All my working life, I have been adapting to climate change. As an apprentice in a garden near Antwerp in the summer of 1976, I spent the early mornings and evenings (we could not work in the day since the temperatures topped 40?C) trying to save the languishing, but famous, collection of rhododendrons, by watering them from dustbins filled at a borehole. That early experience gave me both a sharper eye for stress in plants and a scepticism about the immutability of circumstances.
I don’t appear to be unusual. In recent years, in our best private and public gardens, there has been much adventurous experimenting, both with plants which will withstand high temperatures and summer droughts, and with the soil conditions that suit them.
At the same time, interested public bodies have been sponsoring and commissioning research, publishing findings and holding conferences in an attempt to get us gardeners to understand the implications of climate change for our gardens. There is, for example, ‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse: Climate Change in Gardens’, a useful, if scarifying, report from the University of Reading (2002) and also the findings of a conference on the impact of climate change on British trees, held at the University of Surrey in June (both reports may be found on www.rhs.org.uk).
The main thrust of these is that we can expect higher temperatures and more frequent droughts in summer and shorter, milder, wetter winters, as well as torrential rain leading to flash floods in summer, stronger winds and more storms. A rise in temperatures will help foreign pests establish themselves, in places where they may have no natural predators. Those already established will do better and move further north, and fungal diseases such as powdery mildews and honey fungus are likely to get worse.