Gardening in a Changing Climate
Extreme weather events are happening increasingly frequently, with 2021 seeing record temperatures, wild fires, drought and catastrophic flooding. Climate change is going to undeniably make life difficult for all of us over the coming years, and it can be easy to feel despondent and powerless. However, gardeners are well-placed to play their part in trying to lessen the impact humans are having on the planet. By filling our gardens with plants we’re helping to provide habitats for creatures to live, feed and breed, and the plants will also absorb some of the CO₂ in the atmosphere.
Here are my top tips for climate change gardening:
Right plant, right place
Grow plants that are suited to your soil and local climate rather than growing plants that will need lots of care and attention. Happy plants will need less water and fertilisers and will be less prone to attack by pests and diseases. Not only will this make life much easier for you, you won’t need to resort to using chemicals to control pest outbreaks or need to use precious resources like water to irrigate plants as frequently.
Plant one tree or more
Trees are wonder plants. Not only do they look attractive, creating a focal point in a garden and providing shady corners, they also store CO₂ and absorb pollutants, making them great plants for urban gardens. A multitude of creatures will take up residence in nooks and crannies in the bark and these creatures will also feed on the leaves, pollen and fruit; and shelter under the canopy of leaves. Birds will also nest in trees and to encourage them you can put up a nest box.
Reduce plastic use
Over the last few decades gardening has increasingly involved using plastic, whether it’s pots, seed trays, labels or compost bags. However, there are ways to use less plastic. Use natural materials where possible, such as jute netting rather than plastic bean netting, wool or jute twine rather than plastic twine and wooden seeds trays rather than plastic ones. Look after any plastic you do have – wash pots and trays at the end of the season and store them under cover so that you can reuse them next spring.
The manufacture of chemicals to kill weeds and pests is energy consuming and once these chemicals are in the environment they can be damaging to all creatures not just the pests you’re trying to kill. Often nature will control pests if given a chance: song thrushes will eat slugs and snails, and blue tits will gobble up aphids, as will ladybirds, so be patient and let nature do its thing.
Where possible buy plants from nurseries that don’t use pesticides, as these chemicals can linger on plants and in the soil and can be transferred to bees and worms causing them harm. There are an increasing number of nurseries and bulb suppliers offering organically grown products so seek them out.
Encourage wildlife into your garden by building a pond, putting up nest boxes for birds and insects, finding space for a bird bath and making a wild corner in your garden where piles of logs and branches can be left so that mammals like hedgehogs and insects have places to live and hibernate over winter.
Use hand tools
Petrol-driven tools such as lawn mowers, strimmers and hedge cutters are not only noisy and smelly they are also using fossil fuel to power them. Electric-powered tools are a better option, particularly if your electricity provider uses renewable energy sources, but where possible use hand tools. They’ll take a bit more effort to get the job done, but on the plus side you won’t need to go to the gym!
Buy peat-free compost
Peat bogs are one of the world’s most important habitats for capturing and storing carbon, but they are becoming degraded and releasing carbon into the atmosphere rather than holding on to it. Much of the peat that is being dug up is used to supply the horticultural industry as a component in potting compost. Peat bogs that are dug also lose the ability to absorb water, leading to flash flooding in places downstream and moorland fires where the ground has become very dry. By opting to buy peat-free compost these peat bogs can be left alone.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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