Whatever the weather
By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. This winter has seen a heated debate about whether our climate is changing for the worse or whether we're just having a decade or so of seasonal adjustment.
I don't have the science but I have spoken to a number of gardeners both professional and amateur about the last ten years and what they've seen change. It makes for interesting listening.
The general concensus is that winters are getting wetter, summers are getting drier and generally it's a lot milder, especially through the winter. The most noticeable thing in my garden is that semi-evergreens are nearly always evergreen now and nearly every plant flowers a month ahead of what the books tell you!
A new RHS/National Trust report has investigated the impact of these changes on gardening and what this will mean for our gardening around the country. The predictions are not just for the distant future but highlight some of the effects that gardeners are experiencing now. Some of these predictions are borne out by my group of gardeners.
Plants that require fertile, moisture retentive soils will not enjoy the drier summers. We all seem to have stopped growing Lupins and Delphiniums because of the extra effort involved. I've lost every Lupin in my garden and they'll get replaced with plants that prefer drier conditions such as Lavender, Sages, Phlomis.
However, that's only half of the story because the plants that can survive the dry summers can often not survive the wetter winters. Traditional spring bulb displays may be a thing of the past because bulbs will rot off. Tulips are especially susceptible. I've also noticed an increase in the popularity of more exotic fruits and sub-tropical plants such as Canna lilies and lemon trees (e.g . Citrus 'La Valette')These are great but will find it difficult to cope with the wet winters. Interestingly the report suggests that fruit such as grapevines (e.g. Vitis vinifera 'Siegerrebe'), pomegranates, (e.g. Punica granatum var. nana) figs and peaches will become easier to grow and cope both with the wet and dry seasons and that the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will also mean that plants can grow faster and stronger.
Stronger plants should help in the battle against the new pests and diseases that will come along. We've already got ideal conditions for insects such as rosemary beetle, red spider mite and vine weevils and fungal diseases are thriving in the wet weather. It's also expected that Camellia petal blight will be more widespread this Spring - a particular problem in areas such as Wimbledon and Putney where conditions have always been great for these plants.
But its not all doom and gloom. You can plant for the future now with drought tolerant plants and trees. Prepare soil to maximise both drainage and moisture retention depending on the conditions you have. Water butts can store up water for the Summer - hosepipe bans can't be far away - and wildlife gardens will help animals survive long hot summers.
We need to change with the weather and if that means I need to plant a few grapevines, olive and nectarine trees well I'm not going to complain about some long hot Mediterranean summers.