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Louise Curley

30 Apr 2024 15:13

How to Grow for Climate Change

Britain has a reputation for rain and grey skies but the weather is getting wetter. Provisional figures from the UK Meteorological Office indicate that England has experienced its wettest 18-month period (October 2022 to March 2024) since records began in 1836. In March some areas saw double the amount of rainfall they would normally receive.

Soggy soil

I’ve lived in Wales and now in Yorkshire, both places that normally get a high amount of rainfall, but it has been the relentlessness of it over the last six months that has made it the most difficult gardening time I’ve ever known. The rhythm of the gardening seasons has been upturned. There have been jobs that I postponed in autumn because the ground was too wet that I still can’t do now because the soil is even wetter. If you stand next to the borders you can actually hear the water gurgling in the soil – it sounds like the snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies! The ground is too wet to walk on, so moving or dividing plants has been impossible. This should be the busiest and most exciting time in the gardening year, but for gardeners across the country the rain has put a damper on it.

Weather Extremes

In my own garden some plants haven’t survived the wet winter, so I’m going to have to work out what to replace them with. Obviously the plants need to be able to tolerate wet soil, but only two summers ago we had extreme heat (over 40C), a drought and a hosepipe ban. Finding plants that can cope with such extremes is one of the biggest challenges facing gardeners.

Garden Changes

Sadly, the plants that I may well have to accept I can no longer grow are some of my favourites: the hardy salvias such as ‘Caradonna’ and ‘Rose Queen’. I might also need to look at whether it’s a good idea to grow so many plants that need regular dividing, if this is a job that becomes increasingly difficult to do, and using more annuals could be a budget-friendly way to plug gaps of plants that die off over winter.

The good news is there seem to be plenty of plants in my garden that seem able to cope with the range of conditions the garden has experienced since I moved here. I plan to grow more of sanguisorba, hardy geraniums, geums, Betonica officinalis and kalimeris, but I like a wide diversity of plants, so I’ll look for different cultivars or related plants to add more colour.

Top tips

Much of this will be trial and error, but there are some things that you can look out for when researching plants that will cope with a changing climate. For instance, see what is growing well in neighbouring gardens and look at the wild plants in the countryside near your home. For instance, cowslips, primroses, red campion and ox-eye daisies all do well here, so I’ve started to include them in parts of the garden.

Fruit trees in particular are struggling with a wetter climate – the RHS’ top ten pests and diseases of plants for 2023 includes five that are specific to fruit trees. If you’re looking to plant a fruit tree consult a specialist nursery and look for heritage varieties such as the apples ‘Forty Shillings’ or ‘Greenup’s Pippin’ that were cultivated because they could cope with wet weather. Varieties specific to Wales or the western counties of England such as Cornwall, Cumbria and Lancashire are more likely to tolerate high rainfall.

Collect seed from plants in your garden and grow these, as the resulting offspring will have inherited genes that mean they are more likely to be able to cope with the climate in your garden.