Climate Change And The Edible Landscape
July 2, 2013Return to the Members' Area main page
I got an email the other day from a new reader named Margaret, who writes:
I am new to this site and edible landscaping and I am despairing over my garden ...
I live in Oxfordshire, England. The biggest problem is the weather especially over the last 3-4 years and it isn't getting better. Last year we had draught, then constant rain resulting in no fruit or vegetables. This year we have very had late frosts and snow, some rain, heavy cloud very little sunlight.
I have a very fertile soil which is also a problem because the weeds love it. All I seem to do is weed and get ready for planting and no further ...
Whatever reason you want to put as to its cause, climate change and climate instability is a well-known fact to anyone who spends any time out in their garden.
"Season creep" (progressively earlier springtimes), hardiness zone shifts, more violent weather, droughts, and heavier downpours leading to flooding have been occurring for several years now.
I'm sorry to have to tell you that it's probably not going to get better anytime soon. However, there ARE things that you can do about it ... the most important being:
Face your new reality.
Your garden (and by extension, your gardening) will have to adapt to the current weather conditions whether you like it or not.
Putting dryland plants in beds that don't drain well during months of constant downpour or planting edibles which require a lot of watering when you've had years of drought is asking for trouble.
We've had it easy over the last few generations -- regular seasons and dependable rainfall amounts are becoming a thing of the past, so we'll have to get smarter to overcome these obstacles.
Charting what is actually happening in your garden is a good first step.
When is it wet? When is it dry? When is it cold or hot? And as Margaret is learning, you might even have to chart what times of the year you even get sun or rain at all.
See if you can find a pattern and garden around it. This may mean gardening at a completely different time of year from when you're used to.
Also, pay attention to the microclimates in your yard. Where does it tend to be wet or dry? Where does it frost? Where are the sunny and shady areas? Use your yard's strong points and minimize its weaknesses as much as you can.
(I talk more about this sort of thing in my workbook "How to make your own garden landscape design plans").
Use plants native to your area (or at least your climate) as much as possible.
For example, Margaret should first try to find plants native to England, particularly native to Oxfordshire and its surrounding counties.
But if she can't find what she wants there, ordering seeds from another rainy cool climate such as Seattle, WA (US) may work better for her garden than getting seeds from a Mediterranean climate such as Spain or France.
In any case, choose hardy plants which can tolerate heat, cold, wet and dry spells, and that thrive in the zones both above and below your current hardiness zone. This will "hedge your bets" (as we say here in the US) as to what your weather might be in the future.
Then watch to see how the plants do. Plant more of what is thriving and less of what isn't. Move a plant which should be doing well but seems to need more light or less water to a place in your yard which has what it likes.
If you find a plant which really likes your new weather, save the seeds or otherwise propagate it so you can share it with others, or have a backup in a pot in case your special plant gets killed by a sudden heat wave or cold snap.
Speaking of heat and cold, it would be wise to keep track of temperatures -- especially in the spring and mid-summer -- and take measures to protect your plants from late frosts and intense heat.
For further reading:
Gardeners and climate change
Ten years of bad summers predicted (UK)
We're not in zone 6 anymore
How are you adapting to your weather changes? Do you have any tips for Margaret?
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