate there is making the drink more acidic, and that’s making it harder to produce the attributes we’re used to in champagne. All we need to add to our wines to compete is a bit of history.”

His confidence in such uncertain times is refreshing. But not all of his colleagues working in British booze production are so optimistic. Champagne’s gain is cider’s loss, and apple farmers in the South-west are worried that even as stickier summers make pub-goers long for a more refreshing drink, the conditions they need will be lost..

This article was written by journalist Archie Bland in 2009 and contains lots more interesting info about measuring climate change .If you want to see the whole story go to:


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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2 Comments For This Post

  1. tonyb Says:

    Hi Debbie

    Came across your blog as I was researching climate change in gardens. You might be interested in the following blog (I reply some way down the page)

    I garden in Teignmouth-South Devon- and have lost a lot of plants over the last three years in the cooler weather. The warmer decade or so prior to that is echoed in my 1947 book (written pre war)’The winter Gsrden.’ Conditions then seemed identical to the warmer decade now sadly finished. There are lots of instances throughout history when changes occured. For example, records showed we couldn’t grow grapes in the UK during the first decades of Roman rule but could 70 years later.

    To see what is REALLY going on here I suggest you google ‘Hadley CET 1772’. Temperatures have been plummeting in the UK during the last 6 years or so. 2010 had an identical mean temperature to 1659. Our longer record to that year shows the early 1700’s were very similar to the warmth we have just experienced.

    Personally I’m preparing for a cooling world by changing the plants I grow-out will go the exotics I bought from St Michaels Mount-mine all died in the cold and they have lost much of their stock- and in will come traditional perennials.

    best regards

    Tony Brown

  2. Debbie Says:

    Here in Norfolk we have certainly had two very cold winterers which have seen off many of the more borderline hardy plants that many of us have been growing and enjoying in recent years and who knows, we may be running into a series of cold winters, only time will tell! Going by the overwhelming scientific data though, the long term prediction world-wide is for a much warmer planet which doesn’t preclude a series of cold winters here in the UK. I have always been of the opinion that if you want to grow something borderline and are able to grow it for 3-5 or more years you will have at least enjoyed it for that time, the choice is yours… Will Giles