Rising tide: how to help your garden weather the storm of climate change

A Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) flowering

A Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) flowering - Credit: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos

New RHS report warns of the impact of climate change on gardens, so what can you do to protect your green spaces?

British gardens could end up devoid of luscious lawns, with popular plants proving more difficult to grow and plant pests and diseases spreading, according to a new report from the RHS and leading academics into the impact of climate change on gardening.

Plants will have to cope with increasingly warmer and drier weather in summer, but also more turbulent spells with intense, sometimes unpredictable heavy showers and strong winds.

The news is not all bad, though. Gardeners in the north could enjoy a longer growing season, experts say.

The wide-ranging report, Gardening in a Changing Climate, looks at both the impact the increase in global temperatures is currently having on plants and gardeners, and the future of gardening as temperatures increase.

The report is a collaboration between the RHS and academics from the universities of Sheffield, Reading and Coventry, with input from experts from the Met office.

It’s the first in-depth analysis of the effects of climate change on UK gardening in more than a decade - the RHS last investigated the issue in 2002 with the National Trust and UKCIP (Climate Impacts Programme) to produce the Gardening in the Global Greenhouse report.

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While the 2002 report concluded that gardeners would be basking in Mediterranean temperatures and so could grow more plants that thrive in bright, dry conditions, model projections suggest warmer but more variable climatic conditions.

The updated report has found that gardeners can expect more extreme weather, characterised by more variable, intense rainfall, combined with an increase in dry summers, which will be most pronounced in the south of the UK.

Gardeners looking to cope with the challenge of increased rainfall may have to adopt new practices to ensure the survival of some of our favourite plants.

Traditional plants, such as tulips, alliums and asters may have to be planted in raised beds to survive increased rainfall. The extra height will lift their roots clear of the water table.

Those experiencing higher temperatures may turn to heat loving plants, such as aloe or lavender.

Lush, green lawns are likely to be a major casualty and may have to be converted to dry meadows, as pressure on water supplies increases.

Northern gardeners will be able to grow a wider variety of plants that would have previously struggled to survive in the region, including canna, a tender perennial that produces bold leaves and showy flowers in shades of red, orange, yellows and pinks.

In a foreword to the report, Professor Dame Julia Slingo, the former Met Office chief scientist says: “This report provides some valuable guidance and demonstrates how climate change need not be a disaster for our gardens, but instead provide us with a wealth of opportunities.”

Based on the report, the RHS Garden for a Changing Climate will be unveiled at the inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in June, designed by Andy Clayden and Dr Ross Cameron of the University of Sheffield and RHS scientist Eleanor Webster. It will show a small suburban garden now and in the future (the year 2100).

The 300 metre square design will highlight the impacts of climate change on garden style and function as well as feature plants that will be able to cope with the challenges of our future climate.

Dr Cameron says: “Keen gardeners have always enjoyed a challenge, and like to match their skills against the elements, but in future we may have to rely on more robust plant species that have proven their resilience against the extremes of the weather, for example, tolerating drought conditions one year and water-logging the next.”